Friday, March 19, 2021
Friday, March 12, 2021
The following appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of Town Topics.Human Imagination, Resourcefulness Collaborate With Nature at Princeton Botanical Art Garden
To the Editor:
This past year, as the pandemic closed down indoor destinations, many people turned to Princeton’s nature preserves for diversion, renewal, and exercise. Coinciding with this surge in what is often called passive recreation has been an acceleration in several projects along the Princeton Ridge where people take a more active, restorative role in nature. Initiatives by the Friends of Herrontown Woods, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, and the Ridgeview Ridge Trail Blazers have all gained momentum, benefiting from an influx of volunteers.
On the eastern side of town, our relatively new nonprofit, the Friends of Herrontown Woods, founded in 2013 to make Princeton’s first nature preserve once again accessible after years of neglect, has overseen the rapid evolution of a space we now call the Princeton Botanical Art Garden. It began three years ago as a small loop trail through a former pine grove decimated by windstorms. As invasive species took hold among the fallen trees, we saw the opportunity to create a rare habitat — a sunny forest opening. Removing rampant invasive growth and planting sun-loving native wildflowers and shrubs, our first goal was to create a space where people could come to learn about native flora.
But the botanical garden took a cultural turn this year as artists and students displaced from school began building structures amidst the wildflower beds. A boy made a fort. Several high schoolers built a yurt. A chainsaw virtuoso cut planks and handrails from fallen trees to build a whimsical but sturdy bridge over a small wetland. Using massive upturned root balls as backdrops, a spiritual gardener created a meditation garden, and a daughter and mother created an exhibit of wildlife bones.
Another family dug a miniature frog pond that attracted real frogs. Rocks were gathered from a nearby construction site to line whimsical trails. Most recently, considerable resourcefulness and imagination were applied to moving a donated shed and gazebo to the site. Witnessing the joy visitors were experiencing, we knew we were on to something. One parent of young kids described the art garden as “a lifeline.”
If there were ever any doubt, the pandemic has proven the worth of Princeton’s investment in preserving open space, beginning with the visionary mathematician Oswald Veblen’s personal and professional efforts in the 1930s to acquire lands that later became Herrontown Woods and the Institute Woods.
But at the Princeton Botanical Art Garden we have discovered the pleasures and ecological benefits of going beyond preservation and passive appreciation to create an in-between space — part nature, part culture — where human imagination and resourcefulness can collaborate with nature’s unparalleled creativity and generosity. By locating ourselves within nature, learning from it and giving back, we can begin not only to heal nature, but also heal ourselves.
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Thanks to director Ben Stentz and the Princeton Recreation Department crews for plowing the Herrontown Woods parking lot!
Traditionally, the parking lot had been left unplowed, but due to increased use by the public, and some advocacy by the Friends of Herrontown Woods, the town has responded.
The road down to the parking lot is privately owned, so the lot and the drive may not get plowed at the same time.
Saturday, February 6, 2021
As of yesterday, Autumn Hill Reservation parking lot remained unplowed as well.
For now, please park at Smoyer Park or drive to the back of Stone Hill Church,
Friday, January 29, 2021
A big step has been taken by FOHW to make the red trail--the main trail route in Herrontown Woods--fully usable year-round. In the past, trails in the preserve would dry out in summer as the trees pulled moisture out of the ground, then cold weather would harden the ground in winter. But as rains have increased in New Jersey, and mild winters often fail to freeze the ground, the season when trails are soft and muddy has expanded. Though volunteers have laid hundreds of stepping stones along trails in Herrontown Woods, a 500 foot section in the northwest corner of the preserve has long seemed beyond remedy. A reroute two years ago on what appeared to be drier ground quickly turned to mud, as foot traffic broke down the delicate root structures that had held the highly organic soil together.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Herein lies the story of the moving of the gazebo and shed, which played out from August through November in that year of years, 2020.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
2020 saw a rapid acceleration of creative work at Herrontown Woods, riding a tide of interest and new visitors displaced from their routines and the indoors by the pandemic. Some key improvements to trails were made. Veblen House received some painting, cleaning, regrading, landscaping, historical researching, and weatherizing. What we now call the Princeton Botanical Art Garden became a focus of volunteer energy, aided by regular workdays. Native plantings are filling in, and now are complemented by structures that are unique in shape and style, and a matrix of pathways that kids love to explore. Families in particular have been grateful for this new destination for discovery and delight, with one parent calling the botanical garden "a lifeline." On the 140th year of his birth, Oswald Veblen's legacy was celebrated by an article in Princeton Magazine and by Princeton University's President Eisgruber in his annual State of the University report.
- Officially leased Veblen House and Cottage from Princeton. The lease runs for five years, giving FOHW official permission to begin repairs and seek funding.
- FOHW volunteers continue to care for 220 acres of public land at Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation, including major work after this year's storms.
- Scenic reroutes of two heavily rutted sections of the Red trail
- Expansion of trail and major invasive plant removal in 7.5 beautiful acres FOHW had previously gotten added to Herrontown Woods.
- Collaborated with town to treat massive wisteria clone.
- Transported hundreds of large stepping stones from nearby development site for repairing muddy stretches of trails
- A commemorative bench was added along the yellow trail, overlooking the boulder field.
- Worked to update trail maps on other trail websites
THE PRINCETON BOTANICAL ART GARDEN
- Princeton gained a new outdoor destination, as FOHW added major infrastructure this year, including a gazebo and shed saved from demolition, a handmade boardwalk, meditation garden, yurt, mobile, frog pond, "walking tree", labels on dozens of native species, deer cages to protect plantings, picnic bench
- Sunday morning workdays engaged youth and adults, speeding progress and providing a much needed socially distanced social opportunity
- Seasonal displays on kiosk about plants
- Installed rainbarrel on kiosk for watering new plantings
- 140 years after Oswald Veblen's birth, FOHW utilized Veblen House as an inside-out museum, telling his story in photos and text
- President Eisgruber featured Oswald Veblen's legacy prominently in Princeton University's annual State of the University letter, describing Veblen as "a faculty member with tremendous vision and constructive energy" who "probably did as much as anyone to reform and improve this University."
- Princeton Magazine published an article entitled The Extraordinary Legacy of Oswald Veblen, including information on FOHW's work
- Two board members helped save a 1755 house on Ewing Street from demolition. The owner then donated to us the gazebo and shed, which we transported to the Botanical Art Garden.
- Board members visited the extraordinary Clausen Farm in Sharon Springs, NY, as part of research on the Whiton-Stuarts--builders and first owners of Veblen House.
- A chess board and calendar found long ago in the Veblen Cottage were donated for exhibit in the future Veblen museum. The calendar mentions getting together with Einstein to play chess.
- Inspected, cleaned and weatherized east wall of Veblen House
- Two dangerous trees near Veblen House were removed by town. FOHW volunteers turned some of the wood into boards and tables
- Grading around the house to restore original drainage
- Cleaning Veblen House interior, including removal of old carpet
- More hinging and painting of window covers
- Repaired wellhouse and installed rainbarrel
- Reestablished addresses for House and Cottage
- Efforts begun to get electrical hookup for Veblen House
- More diversion of runoff into raingardens.
- Maintaining grounds and keeping buildings secure and dry
- Invasive plant removal with Girlscouts Troop 71837
- Another year of growth for an edible forest of pawpaws, hazelnuts, butternuts, persimmons and plums.
- Expanding plant identification signage in the botanical garden
- Collaborating with Girlscouts Troop 71837 to improve trail map, signage and flower descriptions
- Ongoing research and website posts about nature, FOHW's activities, and the fascinating history of Veblen House at VeblenHouse.org, FOHW.org, and PrincetonNatureNotes.org
- Many students participated in workdays at the botanical garden
- A Minute of Calm video series posted online
- Celebrated Oswald and Elizabeth Veblen's birthdays with a socially distanced outdoor jazz party next to Veblen House
- Hosted a volunteer appreciation jazz party next to Veblen House
- Hosted a Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad practice rescue in Herrontown Woods
- New board members and many new volunteers.
- Another board “retreat” to develop strategic planning
- Additional progress towards our initial goal of raising $100,000.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Monday, December 21, 2020
This meeting ID: 867 209 749 36
or go to the town calendar and scroll down to the agenda on the day of the event.
Sunday, December 20, 2020
On October 24, the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS) came to Herrontown Woods to conduct an exercise in backwoods rescue. All of this came about through the initiative of Friends of Herrontown Woods board member Inge Regan, who is an emergency room doctor.