Natural Lands Trust

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Natural Lands Trust
Natural Lands Trust.png
Founded 1953
Type Environmental
Area served
Pennsylvania, New Jersey

Natural Lands Trust (NLT) is a non-profit land conservation organization with headquarters in Media, Pennsylvania, dedicated to the management, protection, and conservation of eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey’s native forests, fields, steams, and wetlands. The organization owns and manages 43 nature preserves—totaling more than 22,000 acres—located in 13 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Eighteen of the preserves are open to the public for recreational use; the others have limited visitation due to the presence of sensitive ecosystems or limited facilities.


In addition to owning and managing preserves, Natural Lands Trust preserves land by working with private land owners to establish and enforce conservation easements. A conservation easement is a voluntary but legally binding agreement that permanently limits a property’s use. To date, NLT holds easements on nearly 20,000 acres on nearly 900 properties, most of which are located in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Natural Lands Trust also provides a range of consulting services to Pennsylvania municipalities (152 municipalities in 26 counties, to date). These services include redrafting a township’s zoning ordinances to incorporate open space, thereby using development to save land.

Natural Lands Trust has been accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance,[1] which endorses a land trust’s ability to “operate in an ethical, legal, and technically sound manner and ensure the long-term protection of land in the public interest.” [2]

To date, Natural Lands Trust has saved more than 125,000 acres of land in its nearly 64-year history. This is equal to about half the total acreage of Pennsylvania's state park system.[3]


Pennypack Creek near Pine Road

“Natural Lands Trust is a non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to protecting the forests, fields, streams, and wetlands that are essential to the sustainability of life in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. [NLT applies] a comprehensive approach to conservation that includes permanently protecting natural areas, providing leadership in natural resource management, and creating opportunities for people to connect to and learn from nature.”[4] The organization’s approach to conservation includes:

  • Saving land - Permanently protecting natural areas using acquisition and conservation easements and by helping growing communities preserve more of their land
  • Stewarding Natural Resources - Providing leadership in managing natural resources on its preserves and sharing its expertise with other landowners
  • Connecting People to Nature - Creating opportunities for people to connect with and learn from nature


Natural Lands Trust was founded in 1953 as the Philadelphia Conservationists, Inc., by a group of birdwatchers who wanted to protect what is now the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, a tidal freshwater marsh in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania. Led by Allston Jenkins, a local accountant who was new to birding when he founded the organization, The Philadelphia Conservationists achieved their goal of protecting the Tinicum Marsh from being filled with sediment dredged from nearby waterways by the following year. Allston Jenkins (1903-1994) became Natural Land Trust’s first president and executive director, and was an active member within the organization until his death.

As the Philadelphia Conservationists, the organization worked to preserve land up and down the East Coast and beyond – however, they would usually turn the land that they preserved over to government agencies and other non-profits. In 1959, the organization created its first nature preserve. The Sharp's Woods Preserve[5] in Chester County, Pennsylvania, had 28 acres, and is still owned and stewarded by the organization today.

In 1961, the members of The Philadelphia Conservationists established themselves as Natural Lands Trust, Inc., as a means of being able to permanently own and preserve the land that came under their care. The same year, Natural Lands Trust received its first donation of land, now the Willisbrook Preserve[6] in Willistown Township, Pennsylvania.

Natural Lands Trust has continued to acquire and steward open land in eastern Pennsylvania and in southern New Jersey in the interest of preserving open spaces and native habitats and ensuring that residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey benefit from open spaces in perpetuity. In addition to acquiring land outright for preservation and stewardship, NLT has also been responsible for conservation easements on 20,000 acres of land. NLT’s first easement was the Upper Main Line YMCA in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1966, which was the first known conservation easement in Pennsylvania. Since its incorporation in 1961, NLT has saved more than 100,000 acres of land from being developed.

Natural Land Trust’s headquarters have been on the 55-acre Hildacy Farm Preserve[7] in Media, Pennsylvania since 1981. To date, it owns and manages 41 nature preserves across 13 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. NLT’s 21,000 acres are managed by 13 full and part-time land stewardship professionals. NLT receives government grants for land and easement purchases, receives land and easement donations, and is supported its members.

In the spirit of Natural Land Trust’s mission to not simply conserve open space, but to provide guidance in the development of communities and leadership in managing natural resources, NLT launched its Growing Greener: Conservation by Design municipal assistance program in 1997 and its Center for Conservation Landowners in 2007, respectively. To date, 152 municipalities in 26 counties across Pennsylvania and New Jersey have used NLT’s consulting services.

Programs and Services[edit]

Growing Greener: Conservation by Design[edit]

Growing Greener: Conservation by Design is a program that Natural Lands Trust launched in 1997 to help Pennsylvanian municipalities and independent developers conserve open space, preserve property assets, promote interconnected greenway networks, and maximize the quality of residents’ living conditions during the development process. The communities that have adopted Growing Greener Conservation by Design ordinances are currently setting aside an average of 62 percent of the land in new developments as open space.

Force of Nature[edit]

Force of Nature is Natural Lands Trust’s volunteer program, launched in 2011. Those selected for the program participate in an in-depth training program that covers a variety of land management and restoration techniques. Following training, program graduates apply their knowledge as skilled volunteers with Natural Lands Trust.

Nature Preserves[edit]

Of the 43 nature preserves Natural Lands Trust owns and manages, 18 are open to the public daily, free of charge, from sunrise to sunset.

Peacedale Preserve, Chester County, Pennsylvania

See also[edit]

External links[edit]