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Wilma Quinlan Nature Preserve Essay by Susan Charkes

The essay below is written by Susan Charkes and was originally published in the Bucks County Herald in 2006.   Susan Charkes is a poet, writer and author whose books include The Wild Here and Now (a book on nature in Bucks County). More information can be found at

There are people who shrug and say, “Change is inevitable; you can’t do anything about it” – as if change were a thing in itself, a sky-filling Hollywood monster. Then there are people like the late Wilma Quinlan. Mrs. Quinlan, I’m told, wasn’t really a nature lover. Not – in today’s sneering parlance – a “tree-hugger.” But this staunch Republican member of the New Britain Borough Council had a vision. When 23 acres of the Sidebotham farm, along the Neshaminy Creek in an industrial zone, came available for sale in the late 1960’s, she decided “this beautiful property” ought to be preserved. “If we didn’t,” she said later, “there would be nothing left for our grandchildren.”

And she got it done. She found government grants. She inspired other people in her community to help. One was Larry Miller, who raised enough private funds for the Borough to complete the purchase.

In 1981, ten years after her vision had become reality, Mrs. Quinlan pronounced herself “satisfied that we did the sensible thing.” The community did one more sensible thing. They named the nature preserve after the woman who slew the change monster.

Volunteers, including Miller, have been caring for the preserve since it opened.  Botanist Miriam Groner so loved the preserve that she gave her own land to be added to it.

It’s been 35 years since the land was saved. Enough time for trees and brush to have colonized the farm fields. Enough time for those grandchildren to have been born.

Take your grandchild, your child, or just yourself. Go past warehouses, over railroad tracks, behind a lumberyard, then through a gap in the evergreens. With snow thick on the ground and the trees, you enter a living painting. Paths lead down through woods and meadows to the Neshaminy. The snow is smooth and white and crystalline; it scours the air clean. The meandering creek alternately rushes over rocks then pools silently along tree-lined banks. Mallards, dabbling in the shallows, paddle into open water.

A loud chatter: the belted kingfisher defending its territory. This raucous gray-and-white pompadour-topped bird isn’t found just anywhere. It wants trees overhanging water so it can perch and scan for prey.  And of course it wants fish. Trees make that possible too: leaves fall in and feed the invertebrates that feed the fish that the kingfisher hunts.

Away from the banks, a splash of emerald green mossy rocks – oh!  a spring, melting the snow around it. A skunk cabbage’s waxy magenta flower erupting from the damp earth. In the brush, a flock of white-throated sparrows rustling up winter sustenance. A 200-year-old beech tree guarded by strong young saplings.

Upslope from the creek, in a grove of stately white pines, someone has placed a simple wooden bench. Most benches overlook a view. This one seems to have been put precisely where there’s nothing to view.  Nothing but trees, that is. Swaying, the trees creak overhead. It sounds like the elders, rocking, rocking back and forth on the porch.

I think of Wilma Quinlan rocking up there.

Without people who take action, there wouldn’t be too many places you can go to avoid taking action.

(Route 202 to Sand Rd., left onto Mathews Ave., parking is 1/4 mile on right. Or take the R5 to New Britain Station, walk up Aarons Ave. to Landis Mill Rd., to the pedestrian entrance.)