Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Joy of Autumn Leaves in Autumn Hill Reservation

The ostensible purpose of my walk at Autumn Hill Reservation yesterday was utilitarian, to clear a couple fallen trees from the trail, but the leaves had prepared a surprise party.  

They didn't need to do much to make me happy. Ever since I was a kid, leaves have brought me joy. Though most leaves have fallen, the occasional highbush blueberry is still radiant with color.

Even the winged euonymus, which we spend time removing due to its overabundance, gave a fine demonstration of how it can turn sometimes white rather than red, if the shade is deep enough. 

Here's one that got enough sun to show why it is sometimes called burning bush. 

But the real joy came from the leaves below my feet. Freshly fallen, they made the woods look like it had just turned upside down and become a reflection of itself. Leaves that had peered austerely down at us all summer were now looking up, basking in the newly abundant light now pouring down through the opened canopy. 

I see something of myself in a leaf, collective in spirit, mingling comfortably among many sorts. They seem to be enjoying a leaf's version of retirement, relieved of the workaday world of photosynthesis, their true colors finally showing. I can keep my eyes on the trail and still know that above me tower tulip trees, sweetgum, and sassafras.

Another source of pleasure was the condition of the trail. Though our Friends of Herrontown Woods takes care of trails at Autumn Hill Reservation, we spend most of our time at Herrontown Woods, depending on our volunteers who live near Autumn Hill in Montgomery for periodic reports of any work needing to be done. 

Last year we made some initial improvements in the trails, shifting one stretch over to higher ground along an old rock wall. Hard to believe that this peaceful meander became navigable only after we overcame a dense tangle of invasive shrubs--multiflora rose, winged euonymus, privet and linden viburnum. 

Nice when battle leads to lasting peace, when struggle with thorn and thicket segues to a walk decorated with a fresh new layer of leaves, radiant on a misty moisty afternoon. I paused for a moment to look for the three shapes of sassafras, and later on, writing this, realized I had stumbled upon the reason it's called Autumn Hill.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

A Kiosk Rises at Herrontown Woods' "Back Door"

Herrontown Woods has a front door and many back doors. Most people know about the "front door" off Snowden Lane, leading to the main parking lot, trailheads, and the Botanical Art Garden. Fewer people are aware that Herrontown Woods borders Princeton Community Village (PCV), off Bunn Drive. The building of more affordable housing there, perched right next to Herrontown Woods, has drawn our attention to how we might make this "back door" more of a front door, and connect with PCV residents in some way. Perhaps we could build and maintain a raingarden together, and make an appealing loop trail on that side of the preserve. In addition, PCV is served by local and regional buses, with a bus stop just 100 feet from our trail system. This may make Herrontown Woods the only nature preserve in Princeton that can easily be reached by bus.

An important first step would be to build a kiosk at the PCV trailhead, and as serendipity would have it, a member of the venerable Boyscout Troop 43 was looking for an Eagle Scout project to do in Herrontown Woods. 

That's eagle scout Leone Robbins in orange, posing with helpers from among his friends and family, partway through the process of installing an impressive kiosk he designed and built. Leone, a senior at Princeton High School, worked with FOHW, Princeton Community Housing (PCH), and town officials to get permissions and choose a location for the kiosk.

It's always fun to try to catch these Iwo Jima moments. Digging down to make the holes was probably less fun than lifting up. The town and PCH both helped with funding for the materials.

Here's Leone in front of the completed kiosk. A dedication ceremony is planned for this Saturday, Oct. 21, at 1pm, during which Leone will lead a short nature walk down the trail. 

A big THANK YOU to Leone and his fellow scouts and family for this timely and beautifully executed installation.

Update: Here are a couple photos from the dedication Leone organized, attended by members of Princeton Community Housing, Boyscout troop 43, PCV residents, and board members of the Friends of Herrontown Woods. 

As part of the event, Leone led a nature walk down the path into Herrontown Woods, pointing out Christmas fern, spicebush, and other native plants. 

He later sent a testimonial about his experience: 
"I have been volunteering with the organization since the fifth grade. Whether it was planting trees to prevent erosion or nature walks on cold winter mornings, Friends of Herrontown Woods is the reason I am passionate about the outdoors and am committed to my community. I’ve had so many beautiful experiences with the organization and wanted to
share them with others through my kiosk and an educational nature
walk. I hope my kiosk encourages others to explore the outdoors and
the many physical and mental benefits it provides."

Monday, October 9, 2023

A Tree Inventory Underway in Herrontown Woods

If you are hiking in Herrontown Woods and notice a tree tagged with a number, it's part of a tree inventory underway in the preserve. 

At some point in its history, the word "arboretum" was added to the preserve's name, as reflected in the current, highly faded sign out on Snowden Lane, and the current wikipedia page. Though Herrontown Woods certainly has a lot of trees, there's no evidence of any past effort to consciously create a tree collection. 

Since being founded 10 years ago, FOHW has worked to bring back many native woody species marginalized by introduced diseases, heavy shade, or intense deer browse. Among these are the butternut, the American chestnut, serviceberry, hazelnut, azalea, and hearts a'bustin. 

Though we've dropped the "arboretum" from the name of the preserve, it seemed like it would be fun to better understand and highlight the many kinds of trees found here. 

Thanks to the initiative and organizational elan of FOHW volunteer Alastair Binnie, we have thus far tagged and catalogued 266 trees and large shrubs, comprising 65 species. 

Helping out is Princeton High School graduate Jack Durbin, who is spending some of his gap year volunteering at Herrontown Woods. Jack has been helping in many other ways as well, including building and installing plant cages, cutting invasive species, and improving the trailhead at Princeton Community Village.

We've documented trees along all the trails at this point, with Jack doing the tagging, Alastair recording, while I add locations on a map created some years back by Alison Carver. 

Along the way we've been tempted to include in the inventory a few specimens of ash tree, now nearly all lost to the hidden ravages of the emerald ash borer. Here's one's beautiful deeply furrowed bark.

One of our goals with the inventory is to create a self-guided Tour of Trees that people can take when they visit Herrontown Woods.