Written by Gail Farmer, Executive Director of Wissahickon Trails
One piece of good fortune in 2020 was that Wissahickon Trails acquired a 31-acre property in Blue Bell, adjacent to our Briar Hill Preserve. This property, named the Hughes Preserve at Briar Hill, will be forever protected as open space and expands Briar Hill to more than 100 acres. Acquisition of this property was made possible through a partnership with Tim and Aurora Hughes, Saly Glassman, and Ira Berman. This tract of land is especially important because it protects even more of the Prophecy Creek Corridor. The Hughes Preserve at Briar Hill and its trails will open to the public in 2021.
I spoke with Tim Hughes about the project he said “My wife, Aurora, and I are passionate about open space, particularly within the Wissahickon Valley watershed, and are very pleased to have been involved in the preservation of this beautiful meadow and surrounding woodlands.” The Hughes, Glassman, and Berman have been active champions of open space along the prophecy creek; just 2 years ago, for example, they were key partners in acquiring the nearby Cheston Family Preserve at Briar Hill. Mr. Hughes explained that “this corner of the world is spectacular, but the land can’t protect itself. In order for it to stay this way, active community engagement—at any level—is critical. We look at this stunning expanse of untouched land and are pleased to do our part to preserve its inherent, natural beauty for the next generations.” Tim makes a great point, this acquisition wouldn’t have been possible without the operating support Wissahickon Trails receives from donors and supporters at every level to keep us staffed and acting on our mission.
The Hughes Preserve at Briar Hill is a beautiful property comprised of forest and meadow habitats that are important for many species of insects and wildlife. In the near future, we will be creating new trails that will connect to the existing trail system at Briar Hill preserve, more accessible now thanks to the installation of a new, community-funded, bridge at the preserve entrance. In addition, Glassman and Berman donated a trail easement on the property in front of the Hughes Preserve that will allow us to build a trail connection to nearby Camp Woods and Armentrout Preserve.
With the recent acquisition of the Hughes Preserve, there are now 220.92-acres of protected open space in the Prophecy Creek Corridor. That number reflects the combined acreage of Briar Hill Preserve, Cheston Family Preserve, Whitpain Township’s Prophecy Creek Park, and several easements. Nearby, you will also find Wissahickon Trails’ Camp Woods, Armentrout Preserve, and Willow Lake Farm.
This preservation reflects our long-term commitment to protecting key natural areas in the Wissahickon watershed. We have been working with municipal, county and state partners, and individual residents for more than a decade to expand protected lands along the Prophecy Creek—which flows into the Wissahickon Creek—through a combination of land acquisition and conservation easements. The protection of these open spaces is part of a strategic prioritization of the Prophecy Creek Corridor—essentially the vegetative stream buffer along Prophecy Creek. In a recent analysis of more than a decade of water quality monitoring data from the Wissahickon and its tributaries, we found that the Prophecy Creek is the healthiest creek in the watershed.