Land stewards: Thank lucky stars for Lenfests

9,300-square-foot, eco-friendly center set to debut at ChesLen Preserve

In May 2012, Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust, joined Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest for a bird’s-eye view of the Lenfest Center groundbreaking.

In May 2012, Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust, joined Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest at the groundbreaking for the Lenfest Center. Its completion will be celebrated on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16.

The stars and planets have aligned – notably the constellation Hercules, a first-quarter moon, and Saturn — to celebrate the opening of the new Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve in Newlin Township on Saturday and Sunday.

Established in 2007, the ChesLen Preserve, once the home of a mushroom cannery, resulted from a donation of land by philanthropists Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest, a transfer of 500 acres of parkland from Chester County, and a subsequent purchase of 195 acres, creating an expanse of 1,263 acres, said a news release from Natural Land Trust, the steward for the preserve.

The 9,300-square-foot Lenfest Center, designed by Archer and Buchanan Architecture, Ltd., whose work includes facilities at Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum, features green design elements such as geothermal heating and cooling, high-efficiency lighting, and recycled materials. “The Lenfest Center is a great vision with a great team of people behind it,” said Marguerite Lenfest.

An artist' rendering shows the layout of the Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve in Newlin Township.

An artist’ rendering shows the layout of the Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve in Newlin Township.

While the bulk of the facility is dedicated to storage and maintenance of preserve management-related equipment, it will also provide a base of operations for Natural Lands Trust, a public space for visitors and community groups, a modest meeting room, and an outdoor pavilion for occasional events.

The Saturday dedication – co-chaired by Katharine Fisher Maroney and John B. “Jeb” Hannum III – will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. and includes wine, local farm-inspired edibles, and music. Tickets begin at $150 per person. Close to 30 sponsors, including lead “Constellation Hercules” Sponsor Wawa, have helped support festivities associated with the Lenfest Center dedication and opening. Tickets and additional sponsorship opportunities are available at or by calling 610-353-5587, ext. 224.

“Gerry and Marguerite’s philanthropy has had a pronounced impact on our broad quality of life in the Philadelphia region, but, for those of us who care deeply about land conservation, ChesLen Preserve and the Lenfest Center are stunning examples of care and generosity,” said Hannum.

In 2010, The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) designated portions of ChesLen Preserve – specifically the Unionville Barrens – as a “Pennsylvania Wild Plant Sanctuary.” The preserve boasts 12 miles of unpaved trails and was deemed an “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society for species that include  indigo buntings, downy woodpeckers, and green-backed herons.

A free Community Day open house is scheduled for Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Visitors can explore the preserve grounds and the state-of-the-art facility on guided tours, and enjoy refreshments and activities for the whole family. Pre-registration is not required for the open house.

“The Lenfests are among the country’s leading philanthropists, and we are remarkably fortunate that Gerry and Marguerite have made their home region the focus of so much of their generosity,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “We were deeply honored to be given the opportunity to steward the ChesLen Preserve. Not only is it a natural gem, it is a lasting legacy of the Lenfests’ commitment to land conservation.”

Constructed within the general footprint of an old cannery that was a remnant of the preserve’s mushroom production history, the building site takes up 10,000 square feet less built area than before and one-third less paved surface. The architects designed the building to fit gracefully into the natural surroundings. Only one story of the building is visible from the road; a lower level was built into an existing slope so that it is not visible from most viewpoints, the release said.

Landscaping further enhances the building’s integration with the site. Twenty acres of “gardens,” designed by Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, include native grassland meadows, rain gardens, and more than one hundred native trees and shrubs.

“I give great credit to Molly Morrison and Natural Lands Trust for presenting me with the opportunity to preserve this land in perpetuity,” said Gerry Lenfest.


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