GREENFIELD — From the grassy pasture rolling alongside the road to the sycamore trees soaring into the sky, Thornwood Preserve was Herb and Judy Brown’s vision.
Their dream of conserving the 40 wooded acres plus the work and collaboration of multiple city departments resulted in the nature park’s grand opening celebration Wednesday after a years-long effort to create a new kind of community space not available elsewhere in the city.
A far cry from playground and kids’ equipment, attractions at the park include trails, benches and an overall emphasis on the park’s natural features and wildlife.
Herb and Judy Brown donated the land to the city in 2009 with the hope of providing solitude and nature education for generations to come.
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The Browns bought a home adjacent to the preserve in 1980 and watched closely as more housing developments began to spring up on the southeast side of Greenfield.
They decided they wanted to protect 40 acres of their property free of development.
“We bought it, and then we didn’t know what to do with it, because it was full of briars,” Herb Brown said.
He cleared out some of the brush for cattle he raised on the property, but the thorny plants that were so much trouble at the time lent Thornwood Preserve its name, a nod to the wild growth tamed just enough for the public to enjoy.
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 a bridge, trails and a parking lot.
The Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department worked closely with the Browns to honor their vision, said parks superintendent Ellen Kuker.
“It’s amazing to see so many people come together to make this happen,” she said. “Almost every city department had a hand in the development. It was truly a group effort, and when so many come together for a project like this, everyone wins.”
It seems like only yesterday that the Browns met with parks board president Rick Roberts, he said, recalling they ate fresh strawberries while discussing their wish for the land.
“Their passion was about creating a legacy for all the little ones,” he said.
Since the donation, crews have worked to build trails, educational posts and benches. Educational signs dot the preserve, noting items of interest.
The preserve boasts five trails, four of which travel through its more densely wooded areas. The pasture trail starts and ends in the parking lot adjacent to the road and stays in the grassy pasture to the west end of the park. Parks officials have plans for a campground, but Kuker said completing that aspect of the preserve will require the parks department to seek approval from the county.
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.
While Beckenholdt provides paved nature trails, a large pond and wetlands, Thornwood Preserve will provide a heavily wooded place for residents to hike and enjoy nature in a quiet, rural environment, Kuker said.
The Little Brandywine Creek runs through the preserve, along with two small ditches.
The land is a special place, where Hancock County residents will be able to come and enjoy the wildlife, Herb Brown said. He’s witnessed deer, beavers, mink, and once even saw a group of 200 buzzards flying south for the winter.
“You need to be quiet, spend time, move softly, and you will be amazed what you see,” he said.