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.