The Gordon Natural Area:
Natural Sciences & Conservation at West Chester University

Located on South Campus, The Gordon Natural Area consists of 126 acres of preserved Eastern woodlands, includes hiking trails for locals and is used as an outdoor classroom for many courses.

In the late 1960s, the area known as South Campus was slated for development. The university administration was considering tearing down local woodlands to create dormitories. However, in 1969-1970, two students, Brad Gottfried and Dave Fluri, started a student movement to preserve the area. Both were biology majors and members of the biology club that recognized the land’s value for scientific study, and its intrinsic value as a relatively mature forest in an increasingly suburbanizing and developed landscape. Thanks to the energy and increased cultural awareness of conservation from the first Earth Day in 1970, they successfully mobilized students and faculty, and the next year the university afforded the property protection. The land was named for Dr. Robert B. Gordon in commemoration of the science faculty member’s 25+ year service. The property was formally dedicated in 1973 by Dr. William Overlease, a longtime professor of biology at WCU. Already curator of the Darlington Herbarium, Overlease also became an active caretaker and curator of the Gordon.

The Gordon Natural Area stands as WCU’s contribution to the original Earth Day movement, and its mission is to preserve the land in an undeveloped state—no easy task considering its embeddedness in the fabric of both the campus and greater West Chester community. It also serves as a natural “classroom” for environmental studies, and is utilized by many classes—from science and social work to business and art + design.

The Gordon Natural Area Exhibit

  • GNA Exhibit

    Vasculum and Fungi Samples from the Gordon Natural Area

    This vasculum belonged to Robert M. Gordon, a biology professor who worked for West Chester University for many years. Also known as a botanical box, a vasculum is a metal container used by botanists to carry plant samples that they take from different field sites, such as these diverse and multicolored fungi harvested from the Gordon Natural Area. A vasculum is made of metal so as to help it remain at a temperature and humidity that is desirable for plant life. It is important  for keeping the samples as fresh as when they were first harvested. If botanists didn't use a vasculum, their samples could be crushed, wilted and no longer usable. Today, botany professors continue to use vascula as to study samples in the Gordon Natural Area.

    On loan from WCU Special Collections

  • Fern

    Fern Sample from the William Darlington Herbarium

    West Chester University has a rich history of research in the natural sciences. West Chester native William Darlington (1782-1863) was a physician, U.S. Congressman and botanist who created a valuable Herbarium, or collection of plant samples, that was held for many years by the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The Academy donated the Herbarium, along with Darlington’s writings, in the 1870s and it represents one of the oldest institutional collections in the United States. Darlington was so influential that California pitcher plant, Darlingtonia californica was named in his honor in 1853.

    On loan from WCU Special Collections


Tour the exhibit with student co-curator Natalie Fenner

GNA Tour


Take a walk through The Gordon with its steward, Nur Ritter

Nur tourning GNA



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