Sunday, December 30, 2018


It's been the best year yet for Herrontown Woods. Through our advocacy, Herrontown Woods is now owned by Princeton, has a new addition of 7.5 acres, a newly planted botanical garden to acquaint the public with native species, ongoing restoration of trails and habitat, better protected Veblen House and Cottage, and funding for initial repairs. Our emphasis is on preserving and utilizing the Veblen's wonderful gift of land and historic buildings, and providing ways for the public to enjoy and learn about these natural and cultural legacies.

Please support our work, and join us out at Princeton's first nature preserve.

·      Convinced Princeton to accept transfer of the 142 acre Herrontown Woods from the county, including the buildings.
·      Our advocacy was crucial in adding 7.5 acres of sloping woodland to Herrontown Woods, at no cost to Princeton.
·      Our work at Herrontown Woods helped prioritize acquisition by Mercer County of 4.5 acres of pasture next to Veblen House. FOHW is working with DR Greenway and Princeton to determine how this important grassland habitat will be managed.

·      Doing the vital work of maintaining and improving trails
·      A new botanical garden: Many workdays have been devoted to planting and weeding a botanical garden, located in a forest opening near the main parking lot. Labeling has begun of more than 90 species of native trees, grasses and wildflowers
·      Partnering with Princeton and Stone Hill Church on invasive species control
·      Stockpiling rocks for use along the trails

·      Began negotiating a lease agreement for the Veblen House, Cottage, and grounds with Princeton
·      Improved the buildings’ appearance and weather resistance by improving the roof tarps and painting the window covers.
·      Discovered and restored some of the original drainage around the Veblen House and added two raingardens
·      Preparations for carrying out initial repairs to better stabilize and weatherize structures

·      New board members and some particularly engaged friends of the preserve are adding their energy and expertise to FOHW’s work.
·      Had our first board “retreat” to develop strategic planning

·      Additional progress towards our initial goal of raising $100,000.

·      Nature walks, plant labels, podcasts, and QR codes
·      Workdays with Girlscouts, the Charter School, and Jewish Center volunteers
·      Ongoing website posts
·      Collaborating with the public library on educational materials
·      Updated trail map

·      Hosted our first annual Oswald Veblen Birthday Party on June 24
·      Hosted our first annual gathering at a lovely home next to the preserve

·      Two articles in the Princeton Alumni Weekly--Adventures in Fine Hall, and at the ripe old age of 138 Veblen made the cover, looking confident and remarkably young, in an article entitled the Power of Small Numbers
·      A neighbor doing house cleaning came across a binder full of old correspondence about Herrontown Woods stewardship in the 1970s and '80s, and donated it all to FOHW

·      Some great articles in local publications about our work

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Brisk and Beautiful Walk in Herrontown Woods

Sometimes cold weather makes for a good nature walk. The forest is filled with light, the frozen ground eases navigation, and the woods is filled with vistas and the evidence of seasons past and future.

We hiked to the cliff, then when someone asked about springs in Herrontown Woods, we hiked to a spring that had been dug out to make a swimming pool of sorts in the 1960s. Now it serves the amphibian community as a dependable vernal pool in the spring.

On the way back, we walked through a cratered landscape where water had accumulated in sizable holes in the ground and frozen in ornate patterns. This beauty, too, like the amphibians' use of the old swimming pool, was a collaboration of nature and culture. The craters were formed back when some of the large, partially sunken boulders in Herrontown Woods were cracked into blocks and hauled away as part of a quarrying operation. Water accumulates in the cavities left behind, and freezes in the winter. But as the ice is freezing, the water below is also slowly seeping into the ground, leaving the ice with less and less water beneath to support it. The result is a lovely terraced effect.

Having seen some of the special places in the woods, some of our hardy party headed to Veblen House afterwards for cider, hot cocoa and cookies provided by Friends of Herrontown Woods volunteers.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Nature Walk This Sunday, Dec. 9, 1pm

Naturalist and FOHW president Steve Hiltner will lead a nature walk this weekend, on Sunday, Dec. 9 on what promises to be a brisk but sunny day. Meet at 1pm at the main parking lot for Herrontown Woods, down the short road opposite the Snowden Lane entrance to Smoyer Park.

The woods this time of year is filled with light and vistas, the better to see the rocks, water and wood of the eastern Princeton Ridge.

Dress warmly and wear shoes for hiking.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Early Autumn Colors in Herrontown Woods

Sometimes the best way to know what trees you're walking under is to look down at the fresh carpet they are laying at our feet. Sweetgum leaves can turn brilliant red, but these are yellow. The female tree drops the distinctive prickly golfball-sized "gumball" fruits (lower left in the photo).

Black gum trees, also called tupelos, are starting to sprinkle flashes of orange on the forest floor wherever they grow.

The abundant red maples can be distinguished by the V-shaped notch between lobes. Sugar maples have U-shaped notches, as do Norway maples found in residential neighborhoods.

Hickory leaves and nuts are strewn throughout the woods. This is single leaf with five leaflets.

White oaks with their rounded lobes, will later turn a rich burgundy color.
(leaf photos by Inge Regan)

And a human touch of fresh color, as volunteers with the Friends of Herrontown Woods start sprucing up the Veblen Cottage with new window covers, thanks to some carpentry by board member Perry Jones.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Princeton Takes Ownership of Herrontown Woods

It's been a good week for Herrontown Woods. Princeton council voted on Monday, July 16, to approve acquisition of the 140 acre preserve from Mercer County, a nice article about our work appeared in the Town Topics, and early on the morning of Friday, July 13, a monarch butterfly was seen visiting the new native garden next to the parking lot. It was the first witnessed there, sipping nectar from a purple coneflower just planted this spring.

Mercer County has owned the preserve since the original gift of 82 acres by the Veblens in 1957. That unprecedented gift may well have prompted the county to form its parks commission, which at first used Herrontown Woods for educational programming, but has since focused its resources elsewhere in the county. The transfer to Princeton brings Herrontown Woods home to local ownership, where it is much more likely to be given the attention it deserves.

That first documented visit by a monarch fits well with the native garden's concept, which has evolved over the past year. Planted this spring, more than 80 native species now call the garden home, gathering solar energy that will then travel up the foodchain to insects and birds.

As if he had read the minutes from our board meetings in which we discussed how to get kids to use their cellphones to learn about nature, this boy led his mother from the parking lot to a flower graced by a butterfly, and showed her a photo he had taken of it.

The butterfly was an eastern tiger swallowtail, which lingered on this bottlebrush buckeye for more than an hour. Another premise of the garden is that pollinators like this butterfly are not currently well served by Princeton open space. Thick woods, though it serves some species well, provides few flowers in the summer, and this garden can be home to the many summer-blooming native flowers that thrive in sunny places.

Another appealing visitor was a clear-winged moth that hovers expertly like a miniature hummingbird.

That day we also witnessed a fledgling robin making perhaps its first, shaky flight, from one tree to another.

The garden, growing amidst the ruins of a white pine grove felled by storms in recent years, would not have been possible without a lot of removal of invasive brush over the winter, clearing the way for planting. It can be said that the acquisition of Herrontown Woods by the town also clears the way, for more good things to happen at Herrontown Woods.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Veblen's First Annual Birthday Picnic at Veblen House

Nothing like throwing a party to stimulate some sprucing up. In preparation, the Veblen House got some fresh paint, a couple new raingardens, some restorative excavation, judicious mowing, new trails and, at the last minute, keeping with our guiding philosophy of re-use, some balloons left over from the Princeton High School graduation.

Volleyball, played on the mowed footprint of a former barn, was a big hit.

Croquet, not so much, though in mowing the field we discovered and protected two green-fringed orchids. Not every lawn sprouts native orchids.

Friends supplied lots of food, and grilled hotdogs scented the air. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate Oswald Veblen's 138th birthday. Along with our core supporters, we met new neighbors and distinguished guests from the Institute for Advanced Study.

To complement the gathering of people, there was a gathering of plants in the newly planted raingardens. Perry Jones and his fiance Alison thoughtfully brought plant labels to help the different species get to know each other.

After all was said and done, cooked and eaten,  the plant labels stayed on, with some QR codes to give post-picnic visitors access to information on our websites and

For the newly planted Rose Mallow Hibiscus, protected from the deer by fencing, every day is a picnic at Veblen House.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Update on Veblen Birthday Gathering Sunday, 2-5pm

Bringing food/drink is optional for Sunday's birthday celebration. We'll provide some basics if anyone's hungry, along with some displays about Veblen House past and future, tours of the grounds, and some games.

The grounds have been getting more attention in recent weeks than perhaps at any time in the past 20 years, with rock walls getting rebuilt, the ground being restored to original grade, and paths being mowed to the edible forest plantings and to historic features like the horse run. This work builds on past clearings of invasive brush that reopened the views across this peaceful woodland setting that the Veblens called home.

"Windows into the Past" exhibits will include the stories of Herrontown Woods' magnetic rocks, a ten-year ecological study underway in the preserve, the Whiton-Stuart family that originally built and lived in the house, and some of the many facets of Veblen history.

As previously mentioned, park at the main parking lot off of Snowden Ave, across from the Smoyer Park entrance, then follow signs up to the house. Useful maps are at this link. We'll have refreshments and grill some hotdogs.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Weeding and Seed Bombing--A Girlscout Workday at Herrontown Woods

(Note: Join us for the June 24 Veblen birthday picnic.)

Thanks to Girl Scout Troop 72905 from the Princeton Service Unit, for participating in a spirited workday on a cool misty day. They started at the new botanical garden next to the Herrontown Woods parking lot, pulling out Japanese honeysuckle that would otherwise overwhelm the native species being planted there.

Then it was a short walk up to Smoyer Park, where the Friends of Herrontown Woods is taking care of a native meadow planted in the detention basin that catches and filters runoff from the fields and parking lot. The scouts mixed seed of native floodplain wildflowers and sedges into a shovelful of dirt, then made balls of a good size for throwing. "Seed bombing" is an activity originally mentioned by scout leader Pallavi Nuka, and we decided to give it a try.

Here, the merry gardeners are literally aiming to increase the plant diversity in the wet meadow.

It's a hail mari-gold approach to seed planting, although marigold wasn't in the mix. Species included rose mallow hibiscus, wild senna, ironweed, cutleaf coneflower, and several types of sedges. Already flourishing in the basin are big and little bluestem grasses, Indian grass, partridge pea and black-eyed susan.

The logic of the detention basin is to detain stormwater runoff long enough for it to seep into the soil and feed the groundwater reserves, rather than add to local flooding. The basin also makes a great place to show off the many native plant species that thrive in wet, sunny habitats. Kids, too, thrive in wet, sunny habitats, especially when they have rubber boots.

After the seed bombing, the girls stepped over the berm, behind the basin, to explore a seepage slope where consistently wet ground supports a lush natural wetland of sensitive fern, soft rush and sedges. With enough care, the basin could someday look this good.