On my first visit to Coventry Woods, I was alone on a Sunday afternoon. I found an access point at 2145 Coventryville Road, at the intersection with Chestnut Hill Road. After climbing an unpaved, steep incline in my car, the terrain leveled off and I came to a grassy parking area. From there, I could continue on foot in the same general direction or go off to the right, past a pavilion, down a trail clearly marked by bright red rectangles on tree trunks. I decided on the marked path, although there wasn’t a trail map at the trail head, so I didn’t know if the trail looped around or how long it was. I wasn’t comfortable heading off into the great unknown by myself, but I figured I’d at least walk a little ways to see what I could see.
Within a few minutes, I noticed some trees with orange markers, and shortly thereafter came upon an impressive signpost. It was clear then that this park had an extensive trail system. Apparently, there are trail maps at other access points, but just to be safe, hikers will want to print out this Coventry Woods Trail Map before they head out to experience this awe-inspiring wilderness.
When I pulled out my copy of Walden by Henry D. Thoreau, which I was reading for my master’s writing program, I came across this quote: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.” As much as I would have liked to be in sync with Thoreau in that moment in Coventry Woods, I just wasn’t. (Where was Rosemary and her entire family when I needed them?!)
Fortunately, I had my North Coventry guides on my second visit to Coventry Woods. We went in at the Fernbrook access point at the intersection of Fernbrook Lane and St. Peters Road. The Township recently acquired this 39-acre parcel with numerous buildings from Nueva Esperanza Youth Camp. The purchase was made possible by a grant from the Pennyslvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
This wasn’t the first purchase made from the former owners of the camp. Over the past several years, the township has been buying parcels as funding has become available. This area is part of the Hopewell Big Woods, generally known as the most important mature forested landscape in southeastern Pennsylvania. Plugging the Coventryville Road address into Google maps or Google Earth gives a pretty good idea of the scle of this valuable ecological and recreational resource.
A couple days after this visit, Jay Kline, planning commissioner, sent me a document from their Open Space Committee (North Coventry Saved Lands Stats). It shows that since North Coventry’s 2002 open space referendum, they have saved 1,163 acres – land that will not fall victim to suburban sprawl. Their $2.1 million in open space funds leveraged $13.4 million more in private donations and state and county grants. Those acres include hundreds that now make up the 600+ acre Coventry Woods property, which may eventually connect to French Creek State Park and be part of a greenway through the township that connects to the Schuylkill River Trail.
As we walked through the Fernbrook area of Coventry Woods, which contains about a dozen rustic buildings, Andy Paravis talked about the possibility of renovating one of them for use as a nature center. I thought the site had real potential to serve as a retreat for school groups, clubs, or families just wanting to camp for a few nights in the wilderness, but there are no funds or plans to put any of the buildings into use at this time. However, there is a large pavilion with a new grill that’s available for rentals. Just get in touch with the Township at the number below.
I also learned from Mr. Kline that the directional signposts that I’d seen on my first visit were made from wood recycled from a demolished building at Camp Fernbrook. And he explained another marker that I recalled seeing – one that said, “Charcoal Hearth.”
Wood from Coventry Woods was burned in large outdoor hearths to make charcoal. “The remains of each charcoal hearth along the trail is marked with the pictured sign. Charcoal made at Coventry Woods was used at Hopewell Furnace to make iron,” wrote Mr. Kline in an email. There are numerous hearths noted on the trail map.
To learn more about Hopewell Furnace and the amount of charcoal they needed, see this link. Mr. Kline also sent a link to this site, which explains the charcoal hearth model that was carried out in Coventry Woods.
What was really striking to me on the way back from Coventry Woods to the township building, via North Coventry’s riverfront parks, was the absolutely breathtaking farmland, the rolling fields and the autumn colors as a backdrop. And then, as we got closer to the river and the more densely-populated areas of Pottstown Landing and South Pottstown, we were clearly returning to the region’s town center – Pottstown. It seemed so obvious then, how regional planning should work: a greenbelt around what could be a thriving urban center. Despite all its complexities, it’s a goal to keep moving toward.
I’d like to thank Andy Paravis, Jay Kline and Police Chief Robert Schurr for their time and for providing so much information on North Coventry’s parks and open space.
Location: 2145 Coventryville Road, Pottstown, PA 19465. Fernbrook Access: 1954 St. Peters Road, Pottstown, PA 19465
Size: 600+ acres
Suitability: All ages, except very young children will not be able to cover much ground on this sometimes hilly terrain.
Facilities: Trails, pavilions, and wilderness hiking through mature forest.
Activities and tips: See the map link in this article for other access points and parking locations.
Hours: 7 am to sunset.