Willistown Conservation Trust (the Trust) recently announced a collaboration with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (the Academy) that establishes the Trust’s geographic focal area—encompassing the headwaters of four major tributaries of the Delaware River (Chester, Crum, Ridley, and Darby creeks)—as an official field study site of the academy and Drexel University. The agreement, set forth in a memorandum of understanding signed by Bonnie Van Alen, executive director of the Trust; Donna Morasko, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Drexel University; and Scott Cooper, president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, formalizes the Trust’s program area as a field study site for use by the Academy and Drexel University for collaborative research, education, and outreach activities, with a particular emphasis on watershed activities and the activities of the Center for Academy Science and the Department of Biodiversity, Earth, and Environmental Science.

Willistown Conservation Trust, located in Chester County, is a land trust whose founders have overseen the protection of more than 7,200 acres of open space in the Willistown area since 1979. For the past two decades, the Trust has worked with researchers from many regional academic institutions, including Drexel University, to explore the science behind important issues in conservation, with particular focus on ornithology, agroecology, land use, and habitat restoration. A 2017 grant from the William Penn Foundation allowed the Trust to expand its efforts into watershed protection. In collaboration with researchers from the Academy and co-op students from Drexel University, and pursuant to methodology developed by the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), the Trust’s Field Study team is working to establish watershed protection priorities and restoration projects with the goal of enhancing water quality in the four local headwater streams. Results from this Field Study Site initiative will be presented to land trusts and other organizations with a goal of encouraging them to undertake similar watershed protection initiatives in collaboration with research partners.

This memorandum of understanding formalizes what has been a longstanding partnership between the Trust, the Academy, and Drexel University. Bonnie Van Alen, founder and executive director of the Trust, is a former member of the board of trustees of the Academy, and in 2014, she received an honorary degree from Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Because of its unique combination of rich natural resources and proximity to Philadelphia, the geographic focal area of the Trust is the frequent classroom of students from the Academy and Drexel, among other area universities and schools. Designation as an official field study site will facilitate similar experiences for professors and students from the Academy and Drexel, including work study experiences for students participating in Drexel’s co-op program. The Trust hopes to provide similar opportunities to additional university partners and will use this memorandum of understanding as a model to guide these relationships.