Parks and Recreation
Silver Lake Park - Coastal Plain Forest (465 acres)
Bath Road, Bristol Township, PA
Map of Park
Silver Lake Nature Center
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Silver Lake Nature Center By Marianne Gump - Recreation Supervisor for Lower Bucks and Robert Mercer -Naturalist, for Silver Lake Nature Center
We begin with a stop at the center of Silver Lake Park, Silver
Lake Nature Center. This 235-acre complex is unique to Pennsylvania
in that it harbors the best-protected Coastal Plain Forest left in
the state. It is part of the 460-acre park and Silver Lake which
is the terminus of the Mill Creek, Queen Anne Creek, and the Black
Ditch Creek Watershed.
The main building houses a multipurpose auditorium, exhibit room depicting
that which is unique to the park, offices, the Barnswallow Gift Shop, and a
reference library. Immediately outside the building is a large meadow. Nearby,
a 60-person amphitheater is designed for campfires and shows. Groups, private
or public, often use a nearby picnic pavilion.
The mission statement of the Nature Center deals in providing the
public an opportunity to learn about the uniqueness of Silver Lake
Park, the natural environment, and nature-related crafts. It is also
the mission to provide space for activities leading to the enjoyment
of the outdoors in an environmentally friendly manner. The last part
of the mission statement deals with promoting the preservation and
research of the unique historical and natural heritage of the surrounding
community, especially species of concern.
The function of the center is to provide environmental sessions
for the young and young at heart. Individuals, families, schools,
and organizations are offered classes on a wide range of topics.
Off-site activities give groups or individuals a chance to study
and learn about other types of ecological habitats. Another function
of the center is the mutual cooperation that has been established
over the years with other scientific and environmental organizations
like the Bucks County Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Philadelphia
Zoological Society, PA Department of Environmental Resources, Pennsylvania
Alliance for Environmental Education, Association of Nature Center
Administrators, and other nature centers in and out of Bucks County.
The center also provides consultation and advisory services to the
general public on a variety of environmental matters. Volunteers
make up a large portion of the dedicated workers who assist with
trail maintenance, fundraising, developing public workshops, and
assisting with building operations.
The management of the center is led by a group of professional naturalists,
under the guidance of the County, who dedicate themselves to understanding
and interpreting this valuable piece of land. They coordinate with
the County and other outside agencies to provide a clean, safe, diverse,
enjoyable, and educational facility through development of activities,
without discrimination. The Naturalist is Bob Mercer who is the featured
employee in this newsletter. Mr. Mercer has a trained staff that
is funded either by the Department of Parks and Recreation or the
Friends of Silver Lake Nature Center.
This area represents a geologic zone referred to as the Coastal
Plain. Let's go back a bit in history to find out how Silver lake
came to be. During the last glacial period, the oceans were about
100 miles further inland. Much of our water was contained in ice.
The glaciers came down as far as Easton which is about 60 river miles
from Bristol. Along their path, they scraped, plucked, smashed and
ground different types and sizes of rocks. When the glaciers melted,
water flowed into the Delaware River, increasing its size tremendously.
Rocks floating down the river were chipped along their edges, making
them rounded in shape. This mass of water encountered a dam, thereby
spilling over into the areas we now call Falls Township and Trenton.
Once over this obstacle, the water flow decreased and spread over
a large area. Many of the rocks transported along the way found a
new home. If you pick up rocks in Silver Lake Park, you will notice
that they are rounded, having been taken from their unknown origin
and laid to rest in Lower Buck County. Also noticeable are the varied
colors of rocks.
Due to the fact that these rocks had very diverse origins, many
types of minerals are now found in our soil. Lower Bucks County is
reputed to have some of the richest soil in the state. Unfortunately,
this has also aided in the construction industry. This prime soil
has sprouted houses as well as farmlands. The housing developments
seem to have won. The type of soil found in Silver Lake Park, is
the reason it is so highly protected as a Coastal Plain Woodland.
If you visit, you'll notice the relatively flat terrain within the
park boundaries. The elevation varies from 18 feet above sea level
to only 34 feet.
This type of geology makes the park unique, being reflected in the
flora and fauna. Pennsylvanian rare or endangered species are also
located here. Many of the plants and animals are more likely to be
found in the south like the Magnolia, Willow Oak, Sweet Gum, Red
Bellied Turtle, and the Southern Leopard Frog. In contrast, there
are few northern species. Each of the Walnut trees were planted and
you will not find any Hickory trees, normally common in Pennsylvania.
Records indicate that Silver Lake appeared in its present location
around 1701. It was originally man-made as a pond in 1687 when a
dam was placed on the Otter Creek to provide power for the mills
in Bristol. The "Mill Pond" grew and incorporated the Adams
Hollow Creek, eventually reaching in size between 250-300 acres.
Over the years the lake filled in with mud and vegetation, thus becoming
a marsh. The present day marshes at Silver Lake were once part of
the original lake.
Standing in the marshes, you may notice the rust colored water.
During the period of the early settlers, this water was referred
to as "that nasty water". In 1773, Dr. Rush began recommending
that people bath in the water as a cure for many diseases. These
baths were completed in 1801, hence the name Bath Road. These baths
were located near the present day hospital site. The attraction of
these baths made Bristol quite the resort town. Eventually though,
mineral springs found in Saratoga, New York, quickly replaced their
popularity, especially once the train lines were extended into Saratoga.
By the 1920's, the lake scarcely had any open water. In 1938, the
Pennsylvania Fish Commission purchased the lake and marked the boundary
with a square stone having a small hole at the top. It was at this
time that the Public Works Administration (PWA) began work on the
present lake, by then called Silver Lake. Most of the work was done
by hand and the current picnic grounds are the dry land created by
hand-dredging the lake. It took over 300 men to physically dig out
the lake. As they were digging, oak tree trunks dating 200-300 years
were unearthed. From this, we can deduct that the land that is now
a lake was once a mature forest. As you walk through the forests,
you'll notice that they are surrounded by marshes. The forests were
actually islands in the lake at one time.
In the 1940's, when Rt 13 was built, the lake was to undergo another
change. The southernmost section was filled by removing an island,
using the soil as a fill. The lake has remained the same in shape,
since then. In 1986, it was again dredged. Only 2/3 of it was dredged
due to lack of money. Its depth was only an average of 18 inches.
The remainder was dredged in 1994 bringing the depth to a mere 5
The Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation purchased the
lake in 1957 for the sum of $1.00, from the Pennsylvania Fish Commission.
The surrounding land owners were bought out during the 1960's. Since
then, the staff and volunteers of the Nature Center have managed
the vegetation in order to maintain a healthy diversity of habitats.
In 1953, a gravel pit for the construction of the Pennsylvania
Turnpike filled with water, forming a lake. At that time and for
years to come, it was called Langenfelder Lake after the contractor.
Being that the contractor was not obligated to enhance the finished
lake for public use, it has a square shape with steep sides.
In 1959, the township attempted to construct a small swimming pool
adjacent to the north side of the lake. The project failed due to
non-sufficient funding. A pool was eventually built but not at that
site. The lake was renamed Magnolia Lake in 1964 when the Bucks County
Park Board picked a "name the lake" winner. Randy Vogenberg,
the winner, was awarded a season pass to the Silver Lake Pool.
Despite local rumors, this lake was never more than 18 feet deep.
In 1985, the stream channel from the Mill Creek was routed directly
into Magnolia Lake to trap sediment. It is now approximately 35 acres
in size and part of the Mill Creek Valley System.
As part of the Silver Lake Nature Center, situated directly across
the street, Delhaas Woods is a 175-acre parcel of woodland with nature
trails. This parcel was recognized by the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter
of the Nature Conservancy as the "best remaining portion of
Coastal Plain Woodlands within the State of Pennsylvania". During
WWII, ammunition storage buildings were constructed and the land
cleared. After these had been deserted, PECO Energy installed a high
tension corridor directly through the middle of the parcel. During
the "energy crisis" of the 1970's, the previous landowner
removed almost all of the oak trees (except the Willow Oaks). The
final insult was unscrupulous contractors who used the power line
access as their personal dump site.
Around 1985, the Eastern PA Chapter of The Nature Conservancy purchased
a 90-acre parcel from a consortium of land speculators who had anticipated
the woods being used for either industry or as part of I-95 connection.
The parcel was given to the Bucks County Department of Parks and
Recreation to manage as part of the Silver Lake Nature Center. In
1987, with assistance from The Nature Conservancy, a parcel of land
about 8 acres was purchased from a developer. This parcel made a
direct though very thin link between the nature center property and
Delhaas Woods. In 1994, once again with legal assistance from The
Nature Conservancy, an additional 75 acres was purchased, adding
significantly to the size of the corridor and reducing the threat
Once purchased, Bucks County coordinated a series of clean-ups,
eventually removing over 200 tons of trash. Trails were installed
to provide public access from the nature center building area. Most
recently, an effort to route a highway through Delhaas Woods was
Nature in Silver Lake Park
Delhaas Woods contains 4 major communities: the Coastal Plain
Forest, Meadows, Unglaciated Bog, and Pond. In the Coastal Plain
Forest, the canopy consists mainly of Sweet Gum trees, Red Maple,
Black Gum and Pin Oak along with a few White Oak, Red Oak, and Willow
Oak. There is also a scattering of Hickory, Ash, Silver Maple, Big-Toothed
Aspen, and Sycamore. Exotic trees include Norway Maple and the Princess
Tree. The understory includes species such as Sassafras, Sweet Bay,
Umbrella Magnolia and (lingering) Crabapples. The shrub layer is
mostly Southern Arrowwood, Spicebush, Sweet Pepperbush, Fetterbush,
Highbush Blueberry, Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper, Pussy Willow, American
Holly, Winterberry, Bittersweet, Grapes, Black Huckleberry, and Swamp
The meadows were created as a result of power lines being cleared.
They consist of wet and dry meadows that provide refuge for a number
of plant species on the Pennsylvania Species of Special Concern list.
More notably the Maryland Meadow Beauty, New York Asters, Bushy Bluestem,
Slender Sea Oats, and the Atlantic Blue-Eyed Grass.
The third community, Unglaciated Bog, is also considered a Pennsylvania
Community of Special Concern. Contained within are some of the plant
species listed above as well as Sphagnum. The fourth community is
the Vernal (spring) Ponds. These are scattered throughout the woodlands.
These provide excellent breeding grounds for frogs and toads. Due
to its small size, Delhaas Woods is not noted for its animal species.
The Nature Center grounds have about 4.5 miles of Nature Trails
which are routed through or near the various habitats. The grounds
are maintained to enhance the diversity of plant and animal life.
The habitats include the above at Delhaas Woods along with Lake,
Marshes, and Fields. Protected within the park are 22 Pennsylvania
Species of Special Concern. Silver Lake provides refuge for the Redbelly
Turtle while the marsh is home for the Coastal Plain Leopard Frog.
Species of Special Concern found at the Nature Center include the
- Bushy Bluestem
- New York Aster
- Button Sedge
- Slender Sea-Oats
- Soapwort Gentian
- Golden Hedge-hyssop
- American Holly
- Forked Rush
- Umbrella Magnolia
- Fringed Paspalum
- Stout Smartweed
- Spotted Smartweed
- Willow Oak
- Maryland Meadow Beauty
- Atlantic Blue-Eyed Grass
- Possumhaw Viburnum
- Coast Violet
- Net-vein Chair-Fern