September 20, 2023

WEATHER UPDATE:  Out of an abundance of caution due to this weekend’s weather forecast, the Forest Festival, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Gordon Natural Area, will be moved indoors to our Sykes Ballrooms.

In an effort to keep our guests safe, warm, and dry this weekend, the celebration will now take place in the Sykes Ballrooms, located in the Sykes Student Union Building on 110 West Rosedale Avenue, West Chester, PA.

Same Day! Saturday, September 23, 2023
Same Time!1-4 PM
New Location! Sykes Ballrooms

Please visit the  Gordon Natural Area 50th Anniversary Celebration website.  

Forest Fest: Celebrating 50 Years of the Gordon Natural Area


Gordon natural area

Of West Chester University’s 406 acres, more than 126 acres is a preserved forest and open space on South Campus used for environmental studies, reflection, and recreation: the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies (GNA). On the heels of the first Earth Day in 1970, the GNA was protected from development in 1971 and officially dedicated in 1973. It has been since designated a Wild Plant Sanctuary by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the GNA’s dedication, the University will host a free “Forest Fest” on Saturday, September 23 with tours and activities suitable for all ages. It will take place rain or shine from 1 to 4 p.m. Please visit the Gordon Natural Area 50th Anniversary Celebration website for the location.

WCU Biology Professor Jessica Schedlbauer, who chairs the committee organizing Forest Fest, says, “Those of us who work in and care for the Gordon Natural Area are very excited about bringing the campus and community together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its dedication.” Hikes, demonstrations, family-friendly activities, and takeaways are on the schedule.

Those planning to attend are asked to bring a reusable water bottle to help minimize waste.

Exhibits and music from campus radio station WCUR will open the event at 1 p.m.  At 1:45 p.m., Chief Brad Kills Crow and Mr. Jeremy Johnson, members of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, will invite those present to join a traditional participatory dance. Now based in Oklahoma, the Delaware are among the original peoples of the mid-Atlantic area.

WCU President Christopher Fiorentino will address the gathering at 2 p.m. Live music from the Mill Race Collective, a string quartet, will begin at 2:15 p.m.

Three guided tours of the GNA are offered, the first beginning at 1:15 p.m. with Noah Long from Davey Trees identifying tree species. GNA Stewardship Manager Nur Ritter will lead the 2:15 p.m. tour of the GNA’s Eastern Meadow, where he and professor of Anthropology Heather Wholey will introduce new signage highlighting the Lenape Tribe’s relationship with the land that is now part of the GNA. Ritter will also discuss current efforts to enhance habitat for the monarch butterfly. At 3:15 p.m., Associate Professor of Biology Jen Chandler will lead the last GNA tour and talk about the history and ecology of the area.

Many of the exhibits and demonstrations are being hosted by University organizations and departments:

  • Drone demonstrations by WCU’s Department of Geography and Planning and Department of Earth and Space Science. Explore a wide range of activities: 1) ESS/GEO drone flights; 2) Handheld drone flights; 3) Flight software and imagery laptops; and more.
  • Bugs: The Little Things That Run the Gordon Natural Area with Assistant Professor Manu Ramalho of WCU’s Department of Biology and her students.
  • Environmental Geography and Planning: Learn about field mapping, plus how conservation, land preservation, and field data collection are part of the planning process. Explore maps and other representations of how Chester County (and related nonprofits) have been engaged and successful.
  • Nearly a dozen WCU student clubs and organizations with an environmental/science/sustainability focus are hosting demonstrations and activities throughout the event, including snacks, seed planting, and “fishing” for prizes. A list of student organizations participating as of the date of this posting is at the end of this release.

In addition, regional conservation organizations will be on hand, including the West Chester Green Team; Stroud Water Research Center; Penn State Master Gardeners of Chester County; Goose Creek Alliance; Goshen Tree Tenders; Brandywine Urban Forest Consulting; Temple University’s Integrative Ecology Lab; and others.

The GNA is the site for hundreds of hours of research by WCU faculty and students. Research on natural succession, emerald ash borers, carbon storage and sequestration, and invasive plant management are some of the many ongoing studies.

Schedlbauer is one of many WCU faculty who use the GNA as a living laboratory. One of her research areas is carbon storage and cycling in forest ecosystems, focusing on ecosystems affected by human activity. Her work engages undergraduate students in addressing issues of climate change, land-use change, and ecosystem management.

Attendees are advised to bring gear appropriate for the weather and to carry a reusable water bottle. Those who are planning to do the walking tours are advised to wear footwear suitable for walking on rough, sometimes wet terrain.

Additional information will be posted on the GNA Forest Festival website.

Student Organizations Participating in GNA Forest Fest

The Oceanography Club: Fishing to win prizes and learn about links between the land & oceans
Sustainability Peer Educators: Fanny Pack & Water Bottle Raffle; and, Seed Planting
The Environmental Health Club: Planting Herbs
Students for Sustainable Action: Scavenger Hunt and Crafts Incorporating Nature
Women in Science
Food Recovery Network
Net Impact
Geography & Planning Association
VegOut: Sustainable Solutions (win a snack!)
Outdoor Adventure Pursuits



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