The widespread and rapid depletion of Pennsylvania's forests
that occurred in the latter 1800's was viewed critically
by conservationists of that era. Concern was expressed that
the seemingly inexhaustible forests would not last forever,
and something should be done to halt the uncontrolled cutting
that left devastated forests in its wake. Accordingly, in
1887 the General Assembly authorized the Governor to appoint
a committee to examine and consider the subject of forestry
in Pennsylvania and report its findings at the next regular
session of the Legislature. In 1888, a Governor's Commission
was appointed to study the forest situation. A second commission
authorized by the Legislature was appointed in 1893. As
a result of these studies, in 1895, Dr. J. T. Rothrock was
appointed Commissioner of Forestry in the newly created
Division of Forestry in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
In 1897, the Legislature passed an act authorizing the
purchase of unseated lands for forest reservations, thus
marking the beginning of the State Forest system. This act
provided for the acquisition of not less than 40,000 acres
in the headwaters of each of the principal rivers of the
Commonwealth, mainly the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Ohio,
"providing the land selected shall be of a character better
suited to the growth of trees than to mining or agriculture
and that 50% of the area have an elevation of not less than
600 feet above sea level". The first purchase under this
act was made by the Division of Forestry in 1898 when 7,500
acres were purchased in Clinton County.
The first purchase of land for the William Penn State Forest
was in January, 1935. The Commonwealth paid $1.00 to the
Cornwall Estate for ten acres in Lancaster County near the
Lebanon County line. The site contained the Cornwall fire
tower which was erected in 1923.
It was almost 48 years before the next purchase. In November,
1982, Little Tinicum Island, 200 acres in the Delaware River,
Delaware County, was acquired. The Commonwealth paid $100,000
to the Tinicum Real Estate Holding Corporation. The island
was acquired to preserve its unique, to Pennsylvania, ecology.
The very next month, December, 1982, another unique ecological
site was acquired. The Goat Hill Serpentine Barrens, 602
acres of the approximately 1,000 acre barrens, was purchased
for $239,500 with the assistance of the Nature Conservancy.
In August, 2007, the forest district was named the William Penn State Forest. Formerly known as the Valley Forge State Forest, the state forest district was headquartered at what had been a state park at Valley Forge until 1976, when the facility became a federal park.
The state forest kept the name for the next 31 years. In a bid to eliminate public confusion over the name of the federal park and the state forest district, the Bureau of Forestry renamed the Valley Forge State Forest District in honor of one of Pennsylvania's first conservationists -- William Penn
Original Forest Type
The vegetation of Goat Hill uniquely reflects its past
climatic history. At the end of the last glacial period,
approximately 25,000 years ago, tundra vegetation extended
into southeastern Pennsylvania. Following the retreat of
the glaciers, the climate became hotter and drier than it
is even now. During this hot, dry period, the prairies -
now of the midwest - extended into southeastern Pennsylvania
During both these periods, certain plant species became
established on the serpentine barrens which they found quite
suitable for survival and growth. As the climate changed
to that of the present, the dominant vegetation over most
of the region changed to an oak-chestnut forest. On the
serpentine barrens, however, most present day forest species
found conditions inhospitable. This permitted some of these
earlier residents to survive as "relics".
Areas known as "serpentine barrens" occur locally in the
Piedmont of Maryland and Pennsylvania where the prevailing
granitic soils are interrupted by outcrops of serpentine.
The word "barrens" is an unfortunate misnomer when applied
to Goat Hill. The total site encompasses a wide variety
of habitats and a richly diverse floristic inventory.
Instead of the normal southeastern Pennsylvania vegetation
of mixed oak woodlands scattered among farms and pastures,
there is a grassland dominated by prairie species and woodlands
with species mixes more common farther south. Not only unusual
and unique species to the region occur here, but also some
that are truly rare.
While no recent species inventory has been conducted, past
inventories documented 221 species. Some of the unusual
and rare species included are mouse-ear chickweed, serpentine
aster, and Aleutian maiden-hair fern.
The soils that have developed on the site are generally
thin, highly erodable, low in nutrient levels, and low in
moisture. Some are high in chromium and nickel which are
harmful to most plants. Species that grow here successfully
must possess a tolerance for these generally unfavorable
habitat conditions. Most forest species common to southeastern
Pennsylvania will not grow readily in such an environment.
Little Tinicum Island probably had its beginnings as a
marsh. As more silt and debris were deposited, and the "island-to-be"
began to form part of the shorline, forest vegetation became
established. This vegetation was washed away and reestablished
a number of times during this period and after the island
was cut off from the shoreline. This process is continuing
Little Tinicum Island today consists of scrub forests and
disturbed areas of fill with a variety of types of vegetation.
It is ringed by tidal freshwater wetlands.
The outer ring of vegetation around most of the island
consists of three-square bulrush marsh. Few other plants
are able to withstand the waves and large tidal changes
on the south shore. On the more protected north shore, this
marsh type meets and mixes with two somewhat different tidal
marshes. Just inland of the high tide line numerous stands
of common reed are found. Above, and sometimes mixed with,
the reeds, a zone of mixed shrubs occurs. The interior high
ground is a mix of scrub and forest.
Some plant species of special concern in Pennsylvania are
also found on the island. Among them are wild rice, water
hemp ragweed, and Walter's barnyard grass.
The primary influence on Goat Hill has naturally been the
serpentine soils. Man and his activities have been the next
major influence on the area. From 1835 to 1871 the site
was mined for magnesite. It has also been cut over for fuelwood
and used for pastureland. To improve it as pasture, it was
burned regularly to remove the thick greenbriers and other
shrub growth. Farming was even briefly attempted.
The Delaware River, weather, and man have affected Little
Tinicum Island. To this day, the river constantly eats away
at portions of the island and builds it up at other spots.
As one process obtains the "upper hand" - or proceeds more
rapidly - the island changes size, shape, and even location.
As early as 1640, man has been at work on the island. Early
settlers erected buildings there and cleared land for crops
and pasture. To assist in these farming activities, dikes
were later constructed. These were breached during the American
Early in this century, most of the island existed as shoals
and sand bars, especially the eastern end. Today most of
the eastern end of the island owes its existence to man
and his efforts to deepen the main river channel during
World War II and subsequent work to keep it open.
Fires, also man-caused, are an annual occurrence. Most
burn only a small area, up to an acre. Occasionally a large
portion of the island burns over. In these instances, tree
growth is usually destroyed as well as other vegetation.