Chester County’s 2021 Open Space Summit

Chester County celebrated another great year of open space preservation achievements during the 2021 Open Space Summit on Thursday, April 29. The virtual event was widely attended, with representatives joining in from multiple counties, municipalities, land trusts, conservancies, local news agencies, non-profits, and other related organizations.

The summit began at 6:30pm with welcoming remarks from County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell, and Michelle Kichline. As a strong advocate of the county’s open space preservation since the late 1980s, Molly Morrison (Chester County Planning Commission Board Member and former president of Natural Lands), noted the importance of open space preservation to Chester County’s character as a kickoff to the evening.

“While our beautiful Chester County landscapes have been the focus of preservation by conservation groups for years, it was Chester County’s willingness to work with a diverse citizens group to design an open space program that made the creation of parks and trails, and the preservation of natural areas and farms, a cornerstone of the quality of life here in Chester County,” commented Morrison. “What we do now and over the next 25 years will determine whether the wonderful aspects of Chester County – which we point to with pride today – will remain for our children and grandchildren.”

David Stauffer, Director of the Chester County Department of Parks + Preservation, highlighted some of the county’s open space achievements and overall purpose, including a summary of the County’s Grant Programs. Stauffer noted that over the course of 32 years, the county has entered 543 farms into the Agricultural Preservation Program, totaling 42,190 acres with an investment of $118.67 million.

Executive Director of the Chester County Planning Commission, Brian O’Leary, followed Stauffer’s presentation with an overview of the county’s comprehensive plan, Landscapes3, as well as a new video highlighting some of the county’s recent successes. He focused in on the plan’s “Preserve” goal, including its 5 objectives and 9 recommendations.

Next, Judy Thomas from Parks + Preservation provided the county’s “big reveal,” which concluded that by the end of 2020, 29.7% of Chester County’s land was permanently preserved. “To put that number into context, that’s more land area than the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburg combined,” Thomas explained. Additionally, she noted that through the county’s Agricultural Preservation Program, 20 farms were preserved in 2020 (totaling over 600 acres), and land trust partners preserved over 380 acres using conservation easements.

Following this update, East Bradford’s Township Manager, Mandie Cantlin, provided an overview of open space achievements in East Bradford Township, including their robust open space program (which was initiated back in 1998), and the process for funding the township’s initiative.

David Shields, Associate Director of Land Conservation at the Brandywine Conservancy, followed Cantlin’s presentation with a run-down of land conservation tools in Chester County through projects completed by the Conservancy in 2020. Shields noted that while 2020 was an awful year for most things, the Conservancy saw surprising success with a total of 957 acres conserved (the Glenroy Preserve property accounted for 577 acres of this), and over $7.5 million in federal, state, township and foundation funds raised.

For the next presentation, rather than providing an update on programs or data, Chester County farmer and member of the Agricultural Land Preservation Board, Don Cairns, used his personal story to illustrate the importance of farm preservation. Cairns’ story included past hardships, the process he took for obtaining land preservation easements, and what he’s accomplished today. “Here’s the most important thing I’m going to tell you tonight,” he noted upon concluding. “Agriculture is the foundation of our society. Without viable agriculture, we don’t have parks, we don’t have a transportation sector, we don’t have a society – so preserving our agriculture is critically important.”

The Planning Commission’s Design and Technology Director, Paul Fritz, followed Cairns’ presentation with an overview and instructions for viewing the county’s Open Space Inventory. The inventory, which can be accessed through the Planning Commission’s website, includes a compilation of the county’s numerous initiatives, programs, and ordinances.

Rachael Griffith, the Planning Commission’s Trails and Open Space Planner, concluded the presentations with a sneak-peek of the county’s Open Space Outreach Initiative (coming later this year). The desired vision of the initiative, as Griffith noted, is that all municipalities have effective systems in place to achieve their own preservation goals.

After the presentations, attendees were placed into breakout groups based on their topics of interest, which included: open space funding and municipal open space taxes; conservation tools, easements, TDR, zoning, etc.; and agricultural preservation.

To view a recording of the summit, visit

To learn more about open space in Chester County, visit