GREENFIELD — A nature preserve southeast of the city is one step closer to opening to the public.
Thornwood Preserve, 40 wooded acres on Morristown Pike north of Steele Ford Road, was donated to the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department in 2009, but it needed some improvements and general maintenance before it would be ready for visitors, a process local officials are excited to say is nearing completion after years of work.
On Wednesday, a pedestrian bridge was installed over Little Brandywine Creek to make the preserve more accessible, and officials said once a parking lot is constructed later this year, the site will open for all residents to enjoy. Officials said it’s unlike any other park in the county.
Developing the preserve has been a focus of the parks department for the past two-plus years as crews did small chunks of work at a time.
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When the land was donated, the city was completing Beckenholdt Park, in the 2700 block of North Franklin Street on the city’s northwest side. In 2011, when that work was complete, parks department officials were able to make the city’s second nature park more of a priority.
In some ways, the new nature preserve will mirror Beckenholdt Park, which offers a more nature-based experience for visitors than the typical jungle gym and recreational activities featured in most city parks. Still, officials said Thornwood Preserve is one of a kind.
While Beckenholdt provides paved nature trails, a large pond and wetlands, Thornwood Preserve will provide a heavily wooded place for residents to go hiking and enjoy nature in a quiet, rural environment, parks superintendent Ellen Kuker said.
“It’s amazing what you can hear and see in the woods,” Kuker said. “You can’t do that if you’re in a city park.”
The city’s goals for the preserve align with the vision of the couple who donated the land.
Herb Brown and the late Judy Brown donated their property to the city with the hope of providing solitude and nature education for generations to come.
The couple had owned a home adjacent to the preserve for more than 35 years, and when more homes began to be developed on the southeast side of Greenfield, the Browns decided they’d like to see 40 acres of their property free of development.
In addition to donating the land to the parks, the couple also set up a fund at the Hancock County Community Foundation to help pay for maintenance costs, and they donated money to the parks department that helped cover the costs of the bridge, the trails and the parking lot.
Since the donation, crews have worked to build trails, educational posts and benches.
The work has been a labor of love for Joe Whitfield, naturalist and maintenance employee for the parks department. For more than two years, developing the preserve has been a pet project for him, Kuker said.
He’s spent countless hours maintaining the area and helping build trails, working to strike a balance between leaving the preserve natural and making it enjoyable for residents.
“He’s in his element when he’s out here,” Kuker said. “He has a real appreciation for it, and we’re hoping to pass that appreciation on to the community.”
Whitfield said he’s identified about 15 types of wildflowers and added that there’s plenty of wildlife for residents to see in the preserve. There are lots of birds, a family of deer and even some snakes. He’s excited to see the finishing touches be completed and to share the experience of the nature preserve with others.
“There’s a little something for everyone out here,” Whitfield said. “We have nothing like it at all. … We’ve never had a dedicated nature preserve.”
The bridge was installed Wednesday after the city’s sewer department prepared its foundation, but it still needs a few finishing touches. The parks department plans to build a parking lot off Morristown Pike.
Kuker said she expects it to be open this year. Parks employees had hoped to have it open sooner, but a rainy spring and early summer set work back.
Mayor Chuck Fewell said he’s excited to see the preserve nearing completion. Beckenholdt is one of the most used parks in the city, and Thornwood will offer a similar experience.
“It is going to be a great asset,” he said. “I think it’s going to be used a lot.”
Kuker said: “It’s a unique experience. The parks (department) is passionate about getting people connected with the woods. This accomplishes that.”
“The parks (department) is passionate about getting people connected with the woods. This accomplishes that,”
Ellen Kuker, Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department superintendent, on the development of Thornwood Preserve