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Gordon Natural Area


Contact Gordon Natural Area  

Gordon Natural Area

Merion Science Center
Room 010
720 S. Church Street
West Chester, PA 19383


GNA Stewardship Manager

Name: Nur P. Ritter
Phone: 610-436-2722

Gordon Natural Area

  • View of the Gordon Natural Area in early Spring (2017).
  • Pinkster-bush (Rhododendron periclymenoides)
  • Two Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginiana)
  • Students in Dr. Schedlbauer's Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology class practicing forest monitoring
  • Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) on the GNA forest floor
  • Coral Slime Mold (Ceratiomyxa poroides) growing on a decaying log in the GNA
  • Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in the bottomlands along Plum Run
  • Hairy Bracket (Tramates hirsuta) growing on a downed log in the GNA
  • Invasive Species Management: WCU teachers, staff, and students participating in the annual 'Garlic Mustard Pull'
  • Sedum ternatum (Wild Stonecrop) growing on the forest floor
  • Slime Molds growing on a decomposing log
  • Trees turning colors in fall

Upcoming/Recent Events & Ongoing Work

Erosion Remediation

Essentially, no significant trail repairs have been undertaken in the GNA since its its establishment nearly 50 years ago.  Hence, trail repair and erosion remediation have recently been accorded the highest priority.  In the Fall of 2017, the President’s Office provided funds for the purchase of a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) for use in the GNA.  This vehicle, which is equipped with a dump bed and a front-mounted winch greatly facilitates trail repair efforts and allows us to undertake much more extensive projects than were formerly possible.  Additionally, GNA annual funds were used to purchase auxiliary equipment. The two most significant purchases were a dump trailer and a ‘Buck Arch’: an implement to facilitate transporting timbers, logs, and large stones.

 GNA Interns moving a log into place using the Buck-arch\

GNA Interns Paige Vermeulen (gray shirt), Ariana Rivellini (blue shirt), and Noah Long (purple shirt) moving a 16' long hickory log into place with the Buck Arch and a two-person timber carrier.  The log will be used to form an 'erosion dam.'

This summer, we've installed a number of 'erosion breaks': logs that are placed perpendicular to the flow of water in erosion channels.  The bottoms of the logs are set beneath the existing soil level (which entails a good deal of work in rocky soils) and the logs form a barrier which slows water flow, thereby allowing sediment to settle out and accumulate 'behind' (i.e., upstream of) the logs.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."

— John Muir

 Welcome to the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies website.

The Gordon Natural Area (also referred to as 'the Gordon' and ‘the GNA’) occupies approximately 126 acres (51 hectares) along the southeastern corner of West Chester University’s campus and is administered in collaboration with the University’s Office of Sustainability.  Established as a protected area in 1971, the GNA has since served as a refuge for local wildlife and native plants, and as a multi-use setting for researchers, nature lovers, runners, dog walkers, and people looking to reconnect with the natural world.



The Gordon Natural Area’s mission has two primary objectives:

  • To preserve the land in an undeveloped state
  • To serve as a natural ‘classroom’ for environmental studies

Objective 1.  Preservation of the Land

Initially, it was thought that management could essentially be done in a ‘hands-off’ manner (other than any small-scale maintenance that might be required by Stadium Road and the trail system).  However, over time it has become increasingly evident that the land requires a very active level of directed management.  This is because the integrity of the GNA is threatened by a variety of forces: e.g., invasive plants, overgrazing (by deer), invasive insects and insect-borne pathogens, non-native earthworms, fragmentation, etc.  In order to begin addressing these issues, the GNA Staff, along with numerous student volunteers, have undertaken fairly extensive reforestation and afforestation efforts in the GNA.

Objective 2. Be a Natural Classroom for Environmental Studies

Since before its designation as a protected area, the lands comprising the GNA were the site for a limited number of Natural Science classes, as well as being the location for field research by a few faculty members.  After receiving protection, the GNA has received extensive use as an outdoor classroom, with more than 30 courses having utilized the land.  In addition to use by numerous classes in the Department of Biology, courses from a broad range of other departments (e.g., Art & Design, Business, Earth & Space Science, English, and Social Work, among others) have also taken advantage of this amazing resource.


In the early 1970’s, the University’s Administration was considering plans to develop the land that is now the Gordon Natural Area. However, two undergraduate students—David Fluri and Brad Gottfried—initiated a movement to preserve the area.  Fluri and Gottfried were Biology majors and were both members of the Biology Club, and they recognized the land’s value for scientific study and its intrinsic value as a relatively mature forest in an increasingly developed landscape.  

In 1971, the property was afforded protection.  The protected land was named the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies in commemoration of Prof. Gordon, a science faculty member at West Chester University for 25 years.  For the past 45+ years, WCU students and staff, as well as local residents (and their dogs), have continued to benefit from this decision.

A Rough Timeline of the Establishment of the Gordon Natural Area:

  • 1969/1970 — Two students, Bradley Gottfried and Dave Fluri, work to convince the WCU Board of Trustees to establish a natural area.
  • December 1971 — The WCU Board of Trustees decides to set aside some land to preserve the existing forest. This was WCU's contribution to the Earth Day movement.
  • November 1973 — Dr. William R. Overlease, long-time Professor of Biology at WCU, formally dedicates the property.

The GNA Property

The largest portion of the Gordon is situated between S. High Street and S. New Street (see image below).  The land contains large blocks of mature forest, along with areas of secondary forest, seasonally-indundated floodplain, upland meadow, and maintained (i.e., mown) 'grassland.'

In the image below, the lands that are officially designated as the Gordon Natural Area are shown with pale green hatching.  Additionally, the are in solid white in the lower right-hand corner of the image are 'unofficially' part of the GNA.  However, despite it's not having been formerly dedicated as part of the GNA, this area is commonly used for research and teaching, and a number of trails in the GNA trail system pass through this area.

Gordon Map

Visiting the GNA

As was noted above, the GNA is a multi-use preserve, and we encourage WCU students and staff, as well as local residents, to come enjoy this great resource.  

The main entrance to the Gordon is at the southeastern corner of R Lot (behind the football stadium). If you don't have a University parking pass, four parking spaces are available specifically for the GNA (no parking pass needed).  The University Shuttle Bus will take you to R Lot, if you let the driver know that you want to go there.  Better yet, sign up for the University's Bike Share Program to get to and from the GNA, or leave the bike at the Sturzbecker Station on New Street.

To promote access to the GNA, the University maintains a network of trails throughout the preserve:

Trail Map of the Gordon Natural Area

pdf version of the map is available here .

In order to help maintain the GNA in the best possible condition, to protect the GNA's wildlife and plant life, and to minimize disruption to ongoing research, visitors are asked to observe the following regulations:

  • The GNA is open only from dawn to dusk
  • Please stay on marked trails only
  • Pets must be on a leash (6 ft., or shorter, please)
  • Please clean up after your pet and put the waste in the trash receptacle
  • No fires (including smoking)
  • No camping 
  • No fishing or hunting 
  • No moving, damaging, or collecting plants, animals, or natural objects 
  • No bikes or motorized vehicles 
  • No littering 
  • No alcoholic beverages

Thank you for respecting the Natural Area by following these regulations. 

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us.

Visitor Feedback

Beginning in the winter of 2015-16, long-time student intern and GNA Assistant Stewardship Manager, Kendra McMillin placed a 'Visitor's Log' at the kiosk at the main entrance.  We love to read people's comments, and also maintain a photo archive of the entries.

Below, are some of our favorite comments with a transcription of the comment in the adjoining column.  Note: You can click on the image to see a larger version.


"One of my last hikes a student at WCU; graduating in two months!  I LOVE this place!  I hope the GNA statys protected and cared for for decades to come! I have used this place to hike, read, meditate, and learn about native plants and animals.  I came here my first day as a first-year student and I plan on hiking here the day I graduate."
                           — Zach Schwarz

Trailbook Comment #1  



Trail Comment #2  



“I walk here from the Boro.  When I’m in the Natural Area, I walk briskly for exercise and slowly through the trails.   I really enjoy listening, observing the birds and stream.  I also like noticing the changes in the trees, bushes, and even the footprints.  I just noticed the tree guide.  I’m thinking of asking a friend to come back here and check out the Tree ID walk.  Good place!”




“Wow!  I’ve lived in West Chester for 10 years and this is my first time on these beautiful trails!  Amazing!”


Traillog Comment #3  


Trail Log Comment #4  



"I came to a turn south of the football stadium on New St. and it made all the difference … I went to WCU and graduated in 1981. Always loved these woods. Great place to absorb the beauty and tranquility of the woods, and enjoy the aloneness or the company of your dogs/ friends.”


Trail Log Comment #5  



“We need more places like this in West Chester.  Such an awesome place to escape.”

~ undergrad astronaut



“I’ve been stuck here for days, someone help me!  EX marks the spot.”

—    Scoobers


Found Scoobers, he’s seen better days.  From now on, we are in this maze together.  Here’s hoping we make it out alive.

Beautiful place, though.  Very green.”

—    Shaggs


Trail Log Comment #6  


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