LOCAL DESTINATION: Where sky meets water. Get to know Welkinweir in Chester County

A window display is seen at Welkinweir.

Tucked in a little valley in northwestern Chester County, there’s a place called Welkinweir — “where sky meets water.” Welkinweir is the former home of Everett and Grace Rodebaugh, who in 1935 purchased the property — which includes a large, stone estate house — as a weekend retreat and summer home. Over time, they restored the land, which had been used heavily in support of the Reading Furnace and also for farming. Their efforts stand out most obviously in the Azalea Garden, home to hundreds of azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel — spectacular in spring — and in the Pinetum, planted with a collection of dwarf evergreen conifers. Other areas of the 55-acre arboretum include plantings of perennials, bulbs, rare and unusual trees, and a Barn Ruin.

In 1964, the Rodebaughs founded Green Valleys Association (GVA), with a mission to protect and preserve the water resources of Northern Chester County through advocacy and education. The Rodebaughs eventually gifted their land and house to GVA. Now totaling 197 acres through acquisition of adjacent land parcels, the property serves not only as GVA’s headquarters, but also as a “living laboratory for the study of ecological issues, sustainability, and land stewardship, offering inspiration and education for visitors and community members.”

Community outreach includes a summer nature day-camp, after-school nature programs, library programs, internship opportunities in horticulture, and stream clean-ups. GVA “walks the walk” every step of the way, such as in their use of porous paving options in their parking areas, and adding solar panels to reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

While winter may seem to be an odd time to suggest a visit to an arboretum, that’s just what I’m doing. The grounds, beautiful at any time of year, are open to the public Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m.; closing time varies seasonally — call for exact times at 610-469-7543. Members are admitted free. Non-members may make a donation at the Visitor Center. All donations support the continued preservation of Welkinweir.

After exploring the gardens it’s an easy walk down to the large pond, which the Rodebaughs created by installing a small dam across a tributary of Beaver Run, which runs along the bottom of the valley. (Walking back up the hill is another matter!) There is a trail around the pond, and trails that go up into the woods. If you’re lucky, you might see a beaver near its lodge on the large pond, or other wildlife including deer, great blue herons, little green herons, mink, red fox, and wild turkeys. The large, clam-like shells you may find near the dam are mussel shells, brought up from the bottom of the pond by the beavers.

Want to get your holiday on? Consider visiting Welkinweir this Saturday, Dec. 9, from 3 to 7 p.m. for the annual holiday Open House. The historic estate house will be alive with candlelight and decorated with natural materials, some including whimsical animal figures. There will be hors d’oeuvres and beverages, and the rare, 1920s Skinner organ will pipe out holiday tunes. Come enjoy this festive time, meet GVA and Welkinweir staff, and learn more about the beautiful grounds and GVA’s work for the environment. There is no admission fee for the open house, though donations are requested. You might also consider becoming a Welkinweir member. That’s a gift to you and the environment that will keep on giving.

Part of the Hopewell Big Woods, Welkinweir is located at 1368 Prizer Road, East Nantmeal Township, PA, near Pottstown. For more information, visit www.welkinweir.org. For information on Green Valleys Association, go to www.greenvalleys.org.

Note: Last week I wrote about The Faerie Handbook. I am ready to part with my copy. If you would like it, please send me an email or letter telling me about your interest in fairies and if you have a fairy garden or house.

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to pamelacbaxter@gmail.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” And check out Pam’s new book for children and families: Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets. Available at amazon.com.

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