On September 27, 2022, Pennsylvania announced three new state park projects, representing $45 million of state investment.

One of the three new state parks, Big Elk Creek State Park (though the name may change as the development process unfolds between now and the scheduled debut of the park in 2026), is located in Chester County near the Maryland border.

“Each new park site is unique in its value to a great system,” said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “All of the new parks are steeped in cultural pre- and post-Colonial history, centered around important water resources and represent fantastic natural resource value.”

Big Elk Creek, at a cost of around $13 million, represents 1,712 acres of land consisting of former private estates purchased in 2010 and 2020 by the state, The Conservation Fund, Chester County and Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden in nearby Hockessin, DE. The Conservation Fund acquired 735 acres in 2009, and eleven years later, the Conservation Fund finalized the sale of the second parcel, a 978-acre tract, which was also deeded to the DCNR.

It features 3.5 miles of Big Elk Creek, a tributary of the Elk River and the Chesapeake Bay. Big Elk Creek was an important transportation and natural resource corridor for indigenous people for thousands of years and an important area for freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad to the North.

In keeping with the state park selection process, each of the new locations has criteria that warrants conservation. Also, each site is within a half-hour of heavily populated areas where land for recreation use is often at a premium.

The acreage consists of former private estates purchased in 2010 and 2020 by the state, The Conservation Fund, Chester County and Mt. Cuba Center. It will offer hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, water access, stream restoration and more.

The park features 190 acres of floodplains, 600 acres of woodland, 100 acres of native grass meadows, 800 acres of farmland and 3.5 miles of Big Elk Creek. The creation of pollinator meadows and more than 300 acres of streamside forest buffers are planned in 2024. The new park is home to more than 690 plant species, 15 of which are considered endangered or rare in the state.

Big Elk Creek is one of the few tributaries in Pennsylvania that flow directly into the Chesapeake Bay.

The site of Big Elk Creek State Park, in Chester County. Photos provided by DCNR.