Since its November 1974 incorporation, Great Valley Nature Center (formerly the Nature Center of Charlestown) has provided Chester County communities and the additional four counties of the Greater Philadelphia region with environmental education opportunities.
Arnold Bartschi (owner of Swiss Pines, an adjacent botanical garden) provided the land and start-up operating support to establish a nature center. The French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, Dr. & Mrs. Clarkson Wentz and the initial executive director, John Christie, were instrumental in developing the gift into a functioning environmental education organization.
A colonial-era fieldstone bank barn serves as the education building, having undergone renovations in 1986 and 2001. A converted farmhouse provides administrative, teaching and meeting space, and houses the executive director and his family. A nearby two-storied springhouse probably predates the barn.
The Nature Center’s 10½-acre site includes a stream, a pond, and wetland, field, and woodland habitats. Also featured is a Birds of Prey Center, a replica Native American Lenape village, a Pennsylvania wildflower garden, a maple sugar house, and a please-touch exhibit area.
Great Valley Nature Center serves annually more than 35,000 participants (most of whom are children) throughout the communities of Chester County and the Greater Philadelphia region. The majority of participants receive environmental education programming either on-site or at off-site locations that include public, parochial and independent schools, scout camps, daycare centers, retirement communities and other facilities. Student participation, which represents the region’s entire socioeconomic range, encompasses pre-school through grade 12; and also includes programs for special needs groups.