Once on the bed of an ancient saltwater sea, geologic forces turned bedrock into a waxy greenish stone called serpentine, useless for crops or pasture. Some small-scale mining exploration took place for chromite, talc, and stone. Acquired by The Nature Conservancy in the 1990s, the property was transferred to the Lancaster County Conservancy in 2004.
The property is actively managed, including the removal of trees and nonnative species, to allow for natural regeneration of a serpentine barren prairie habitat.
173 acres of serpentine barren, a unique habitat of global significance, caused by thin infertile soil derived from underlying serpentine rock geology. Serpentine soil has too much toxic nickel and chromite and too little calcium for most plants.
Two unnamed streams in the Conowingo Creek watershed, draining to Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.
Despite the serpentine soil, certain grasses and wildflowers have found a niche, creating a habitat found in only a handful of areas in the eastern United States. Big bluestem, the state grass of Illinois, reaches heights of six feet here, blooming with tiny, brilliant red and orange flowers. The downy little bluestem, the state flower of Nebraska, is gorgeous backlit at sunset.
Over 100 species of native wildflowers thrive here, from ragwort to Quaker ladies. Especially noteworthy is the serpentine aster, which blooms on the barrens of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and nowhere else. With wiry, nearly leafless stems and daisy-like blossoms, this flower is a candidate for federal protection.
Over 400 species of butterflies and moths live here, more than in any other spot in Pennsylvania. The buckmoth, a black-and-white daytime flyer, is found only on serpentine barrens. Birds, too, are in abundance, with the prairie warbler nesting here.
Spring: Migrating birds
Summer: Rare serpentine flowers like fameflower are in bloom, butterflies and moths are abundant. Best season for birding, listen for bobwhites and whip-poor-wills.
Fall: Over 60 species of native grasses turn the landscape gold
Winter: Cross-country skiiing
Mason-Dixon Road, Fulton Township.
From Lancaster, follow PA 272 South to Wakefield. From Wakefield, follow US 222 south 4.5 miles to the Maryland state line, then right on Mason-Dixon Road for 0.6 mile. Preserve is on both sides of road. Park on right shoulder at small Conservancy sign.