After discovering Cromwell Valley Park more or less by accident, I set out to learn about this not-so-little jewel hidden right in my own neighborhood. Justine Schaffer, the park's naturalist, was kind enough to meet with and enlighten me about some of CVP's history, progress, ongoing efforts and successes.
I found Schaffer with no problem at her office in the Willow Grove Nature Education Center in the old Merrick house. As we sat and chatted, I took the liberty of looking around at the many things one might expect to find in place like this: shelves lined with books about wildlife, plants, education and nature.
There were examples of all kinds, too, including skulls and other bones from animals, feathers from various birds, shell casings from insects, seed pods from plants and many other items one might use to teach about natural history.
We compared our own childhoods in a world vastly different than today's, where we could explore and learn in a hands-on fashion, that's no longer as available to many children.
I recalled summer days of getting on my bicycle early in the morning and not returning home until dinnertime. That time spent playing in the woods, in creek beds, in the meadows, discovering and learning as I went gave me respect and joy for the natural world. It played a role in shaping who I am today.
That's why places like Cromwell Valley Park and its programs are so important. Armed with the knowledge of the value of a sound relationship with nature, Schaffer and others at Cromwell Valley Park have designed summer camp programs, a children's garden and many other opportunities that help individuals learn about the natural history found in their own backyard.
These programs also help to restore property—which once constituted three farms as well as a iron ore mine, a marble quarry and lime kilns—back to a more natural state.
Preserving the 380 acres of valley along the Minebank Run stream is one of the reasons the park exists. From its humble begins in the early 1700s, when the valley was first settled, to the myriad activities that occur on any given weekend, Cromwell Valley Park welcomes both passive and active users.
Hikers, walkers, birders, photographers, and gardeners are all among the people one might find there—people who appreciate this semi-wild place right in their own neighborhood.
From Good Fellowship Farm to the Sherwood House and on over to Willow Grove Farm, there is, of course the stream bed, as well as meadows, wetland, brush and groves of trees, where wildlife is returning and nature, with some help from staff and volunteers, is regaining her footing in the valley.