Protection and Management Plan for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

Historical and Cultural Setting

Centre Furnace Chimney, in use by 1792, can be seen near the junction of East College Avenue and Porter Road. The Centre County Historical Society is housed in the historic Centre Furnace Mansion across Porter Road. In the late eighteenth century, iron was found in the surrounding area. At that time, the initial Importance of the Centre Region was the wood from the forests. Charcoal production took place in furnaces such as the one here and in others in the vicinity.

After the wood had been cut, farming became the chief occupation. The area surrounding Millbrook Marsh historically has been a farming community and there are several original farms in the Bathgate neighborhood in addition to Farm 12 at the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. The Millbrook Marsh Nature Center includes lands formerly belonging to the McFarlane, Fisher, Osmon, and Eaters families in the 1870s. Kenneth Walker’s family farm along lower and upper Slab Cabin Run was active from the late 1800s until it was removed during construction of the Mount Nittany Expressway.

The barn at Farm 12, probably rebuilt after a fire in the 1930s, is a good example of the classic Pennsylvania forebay bank barn. The fields and pasture surrounding the barnyard and farmhouse are still separated by hedgerows typical of farms in the past. The main tractor path leads north from the barn to Puddintown Road. There were several livestock sun shelters located in the pastures, though they are no longer in evidence.

By the early 1930s, Thompson Spring was developed into a winter sports park with a skating and swimming lake, from contributions of the Pennsylvania State College classes of 1927 to 1931. The plan included an arboretum and surrounding lands on both sides of East College Avenue, although it was never completely finished.

Prior to 1981, 17 ha (29 ac) were farmed for vegetables in the northeast corner of Millbrook Marsh, where a metal Quonset hut remains. The vegetable farm included crops on both sides of Slab Cabin Run, and remnants of a foot bridge crossing still remain. Since the farm was sold to accommodate the Mount Nittany Expressway, most of the fields have reverted to shrubs, including invasive species. In the recent past, the Farm 12 acres have been used by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences for grazing horses.

Today, Millbrook Marsh is bordered on two of four sides by urban development; Routes 322 and 26 (Maps 2 and 3). Puddintown Road borders the site along the western and northern boundaries with an upland buffer, bordered primarily by residences. Springs emerge from the adjacent private farmland behind the residences. There is one commercial site, a small dairy distribution facility, across Puddintown Road from the Farm 12 building complex. Also on the western side of the road, there is a well established residential neighborhood - Bathgate. Across Puddintown Road and over the hill from the private farm is a stormwater detention pond, designed to hold the stormwater runoff from the University land, particularly the parking areas and construction sites adjacent to the Bryce Jordan Center. The southern boundary includes some residential housing behind the commercial development along Route 26. Along this edge of the marsh are found a variety of commercial establishments. Route 26, known locally as East College Avenue, includes small businesses, restaurants, a convenience store, gas station, hotel, and the College Township Municipal Building.

Parts of the marsh have been covered with fill to make possible some of the development, including the small residential section between the commercial development of East College Avenue and the wetland. A sanitary sewer interceptor line traverses the property, but the actual installation date was not determined. There are both commercial and residential developments on the other side of East College Avenue, including a car dealership and a building supply company, as well. At times of heavy precipitation and flooding in particular, the runoff from these sites appears to have a significant impact upon Millbrook Marsh.

The remaining side, the eastern border of the site, is bounded by a paved bikeway and footpath leading from the northeast corner of Millbrook Marsh under the Route 322 overpass to the southeast corner. Downstream of Millbrook Marsh, to the north, the path continues along Puddintown Road to Spring Creek Park. The path also serves as a connection to and beyond Slab Cabin Run Park, which is upstream on the other side of East College Avenue, with its remnant stands of oak, maple, and basswood trees. Beyond the path is the Mount Nittany Expressway (or Route 322 Bypass), a 4-lane highway, and just beyond that is the developing Clover Highlands neighborhood, including some commercial development, primarily office buildings (Map 2).

As a means of tracking land use and land cover changes to Millbrook Marsh over time, the Project Team acquired historic high-altitude, aerial photography for six dates, 1948, 1961, c1960s, 1974, 1986, and 1994. We examined the photographs under magnification to discern these changes, but one can determine the general patterns of land use change by comparing the six frames displayed in Photo 2.

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Photo 2.  Historic aerial photographs of Millbrook Marsh and vicinity
documenting changes in land use and land cover from 1948 to 1994.

Based on our examination, we describe the changes as follows.

In 1948, both sides of the lower portion of Slab Cabin Run and the upper portion were farmed (cropped). Woody cover was maintained along the west side of Thompson Run. Scattered trees were seen along all streams. There was a single patch of trees on the east side of Thompson Run opposite from the Niebel property. There was emergent marsh on the east side. The riparian depression on Farm 12 remained wet, but was farmed up to the edge. The southern portion of the fen had not been filled in. Few houses bordered Puddintown Road, and the Bathgate development had not been constructed. Some residential and commercial development had occurred along E. College Ave. No major utility lines appear to cross the site at this time.

In the 1961 photograph (20 April 1961), the streams and wetlands are in near flood state providing a good view of the drainage patterns and floodplains. Farming was still prevalent on both sides of lower Slab Cabin Run, but was reduced on the south side of upper Slab Cabin Run. The Bathgate neighborhood had begun to develop, and there is evidence that the major powerline was in place. The fen area had not yet been filled. The c.i2~Qa photograph was taken during a drier season of the year, but shows similar trends.

By 1974, intensive farming was still occurring along lower Slab Cabin Run. A farm road crossing over upper Slab Cabin Run is evident, although cropping pressure seemed somewhat reduced. The remnants of that stream crossing are still evident today as concrete culverts. Woody growth appears to have matured, but its extent had not increased dramatically. The major powerline is still obvious. A plume of fill at the south end of the marsh encompassing part of the fen area is apparent. Some additional fill and development off E. College Ave. near the current College Township Municipal Building also can be seen. The old College Township Municipal Building had been constructed in the late 1960s. The University Sewage Treatment Plant near Thompson Spring and increased development along E. College Ave. can be seen.

On to Ecological Setting