A trail at Nolde Forest

A trail at Nolde Forest in the fall.

When you look at the lovely stonework in the elegantly and whimsically detailed mansion that houses the offices of Nolde Forest, you will be hard pressed to guess the history behind the Forest and the Nolde home.

The first large parcel of land was purchased in the early 1900s by the German immigrant Jacob Nolde who prospered in this country by bringing his engineering skills to Reading where he eventually founded Nolde & Horst knitting mills. As one grandson tells the story, Jacob became interested in the land when he saw a single white pine growing in the middle of a meadow. That one pine inspired Jacob to hire an Austrian forester to help him create a replica of a German pine forest which Jacob hoped would become “the most beautiful pine forest in Pennsylvania.” When Jacob’s son Hans inherited the land, he built the mansion, and while bringing up a large family, with three successive wives, he cared for the forest till he died in 1965. Not long after Hans’ death, the property was purchased from the family by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to become Pennsylvania’s first Environmental Education Center.

Hans’ second wife Frannie, contributed to the history of the Berks County in her own way. She was one of the nation’s early women pilots, commanded Reading’s Civil Air Patrol courier base during World War II, and she later won the women’s transcontinental Powder Puff Derby, and eventually became a full colonel in the Civil Air Patrol. Hans and Frannie raised a melded family of seven children in the mansion, and during the war Hans helped Nolde & Horst produce wartime parts and GI socks and gloves.

Today, Nolde Forest Environmental Education is dedicated to helping our visitors and community develop a sound environmental ethic based upon science. A variety of environmental education programming is offered throughout the year. Students engage in guided, hands on activities while exploring and learning about unique ecosystems to further their awareness, appreciation, and knowledge of the natural environment. Using discovery and problem-solving, teachers and students explore different aspects of the environment, developing concepts and skills to learn about the role we play within the web of life, and become effective environmental decision-makers. Nolde Forest also serves as an outdoor laboratory for visiting biologists, college students, and natural resource professionals involved in a variety of environmental studies and research topics, including water quality, small mammals, reptiles, forest succession, and songbirds. Nolde Forest encompasses 725 acres with a network of ten miles of walking trails that wander through the mature woodlands. The land in rich in biodiversity and continues to be a source of pride for Pennsylvania and the Nolde family. Public programs are posted on the DCNR Calendar of Events / Nolde Forest where those interested can register to participate. Nolde Forest trails are open to walkers from sunrise to sunset. Clubs and organizations that wish to gather must request to obtain a permit prior to meeting. Environmental Education programming is the priority at Environmental Education Centers administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Friends of Nolde Forest host Open House events and tours on the first Sunday of each month, excluding July. Visitors to the Open House events can learn more about the history of the Nolde Forest and home from a video narrated by Hans and Frannie’s two youngest children. Signs located throughout Nolde Forest also offer information about the Nolde family and the forest ecosystem.

You can enjoy the more than 665 acres of forest that continues to be source of pride for the family to this day, populated by deciduous woodlands and coniferous plantations. More than 10 miles of hiking trails wander throughout the park under tall trees and near creeks. A portion of the trails are footpaths and others are parts of old gravel roads that were used by the original owners. Numerous connectors join all of the trails into a continuous loop.