Butler's Preston Park a good place to enjoy the scenery
The iron and brick gates that sit near the entrance to Preston Park are a bit misleading.
They look as if they should guard a sprawling mansion, and at one time Dr. Frank Preston envisioned just such a thing.
As the story goes, however, his wife Jane nixed the idea because the couple only spent six months a year in their Butler County home and the rest of the time traveling.
Now, the gates sit before a grassy patch of land on the 88-acre park left to Butler Township three years ago.
A strong network of volunteers now works to improve and manage the park as well as bring their knowledge of the history of the grounds to visitors.
Between Preston Park and connected Saw Mill Park there are approximately five miles of hiking trails to enjoy.
The terrain at Preston is not challenging from an exercise standpoint, but the grounds are peaceful and contain enough unique vegetation and plentiful wildlife to make it a more than worthwhile trip.
The park once was the home to Preston Laboratories, a glass science research facility that Dr. Preston built in 1936, as well as the residence of the scientist and his wife.
Preston also was an avid ecologist and ornithologist and modeled the grounds after the gardens of his native England.
Little about the property has changed since 1959. Preston died in 1989 followed in 2008 by his wife, who left a memorandum as to how the land should be maintained.
Today, there is an arboretum that is home to 40 species of pine trees, and the park also features seven “state champion” trees that are the tallest in the state, including Ponderosa Pine, Serbian Spruce, Nobel Fir and Leana Oak.
These trees are marked with pink ribbon and also are numbered and noted on the trail maps available at the entrance to the park.
Also available is a schedule of when the various flowers on the grounds are in bloom, including the daffodils and narcissus that now dot the park. Fox glove and Japanese pieris soon will be in bloom, followed by azaleas, rhododendron and lily of the valley.
Other features of the park include a small lily pond behind the laboratory building and a lake where one can currently spot at least three geese tending their nests on tiny islands.
A blue heron also frequents the 5.5-acre pond, which is home to catfish, bass, sunfish and blue gill. Catch-and-release fishing is permitted.
The trails are wide, well-marked and neatly maintained and in the winter are ideal for cross-country skiing.
Biking, however, is extremely limited and not encouraged on the property.
Preston Park is recognized by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours are available at various times throughout the year and anyone interested should call 724-283-3430, ext. 212.