Places to Visit In or Near Delaware

Autumn among the beeches

Ian Stewart

If life is getting you down or you’re feeling particularly stressed why not take a gentle afternoon stroll through a beech wood? Walking through a beech wood in the fall is a serene experience that will instantly melt away your troubles. And if you look closely, the beeches have a few surprises in store…..

The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a fairly common tree across almost all of the eastern United States and is easily recognized by its smooth, pale gray bark and its above-ground ‘knees’ formed by the tops of its shallow roots. We have several stands of old, large beech trees around our DNS sites because early settlers tended to leave them alone as they often grow on hillsides which aren’t attractive sites for home building or farming, and also because their hard wood is difficult to cut.

At this time of year the ground beneath a beech wood is littered with a carpet of their golden leaves and if you wait long enough you will see a variety of mammals and birds rustling though them in search of fallen beech nuts. These distinctive triangular nuts emerge in pairs from their tough, furry husks when ripe and are beloved by deer, squirrels and Blue Jays and were apparently the favored food of the extinct Passenger Pigeon. Beech nuts are edible to humans once they have been peeled although they are apparently bitter and may even be toxic in large quantities so we do not recommend that you eat them.

Part of the reason beech woods are so attractive to walk through is that they are remarkably open, with very little understory of bushes or shrubs to navigate through. This is because beech trees are thought to be allelopathic, meaning they exude a chemical into the soil around them which inhibits the growth of other plants. Sometimes the only plant you see growing near a beech tree is a ring of ‘root sprouts’ growing around its trunk, which is a direct way through which beech trees spread in addition to their nuts.

Still, despite their placid outward appearance beech woods are tinged with intrigue. If you get down on your hands and knees you will notice that most of the trees have a circle of mysterious brown weedy stems around their base. These are known as Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) and are among a handful of plants that don’t photosynthesize but instead live parasitically by burrowing into the roots of beech trees and extracting their nutrients.

So please take the time to explore a beech wood this fall, but be sure to appreciate the small struggles going on underneath these giant trees!

By Jason Beale, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Towering American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata) defined much of the eastern forest from the colonial period until the early 1900’s.  Valued by humans and wildlife alike for its bountiful nuts, the tree was also used for lumber and leather tanning.

Stump-sprouting American Chestnuts, like this one at Abbott’s Mill, are typical of most remaining trees, which once constituted more than 25% of the eastern forest. This specimen may be over a hundred years old as it continually battles blight.  Photo by Jason Beale.

The eastern forest was forever changed when an Asian fungus, tolerated by Chinese and Japanese Chestnuts, began its uncontrollable spread in 1904.  By the 1930’s, the American Chestnut was rendered ecologically extinct, with trees  killed outright or condemned to decades of attempted regrowth.  It’s shrubby native cousin, the Chinquapin, also suffered from the blight.  The impact on wildlife, forests, and many rural communities was devastating.


Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) attacking a sprout. This sac fungus will kill off the trunk, while the tree will continue to send up new shoots.  Photo by Ed Crawford.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the stump-sprouting chestnuts have inspired people to help restore the chestnut to its former ecological role.  The American Chestnut Foundation (, founded in 1983, has worked diligently to protect remaining chestnuts that show a degree of blight-resistance and has embarked on an extensive project to hybridize American trees with Chinese specimens.  Generations of backcrossing with American specimens have yielded a tree that is approximately 94% American and expected to show a high degree of blight-resistance.  These “BC3F3” trees may be the pioneers that bring thriving chestnuts back to our forests.


Dr. Gary Carver, Pres. of the Maryland Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, provides ID tips for distinguishing American and Chinese traits in hybrid and backcrossed trees.  Photo by Jason Beale.

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford, Delaware features remnant American Chestnuts, Chinquapins, and the remnants of a former Chinese Chestnut plantation.  Inspired by the story of the chestnut and coupled with  ongoing habitat restoration projects, Abbott’s Mill staff toured Maryland’s American Chestnut Society Chapter’s restoration projects.  We returned and planted four saplings from a surviving American Chestnut (known as a mother tree) as the first step in working with TACF to restore chestnuts in Delaware along with an interpretive trail highlighting the natural and cultural history of the tree.


This ~50 ft. “survivor” tree in Maryland provides hope that the American Chestnut could return to the eastern forest.  Photo by Jason Beale.

Please contact Abbott’s Mill Nature Center at 302-422-0847 or if you are interested in helping us bring the chestnut back and turn over a new leaf in this tree’s incredible story.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

My wife and I try to explore new parks and preserves near where we live.  We always seem to find somewhere new to visit if we just look.  The other day, my wife suggested we go to a Chester County Park that I had never heard of, Wolf’s Hollow.  This park is a big baby…what I mean is, it is only 2 years old, and it is 569-acres, which is big enough to take a really long hike.

The entrance to Wolf’s Hollow County Park, in west-central Chester County, PA.

We walked 4.4 of the 7.9 miles of trails available at the park.  In fact, the trails are only open for hiking.  Hikers don’t need to worry about horses or bicyclists here!  We saw only one other hiker during our 4.4 miles…and it was a Sunday!  The yellow and orange trails made for a really nice loop.  The most amazing things about this park are the natural features along the Octoraro Creek.  As you walk the yellow trail, you are around 600-feet in elevation (much higher than anywhere in Delaware!) looking far down a gorge to the creek below.  The forested hills are clothed in mature oak-hickory forest with Red, Chestnut, White, Black, and Scarlet Oaks predominating, with Pignut and Mockernut Hickory scattered around.  The forest is extensive and with the leaves off the trees, you could easily see the surrounding landscape.

The beautiful forests at Wolf’s Hollow are bordered by some amazing open land with historic buildings and barns.

Very well marked trails provided an easy hiking experience for the first-time visitor, and we could concentrate on enjoying our surroundings instead of trying to figure out where we were all the time.  Although we weren’t far from home near Kennett Square, there were plants and animals here that we don’t see near us.  One was the Chipmunk.  We saw several scurrying around the rocks, nervously eying us as we passed.  Also, we saw lots of Yellow Birch in one particular cove.  I associate this tree with mountains further north, not Chester County.  In fact, you feel like you are on an Appalachian ridge while walking the yellow trail.

An 18th-century house called the Apple House sits along an intact historic road within the park.

Our visit took place the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  It was chilly and even snowed during our hike, which was a nice touch.  Wildlife and birds were mostly quiet that day, but this is the kind of place that looks like it is oozing with birds during spring, summer, and fall.  Take a trip 1/2-hour from Delaware to this wonderful new park and enjoy a quiet hike along the Octoraro gorge and through some Chester County history.

A historic road that runs through the park. This doubles as a hiking trail.

Do you have any places that you would recommend?  I will post ideas of places to go that are in or near Delaware in this blog occasionally.