Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve inspires the appreciation and use of native plants by serving as a sanctuary and an educational resource for conservation and stewardship.
At a chance meeting in a wooded area on state park land in Bucks County, two conservation-minded people struck up a conversation, sharing their mutual appreciation for the peaceful, natural setting that surrounded them. It was autumn, and richly colored wildflowers shone against a backdrop of trees cloaked in brilliant fall hues. Inspired by the quiet beauty of the woods and the tranquil creek flowing nearby, they imagined a sanctuary for Pennsylvania native plants with nature trails winding through wildflower plantings, a place where visitors could enjoy this natural splendor year-round. Both firmly believed that this area was far too beautiful to be turned into the ordinary picnic grounds proposed for the site.
These two visionary individuals were Mrs. Mary K. Parry, then the Chairman of the Bucks County Federation of Women's Clubs and Mr. W. Wilson Heinitsh, employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Forest and Waters as a consultant for Washington Crossing Historic Park, the parkland where Mrs. Parry and Mr. Heinitsh met.
As the saying goes, Mrs. Parry and Mr. Heinitsh didn't let any grass grow under their feet (unless perhaps it was a Pennsylvania native!).
They rallied support for their vision from The Federation of Garden Clubs of Pennsylvania, Mr. W.E. Montgomery of the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, and the Council for the Preservation of Natural Beauty in Pennsylvania.
A gift from the Council to the Washington Crossing Park Commission made Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve (BHWP) a reality. In October 1934, the Commission set aside 100 acres in a portion of Washington Crossing Historic Park north of Bowman's Hill Tower as a living memorial to the patriots of George Washington's army who camped in the area during the American Revolutionary War. (Just 5 miles south of what is now Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, Washington and his men successfully crossed the icy Delaware in a blinding snowstorm at night, marched into Trenton, New Jersey the next morning and won a critical battle.)
Through the years, the Preserve has become acknowledged as the State Wildflower Preserve of Pennsylvania.
From the start, Dr. Edgar T. Wherry, then a Professor of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, marveled at the variety of habitats within the relatively modest acreage of the Preserve-modest, that is, compared to that of the entire state. (The Preserve now is home to nearly 800 of the 2000 plant species native to Pennsylvania.)
Under Wherry's leadership, volunteers planted as many Pennsylvania native species as could be successfully grown. Planting records maintained from the outset set the course for the Preserve's contributions as a botanical institution.
A picturesque stone bridge crossing Pidcock Creek, a roadway, trails, and a log cabin were constructed through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. Within ten years of its inception, BHWP's physical layout was established.
Penn's Woods arboretum, the first state memorial reforestation project, was established in 1944 by an act of the Pennsylvania State Legislature to celebrate William Penn's 300th birthday.
In the 1950's, BHWP received the distinguished Founders Fund award from the Garden Club of America, designating BHWP as "the most worthwhile conservation or horticultural project in the U.S." Volunteers began to provide visitor orientation, which today has expanded to a full menu of outstanding educational programs.
In the 1960's, the Preserve created a modest propagation area. A new Visitor Center opened. The internship program began, which continues today as a critical component of our education and outreach initiatives.
In the 1970's, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve Association, Inc. (BHWPA), the non-profit corporation that now manages the Preserve in cooperation with PHMC, became a membership-supported organization.
The Visitor Center was expanded to house more office space and the gift of the Platt Collection of mounted birds, nests and eggs.
In the 1980's, BHWPA hired its first educator. The propagation area expanded, providing plants for the Spring and Fall Plant Sales, both open to the public.
BHWP was awarded the distinction of American Association of Museum (AAM) accreditation in 1989, and achieved successful reaccreditation in 2002. In the interim, enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers and the Board of Trustees continued to contribute. The staff grew in numbers, bringing a new complement of talents to the Preserve.
Since its serendipitous beginnings in the minds and hearts of two wildflower enthusiasts, BHWP has emerged as a vibrant and dynamic institution. The Preserve remains flexible enough to meet changing needs but firmly focused on encouraging people to join us in the preservation of Pennsylvania native plants and a commitment to a healthy and diverse natural world.