Friday, March 25, 2022

Renovating Autumn Hill Trails

This year we've set out to improve the trails at Autumn Hill Reservation. The Friends of Herrontown Woods has used a similar approach at Herrontown Woods with success.  

The aim is to reroute a few of the trails to minimize muddiness and highlight some of the features that would otherwise go unseen, such as these four big boulders that got lifted up into the air by a tree's rootball as it fell. 

This old quarry site is hidden just fifteen feet from one of the trails. Click on the image and look closely to see the drill marks they used to split the boulder into chunks to haul away. That would have been about a century ago.

One thing we'd rather hikers not encounter is the ponding in some existing trails in late winter. Winter, when leaves have fallen and the woods is flooded with light, is the best time to search for better trail routes. In this case, we found higher ground running along an overgrown rock wall just a few yards to the left. 

If we didn't get around to moving the trail years ago, it may have something to do with the incredibly dense tangle of invasive shrubs--autumn olive, Linden viburnum, privet, and worst of all, thorny multiflora rose. It took four work sessions to cut through the thicket that not only blocked access to a better trail route but also obscured part of the preserve's history--the rock walls that once bordered farm fields. 

The fishhook-shaped thorns on multiflora rose punish anyone who thinks they can overcome this formidable, sprawling shrub with brute force. It takes a patient, even gentle approach to navigate through all the thorny branches to cut the shrub at the base. Even then, the thorns prove unavoidable. Anyone who forgets their work gloves will pay. 

There's a payoff, though, for all the hard work of cutting through fallen trees and clearing invasive shrubs. Mixed in with the invasives are some native spicebush, high bush blueberry, and flowering dogwood. It's satisfying to rescue these from the burden of invasive overgrowth. 

A few more work sessions and visitors to Autumn Hill will be able to better experience the preserve's historical and natural features while walking on drier ground.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Geology Walk at Herrontown Woods (POSTPONED)

On Sunday, March 13, Princeton geology professor emeritus Lincoln Hollister will lead a guided walk through Herrontown Woods explaining the geological features and history of the area. If you thought the boulders were deposited by a glacier, you're in for a surprise.

The walk is at 1pm. A limited number of spots are available. Click here to sign up.

Next time you walk the yellow trail, notice how the boulders along the stream start out squarish, but become more rounded as you head up onto the ridge. These two shapes were produced in different geologic eras.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Bird and Plant Walk at Herrontown Woods this Sunday, Feb. 27

A bird and plant walk is coming up this weekend at Herrontown Woods, from 9-11 this Sunday morning, Feb. 27. We'll have multiple walk leaders with expertise ranging from botany to birds to amphibians. Princeton natives John L Clark and Fairfax Hutter will be joined by naturalist and Hopewell teacher Mark Manning and Steve Hiltner. 

The walk is open to all. We'll have some extra binoculars in case anyone lacks a pair. Meet at the main parking lot off Snowden Lane, across from Smoyer Park

Thanks to the Princeton Public Library for helping get the word out about this event, which is in addition to our usual Sunday morning workdays that start around 10:30.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Princeton ECHO Features Herrontown Woods

The Princeton ECHO is starting 2022 with a wonderful feature article on Herrontown Woods. The article is written by Patricia A. Taylor, who took her grandkids to the preserve and had great fun exploring the trails and the Barden. The article, entitled "History and helpful hands in Herrontown Woods," explores the history of the preserve and our Friends of Herrontown Woods nonprofit. She also tells the story of the dugout canoe in the Barden, and how it was originally constructed for an Odyssey project at Princeton High School. 

Ms. Taylor is hoping readers will be inspired to explore Princeton's open space preserves in the winter, when the woodlands are filled with light and long vistas. Copies of ECHO are available downtown, at the Shopping Center, and elsewhere.

Friday, December 3, 2021

May's Barden Cafe returns this Sunday, Jan. 2 (and Feb. 6)

May's Barden Cafe welcomes the new year at Herrontown Woods this Sunday morning, Jan. 2, from 10am to noon. Stop by for some fine coffee and pastries, served up near the Barden's gazebo. just in from the main parking lot off Snowden Lane. Nicole Bergman has been teaming up with Joanna Poniz to host the Cafe, with coffee from Small World.

The event--first Sundays through the winter--coincides with the weekly Herrontown Woods workdays, making for a nice mix of socializing and volunteer activity. 

May was the nickname for Elizabeth Veblen. She and her husband Oswald donated Herrontown Woods long ago, and also started the tradition of afternoon tea at the Institute for Advanced Study. 

The road down to Herrontown Woods is directly across from the main entryway to Smoyer Park. 600 Snowden Lane is now the official address for the parking lot.       

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Nature Walks This Sunday, Nov. 14, 10am and 1pm

To take advantage of lingering fall colors, Steve Hiltner will lead two nature walks this Sunday, Nov. 14, at 10am and 1pm. The Princeton Public Library is helping organize the 10am walk (shifted to Sunday from Saturday due to freakish weather forecast), so the morning walk may be more crowded. If you aren't already signed up through the library for the 10am walk, it would be best to come at 1pm if possible. 

Meet at the main parking lot off Snowden (600 Snowden Lane) across from Smoyer Park. Extra parking at Smoyer Park if needed. 

Sturdy shoes recommended.

The usual Sunday morning workday will be happening as well.

Friday, October 29, 2021

May's Barden Cafe is Born

Update: Through the cooler months, May's Barden Cafe will be open the first Sunday of each month, from 10-12, weather permitting. Mark your calendar for Nov. 7, Dec. 5, and so on.

There's a delightful new happening at the Barden in Herrontown Woods. Nicole Bergman, with help from Joanna Poniz, is hosting May's Barden Cafe. 

From 10-12 on Sunday, Oct. 24, they served coffee from Small World and some teas, along with a delicious pastry Nicole made. 

The name comes from Elizabeth Veblen's nickname May. Born in England, May was the force behind developing the tradition of tea in the Princeton math department and also at the Institute for Advanced Study. Nicole and Joanna are very much taking a cue from the Veblens' love of bringing people together. 

The pleasure of conversation and drink mixed well with the weekly workday that was going on at the same time. There's seating and tables at the gazebo as well as at various places along the pathways.

Future openings of May's Barden Cafe are planned for the first Sunday morning of each month, 10-12. That would make Nov. 7 a good time to come by. Thanks to Nicole and Joanna for bringing this idea so quickly from inspiration to fruition.

Thanks to FOHW board member Inge Regan for the first two photos in this post.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Barden: Building a Better Bridge to the 21st Century

At the Herrontown Woods Barden (short for Botanical ARt garDEN), we like to think we're building a better bridge to the 21st century. 

In this case, it's literally a bridge. The Barden is a collective enterprise that has emerged out of a "fallen forest", where storms had blown down a pine grove planted long ago. Rather than neaten the place up by removing the dead trees, we have used those fallen trees as features and building material. Rootballs have become backdrops for gardens and displays, and in this case a sturdy trunk is becoming a bridge. 
For this bridge, Victorino is the primary visionary and craftsman, using skills and strategies he learned in his home country of Guatemala.

FOHW board member Keena was delighted with the project and helped clear blackberry brambles obstructing the route of the new bridge.

At a recent gathering, main caretaker of the Barden Andrew Thornton thanked the many volunteers who have made the Barden a home to delight and whimsy, along with all the native plants that border its winding pathways. He gave particular thanks to Rachelle Rebarber, Becca Shipan, Ethan Lee, and board member Keena Lipsitz for their devotion to the project in recent years.

The Barden works beautifully for a garden party, with many conversations scattered across its varied nooks and crannies, yet keeping a sense of a common gathering.

The next day, with some extra inspiration provided by the party, it was back to pulling stiltgrass and other weeds. Four years ago, the area we now call the Barden was a dense thicket of invasive, nonnative shrubs and vines. Kurt Tazelaar made it a project to turn the tide early on, laying the foundation for all the work volunteers have done since. In addition to 130 species of native plants, we also have a meditation garden, a zen garden, and particularly popular is the fairy garden of moss, sea shells, and mushroom sculptures. 

Volunteer workdays are Sunday mornings starting around 10am and continuing into early afternoon. 

Event at Veblen House Highlights Need to Preserve Old Growth Forest

On Sept. 24, the Friends of Herrontown Woods hosted a talk by Joan Maloof, author most recently of  Treepedia: A Brief Compendium of Arboreal Lore. The event was sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, whose 2021 online programming begins Oct 12 and runs for two weeks.

From Joan Maloof's talk, it was clear that her deepest passion is for saving old growth forest. She founded the Old Growth Forest Network, which is seeking to save old growth in every county of the nation. She is seeking county coordinators to explore their respective counties for the best example of old growth forest. It's not clear whether Mercer County has one as yet. 

Mentioned during the talk was the great value of the 90 acre Landwin tract, which borders Herrontown Woods to the north and is currently threatened with development. The Ridgeview Conservancy is leading efforts to save that forest. 

A close look at the photograph will reveal that the Veblen House site has become a place not only for the community to gather, but also is now something of a community chair orphanage, where chairs abandoned curbside in Princeton can find a new home and continue their service to humanity. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Treepedia Author to Speak at Veblen House in Herrontown Woods

Joan Maloof, author of the delightful book Treepedia: A Brief Compendium of Arboreal Lore, will speak on the wooded grounds of Veblen House in Herrontown Woods, on Friday, Sept. 24 at 6pm. The Friends of Herrontown Woods is excited to be hosting the event, which is sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

Joan is a professor emeritus at Salisbury University, and founded the Old-Growth Forest Network to preserve, protect and promote the country's few remaining stands of old-growth forest. She has written many books about trees, with a particular focus on forests of the eastern U.S.. Treepedia is part of Princeton University Press' "Pedia" series.

Labyrinth Books will be on hand at the event with copies of the book as well.

This is a free outdoor event, with the Community Room at the library serving as backup in case of rain.

To park close to the event, please enter the Veblen House driveway at 452 Herrontown Road and join us on the lawn in front of Veblen House.

You can also park in the main parking lot for Herrontown Wood opposite the entrance to Smoyer Park. Follow the Orange Trail for a 5 minute walk to the Veblen House.