Okehocking Nature Center Project

Okehocking Preserve

The 180-acre Okehocking Preserve, owned by Willistown Township, was established in 2001 and acquired over a period of six years through the Willistown Township Open Space Fund and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Chester County Grant Programs. This unique property includes mature woods, meadowlands, uplands, wetlands, and riparian areas along a tributary and the main stem of Ridley Creek.


The Okehocking Nature Center Project Evolution

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The Okehocking Management Plan

The Okehocking Management Plan, adopted in 2006, is a dynamic document that provides the Township with guidance for managing and improving the unique natural resources of the Okehocking Preserve while providing important passive recreation opportunities and management of a future active recreation site.

Excerpt from page 42 of the Plan:

"Most of the management goals are interwoven. Operating the Preserve most efficiently will lead to accomplishing many of these goals at one time. This approach is the foundation for the plan to construct an environmental/nature center at the Garrett Barn site. Such a facility has wide reaching potential to accomplish Partnership Netowrk, natural Resource, Recreation, Education, Historic Resource and Agriculture goals and objectives for the property."

View the plan.

A Community Effort

Far from being primarily a Township initiative, Willistown's Okehocking Nature Center project began as a grass-roots community effort based on interlocking community partners who enthusiastically joined the grant steering committee. These organizations shared interests revolving around people and nature, including environmental stewardship, restoration, recreation, and education, as well as the connection between people's wellness and their relationship with nature.

View a video from the partners:

“A Place for People and Nature” – Curing Nature Deficit Disorder

“A place for people and nature” became the Okehocking Nature Center Project's tagline. It represents the driving agreement behind this project—that connecting all generations to nature is critical to future human well being, conservation, and environmental health. The steering team felt a true sense of urgency for families, schools, and environmental and community organizations to collaborate in promoting multiple learning and recreational experiences with, and in, nature for people of all ages.

The nature center partners look to heal the societal affliction which Richard Louv so persuasively identifies as "Nature Deficit Disorder" in his book, Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Finding words for what many modern parents themselves are beginning to grasp, Louv puts it succinctly: “Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity. This need is revealed in two ways: by an examination of what happens to the senses of the young when they lose their connection with nature; and by witnessing the sensory magic that occurs when young people—even those beyond childhood—are exposed to even the smallest direct experience of a natural setting.”

Feasibility & Planning Funding 

In September of 2006, Willistown Township embarked on a concerted effort to establish a nature center at Okehocking Preserve. The Township was awarded a Feasibility Study & Schematic Design grant from the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Community Conservation Partnerships Program in the amount of $106,000 including $40,000 "match" from the Township. The project architect was Musco Martin of M2 Architecture in Philadelphia, an architect with extensive experience designing environmental education and nature centers utilizing green technology and sustainable design.

Study & Design Process

A feasibility study is undertaken to determine whether a planned project is likely to be both practical and successful, as well as to estimate its cost.

A schematic design incorporates all of the mutually agreed-upon goals and concepts developed during the design charrette, or workshop (discussed below).

Study Deliverables

  • Conceptual site plan
  • Floor plans at 1/8" scale
  • Building elevations
  • Building sections
  • Building systems narrative
  • Energy analysis & optimization report
  • Green-building certification scorecard
  • Schematic cost estimate
  • Artist's rendering

Consultant Team 

Directed by architect Muscoe Martin of M2 Architecture, project consultant team members included Viridian Landscape Studio (landscape architect), Bruce Brooks and Associates (mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer), Cahill Associates (civil engineer), and Don Watson (nature center specialist).

Public Input

Community members made significant contributions to the planning process through a series of public events made possible by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (DCNR) Community Conservation Partnerships Program Feasibility Study and Schematic Design grant to the Township. Regular project articles in the WillisTowne Crier newsletter also kept people informed. Postings on memo boards, yard signs throughout the township, email announcements, fliers to Willistown residents, and ads in the Daily Local News all helped assure a good turnout for three public forums held at the Upper Main Line YMCA and General Wayne Elementary School.

Design Charrette

A kaleidoscope of ideas and opinions had been put forth, mulled over, challenged, rejected, and supported since the initial project visioning workshop a year prior. The project consultants, steering team members, and stakeholders were always mindful of the need for community input from the project’s inception. Recurrent themes that emerged from the public meetings were incorporated into a two-day design charrette (intensive workshop) which produced actual building proposals. The process was captured in a charette workbook. The result: A structure of approximately 7,500 square feet, perched, much like the bank barn previously on the site, on about 1/5 of an acre out of the total 180 acres that comprise Okehocking Preserve.

View the Charrette Workbook

Steering Committee

Project steering committee members, led by Willistown Township Parks & Recreation Director, Mary Hundt, included Willistown residents and area programming and educational organizations committed to creating a nature center and providing programming at Okehocking. This group became the Feasibility Study & Schematic Design grant steering committee. Members included:
Brian Raicich, Upper Main Line Y
Sandy Claus, Great Valley School District
Dick Menn, Chester County Master Gardeners
Derek Stedman, Southeast PA Habitat Resource Network
Jim Rapp, Malvern Troop 7 Boy Scouts, and liaison to the Diamond Rock District of Chester County BSA Council
Bill Hartman, Willistown Conservation Trust
Brad Zerr, Paoli Hospital
Norman MacQueen, Willistown Township Supervisor

Plan Unveiled

In November of 2007, after significant public input, the Okehocking Nature Center schematic design was unveiled.

View the design presentation

View the project Pricing Set and Cost Estimate

View the Preliminary LEED Certification Scorecard

Senator Dinniman Sponsors Grant for Site Work & Phase I Pavilion "Shovel Ready"

State Senator Andy Dinniman sponsored a State Department of Conservation & Natural Resources grant in the amount of $80,000 which resulted in an engineered site plan and Phase I for the nature center structure in the form of a pavilion. These plans were completed in the fall of 2009. The project is "shovel ready".
View the design presentation
View the Demolition,Civil, Landscape, and Architectural Plans
View the Cost Estimate
View the Building Area Summary
View the Landscape Maintenance Estimate

Nonprofit Formed 

During the Nature Center Project feasibility and design process, the Willistown's Okehocking Nature Center 501c3 nonprofit was formed by the grant steering committee so that it could be the owner of the proposed Nature Center.

Economy Thwarts Construction Fundraising

Due to the economic downturn and significant grant and municipal funding cutbacks, the fundraising for the construction phase of the project was not initiated.

Willistown's Okehocking Nature Center Focuses on Programming
As a result of the stalled construction of the Nature Center facility, and with their mission to connect people to nature through programming and improvement projects at Okehocking Preserve, the Okehocking Nature Center team focused all of its attention on conducting programming and improvement projects at Okehocking Preserve. .

Nature Center's Activities & Programs

The group's activities and events promoted environmental stewardship, recreation, health and wellness, and assisted in building a stronger sense of community through the use of this unique local treasure. Core elements of the Okehocking Nature Center's programming included demonstration gardens around the Garrett Farmhouse where visitors got green ideas for their own homes. A self-guided tour map was produced through funding from the Marjorie L. and Arthur P. Miller fund. A hawk watch stand was constructed to the west of the red pole barn on the top of the hill to assist bird counters and observers in their pursuits. Other programs included bird walks, hikes, talks for all ages, and land and water management projects and plantings.

Protecting Habitats

The center emphasized the need for the protection and management of the many habitats at the Preserve, including vernal pools, mature woods, meadows, and uplands, and the plants and animals within them.

Self Guided Tour Map

The Okehocking Nature Center, in partnership with Willistown Parks and Recreation, created a self guided tour map of the Township Preserve. View the map here.

Willistown's Okehocking Nature Center Disbands

In 2016, after it's many years of service and wonderful contributions to Okehocking Preserve, the Willistown's Okehocking Nature Center 501(c)3 non-profit organization disbanded.  

Willistown Parks & Recreation ~ Celebrating community and enriching life through people, parks, and programs.