Garden Collage Visits Bowman’s Hill Native Wildflower Preserve
The long, winding road that leads up to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve sets the stage for an enchanting experience, and on a recent trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania, Garden Collage got to experience the magic first hand.
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve stretches over 134 idyllic acres and has more than 2.5 miles of well-designed, all-weather walking trails– some of the best hiking in all of Bucks County.
A stop at the Visitor Center reveals a small but fascinating collection of mounted birds, nests, and eggs, along with a great little bird observatory and lots of children’s resources– all of it focused on Pennsylvania’s native plants and wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see a hawk, a turkey, or a pileated woodpecker, the largest North American woodpecker, at one of the bird feeders.
According to local historians, the Preserve and nearby Bowman’s Tower are both named for Dr. John Bowman, an early English settler who lived near Pidcock Creek, a picturesque stream that travels across the Preserve and doubles as a small tributary of the Delaware River.
Originally founded as a memorial to George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776, the Preserve traces its history to a more recent time—about 1934, during the Great Depression, when President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) built many of the Preserve’s structures.
Today the various habitats in Bowman’s Hill Native Wildflower Preserve are home to nearly 800 plant species (out of about 2,000 species) that are native to Pennsylvania. More than 80 of these species are rare, threatened, or endangered native plants. Thankfully, they are all protected by a deer enclosure fence that surrounds most of the Preserve.
Picnic in the Meadows
Located on a sloping hillside at the entrance to the Preserve is a family-friendly picnic area with a lovely old stone pavilion and adjacent lawn featuring bucolic views of the surrounding meadow.
“Our meadow is full of late season perennials, like asters and goldenrods,” says Bowman’s Communications Coordinator, Jennifer Pennington. “The late season blooms are important nectar sources for butterflies, particularly monarchs that need a lot of energy when migrating to Mexico.”
Meadow paths let visitors meander across five acres allowing close-up views of the wildflowers filled with buzzing pollinators. The Preserve’s website describes the lowest end of the meadow as “rather moist” and filled with tall grasses, sedges, rushes and forbs that like ‘wet feet.’ By late summer, some of these plants reach impressive heights of six to eight feet, according to the site. Also waving in the wind are native grasses like Big Bluestem, Prairie dropseed, Purpletop, and Switchgrass.
As the upper portion of the meadow tends to be drier, the plants growing there are adapted to this condition. For the late summer and fall, shades of yellow and blue blanket the dry meadow, which includes Asters, Boneset, Culver’s root, Field thistle, and various Goldenrods.
A Millrace Trail
Walking along Pidcock Creek as it curves through woodlands is one of the most picturesque hikes at the Preserve– one that is especially nice in the Fall. The trail parallels the creek, which features a three-arched stone bridge, a quaint cabin made from American chestnut logs, a dam, and a millrace that once fed water from the dam down to a gristmill.
Woodland paths near the cabin lead to gorgeous fall wildflowers–native Asters and the Closed bottle gentian, one the most unique native wildflowers that blooms from late summer into the fall.
“A more challenging walk, but lots of fun,” says Pennington, “is to go from our Visitor Center to Bowman’s Hill Tower. This is a wonderful way to appreciate the beauty of fall foliage and see a panoramic view of the region.”
On a clear day, the 125-foot tower at Bowman’s Hill offers a 14-mile view. It is managed independently of the Preserve as part of Washington Crossing State Park. (There is a separate admission fee to enter and climb to the top of the Tower.)
For families with young kids, a new Green Labyrinth at the Preserve is fun to explore. Kids are invited to add a stone to the spiral form. Also in the woods is the ROT Plot which stands for “Recycling Our Trees”– an area where families can see nature’s decomposers—pillbugs, worms, beetles, and fungi–in and under decaying logs and tree stumps.
Pennington also suggests a self-guided Backpack Tour that can be checked out from the Visitor Center. “With it you can explore nature through interactive activities at each destination along the Discovery Trail. It’s recommended for families with children ages seven and up.”
A newly built pond –a must-see at the edge of the woods– offers a chance to watch pond wildlife like turtles, frogs, dragonflies, and water-loving birds, as well as aquatic plants. It’s one of the best spots to learn firsthand how nature’s food chain works.
Guided wildflower walks at the Preserve, meanwhile, are a great way to get oriented and to see what’s in bloom. Tours are offered Tuesday – Sunday at 2 PM through October and are included in the admission fee ($6.00 adults; $4.00 seniors and students; $3.00 children 3-14; children under 3 and members are free).
To learn more about the offerings at Bowman’s Hill Native Wildflower Preserve, check out their website, here.