PRESERVED BY NATURE, Yet Again

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have learned to flee the irretrievable past, especially on holidays.  Today, the day after Christmas, I had the privilege of guiding two friends, –Willing Hands with me at D&R Greenway,– on their first exploration of Plainsboro Preserve.  This day fulfilled my inexplicable passion for visiting summer places in winter.   Come with us — via Internet images, to a quarry that’s been turned into an unexpected haven.

Day is Done Plainsboro Preserve

My two favorite regions are its beechwood and the peninsula.

plainsboro-preserve snow scene from Internet

Deeper and deeper, –although so near Route 1–, we moved on glistening leaves into timelessness.  We had no snow today, rather ice crystals and iced puddles and ice-signatured ponds and ice stars caught in moss and ice swirled with milkiness as though in an art nouveau gallery!

Our long silent trek through that wilderness of chinchilla-grey trunks held mystery, allure palpable to all three of us.  A few nuthatches in the underbrush made no sound, save their soft rustling.  We were glad to be beech-surrounded, for it kept this weekend’s wild winds from cheeks and noses, everything else on each of us being fully protected from elements.

Normally, the beechwood, –being a microclimate–, is 10 – 12 degrees warmer than the rest of our region in winter; that much cooler in summer. For some reason – [but of course we are not to implicate global warming] this entire forest –with one or two welcome exceptions==, had dropped all leaves now.  As in maybe yesterday.  Not only dropped them, but turned them the pale thin cream color they usually attain right before mid-April drop.  April 15 is a long way off — when the trees need a burst of acid fertilizer to bring forth healthy crops of beech nuts.  What this early leaflessness means to squirrels and other forest dwellers, I do not know.  We did not really experience the temperature protection, possibly because this beechwood was bare.

Even so, off-season magic and beechwood magic persisted, enhanced as two white-tailed dear tiptoed just to our right, revealing no alarm at our very human presence.

DCIM101GOPRO

One is most aware of McCormack Lake, former quarry, almost step of one’s explorations of this unique Preserve.  Too near, lurk shopping centers and major organizational sites and whirring highways and too many condos and homes, and not enough farms.  But the lake rests in this forested setting, like the Hope Diamond.  I’d rather SEE this lake than the Hope Diamond.

Bufflehead Dapper Princeton Brenda Jones

The quarry lake was the deep smoky blue today of Maine’s October ocean.  Winds were ever-present, wrinkling its surface until it resembled the cotton plisse fabric of childhood.  We’d chosen the Preserve for the lake, , hoping to find winter ducks in abundance.  Perhaps six small distant ones could have been buffleheads in size and coloring (varying proportions of black and white.)  But ‘Buffies’ are diving ducks, and in all the time we walked the peninsula, we never saw them do anything but float like rubber duckies in a large blue bathtub.  But they were charming and winsome, and their very distance-blurred field marks added to the magic.

land's end Plainsboro Preserve peninsula onto quarry lake

[Tip of the Peninsula, recently ‘refreshed’, with welcome stone slab bench.  But this scoured look is not the norm for this Preserve.  Above our heads was a (seemingly never utilized) osprey platform.  I always fret and had told them in the Audubon office that ospreys require a smaller, lower feeding platform.  They do not eat their catch in the nest, for the scent could lure predators to their young.  No feeding platform — no active nest, in my experience…  Even so, it’s a magical place to sit and let the lake and all those unbroken reaches of forest speak to you.  This is not osprey season, anyway!]

Beaver Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones’ Beaver in D&R Canal Near the Fishing Bridge

The most exciting part about the peninsula to me is that it preserves Pine Barrens flora on both sides of what is now “Maggie’s Trail.”  Crusty lichen, cushy bitter green moss, cinnamon-hued oak leaves, paling sands.  Think of roadsides in Island Beach, and you have that cushioned crustiness on both sides along Maggie’s Trail.  Today, we had to deal with oddly ever-present sweet gum balls.  Not only not Pinelands, but also way ahead of schedule.  Hard to walk on – more difficult than on acorns peppering Berkshire trails in autumn.   Sweet gum balls normally drop around Washington’s Birthday.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones Beaver Close-Up, Millstone Aqueduct

Everywhere we looked, along the main entry road and all the way to the tip of that peninsula, there was fresh beaver activity.  Cascades of golden curled chips seemed still to be quivering after beavers’ midnight snacking.  Everything from whip-thin birch saplings to hefty white oaks with burnt-sienna leaves lay strewn like jackstraws on either side of Maggie’s Trail.  Some trees had lost only a few smidgens of bark.  We wondered whether parents bring young to teach them to gnaw a few bark inches at a time.  Then the creatures with the largest incisors take over.  Of course, we didn’t see them, because beavers are nocturnal and we’re not!

Plainsboro Preserve Trail early spring

For most of our trek, there was no sight nor sound of anything human — quite literally, my idea of heaven.  Soughing, –the voice of wind in treetops–, was our companion throughout — somewhere between whispering and humming.  Occasionally, a distant train whistle reminded us that centuries exist — not exactly the 21st.

Ice was everywhere — in the leaves, under the leaves, within the moss, turning puddles on the main road into a gallery of art nouveau and art deco designs.  I had no camera this day, knowing I would need both hands for trekking poles with the ground itself that frozen.  Sometimes, the absolute silence was broken by tinkle-crackling of invisible ice beneath leaves.

Plainsboro Preserve Fulness of the Empty Season

These pictures I have culled from the Internet, therefore.  I hope they convey some sense of this haven lying so near to U.S.1 and Scudder’s Mill Road: (left on Dey, left on Scott’s Corner Road.)   Enjoy them and let them lure you over to Plainsboro’s gem.  There are wondrous child-centric programs through NJ Audubon at the handsome center.  And a worthwhile nature-item gift shop.  Bird feeders attract backyard birds near the building.  Bluebird houses and what seem to be owl houses stud the landscape hither and yon.

Plainsboro Preserve Leaflessness and Lake

MIddlesex County provides this history – I remember far more exciting realities about the former quarry, and something about space, and quarrels with locals who did not want to give up hunting and fishing rights.  I provide this for those who need logistical information.

Tranquillity Base, PlnsPrsrv credot Harrington

But for me, microclimate effect or no, Plainsboro Preserve is a journey of the spirit.  I could hardly believe the temperature on my front door as I returned this afternoon — less than twenty degrees.  For all those hours, we’d been warmed in ways that have nothing to do with mercury…

 Plainsboro Preserve in Early Summer via Middlesex County Site:
A scenic view of the lake located within the Plainsboro Preserve.

​The Plainsboro Preserve is a cooperative project between the County of Middlesex, Township of Plainsboro and New Jersey Audubon Society.   In 1999, 530 acres of land formerly owned by the Turkey Island Corporation and Walker Gordon Laboratory Company were acquired by the County and Township.  Middlesex County purchased and owns 401 acres and provided a grant to the Township of Plainsboro for the purchase of an additional 126 acres.  In 2003, the County purchased 126 acres of the former Perrine Tract to add to the Preserve.   The Township added additional land to grow the Preserve and currently maintains responsibility for management of the County-owned portions.

At over 1,000 acres, the Preserve supports a diverse array of habitats and the 50-acre McCormak Lake, with over five miles of hiking trails for hikers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.  The New Jersey Audubon Society manages the Preserve and a 6500 square-foot environmental education center, providing year-round environmental education opportunities. 
For more information on hours and programs, please visit the New Jersey Audubon Society at their website.

The Plainsboro Preserve is adjacent to the Scotts Corner Conservation Area that provides hiking, bird-watching, photography and nature study opportunities.

Location: 80 Scotts Corner Road, Cranbury, NJ  08512
GPS Coordinates:  DMS 40° 20′ 57.28″ N; 74° 33′ 25.53″ W
Facilities: NJ Audubon Environmental Education Center; Parking Area; Bathrooms; Hiking Trails  
Plainsboro Preserve Sign courtesy of Novo Nordisk 
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Princeton Alumni Weekly on Allegra Lovejoy and D&R Greenway’s Capital City Farm

Capital City Farm Allegra and Derrick

U.S.1 Cover Story on Allegra and the Farm:  https://capitalcityfarm.org/2017/07/21/us-1-capital-city-goes-jersey-fresh-green/

use this to see splendid pictures of this miraculous farm manager and her loyal crew of helpers, employees and volunteers…    cfe 

 

IN case any of you wonder why I continue to work at this advanced age at a non-profit dedicated to preserving scarce New Jersey land, here is but one reason.  

Years ago, Princeton Alumni Weekly wrote me, after I’d sent in the poem on Catherine’s graduation, “We love your poem, ‘Hands’ and would like to publish it on the first year anniversary of this ceremony.”  They paid me $100 for the poem, plus seemingly unlimited copies of the issue.  When I read from my first book, Gatherings, on the QEII, in the autumn of 1987, ‘Hands’ was the favorite work of that roomful of listeners and purchasers.

Now, Princeton Alumni Weekly superbly evokes the spirit of our wondrous Allegra in her management and inspirational role at D&R Greenway’s Capital City Farm.  Read on…   Marvel.   And support your local land trust!

To Trenton’s postindustrial cityscape comes 2 acres of urban farm…

Some of Allegra Lovejoy ’14’s  fondest childhood memories are of trips to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn, N.Y. Twenty years later, Lovejoy finds herself on the other side of the farm stand as the manager at Capital City Farm, an urban farm in Trenton, N.J.

Located less than a mile from the highway (Route 1) in East Trenton — one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods — Capital City Farm was an overgrown lot before community activists heard about plans to turn it into a junkyard for vehicles. The activists contacted D&R Greenway Land Trust — an organization dedicated to preserving natural areas in New Jersey — which, with other local groups, raised funds to officially preserve the property as an open space. In late 2015, Lovejoy joined D&R as a project fellow and a farm-and-volunteer coordinator to help ready the lot for agriculture and chart its future. The following spring, she was promoted to manager, responsible for transforming the neglected property into a functioning 2-acre farm.

Lovejoy was no stranger to farming, thanks to her foray into community gardening the year before with The Food Project in Boston. That job introduced her to all aspects of farm management and even required her to design and build an irrigation system.

“There are [so] many challenging aspects to farming, including site planning; water engineering; and fertility, pest and disease, and labor management,” Lovejoy says. “I had to learn all of those on the job. It made for a challenging year.”

At Capital City Farm, Lovejoy has made community involvement a priority. She and her staff of two set up shop at farmers markets in Trenton twice a week during the summer and donate about half of the farm’s produce to a nearby food pantry and to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. The farm also sells its harvest to local restaurants.

“We’ve chosen to keep the food in the city as a part of our mission,” Lovejoy says. “We’re not here trying to take resources from Trenton. We want to keep it all here.”

“We grow food in solidarity and support of the low-income communities that surround us and are open to any means to get that food into their kitchens.”

— Allegra Lovejoy ’14

After two growing seasons, the former abandoned lot has been completely transformed. In the summer, an acre of wildflowers bursting with zinnias, Queen Anne’s lace, and black-eyed Susans can be seen by passersby on the farm’s south side; a greenhouse brimming with green and red tomatoes alongside the farm’s equipment sits farther back from the street; and rows of radishes, beets, and greens fill out the farm’s other acre.

Lovejoy, a Woodrow Wilson School major, became interested in urban farming while writing a paper on the effects of climate change in Bangladesh.

“It was so striking to learn that globally, there’s a major trend of civil wars being preceded by drought and famines,” Lovejoy said. “I wanted to get firsthand experience of working with people who are doing community-based work with agriculture and reconnecting to the land.”

Lovejoy will be doing just that when she heads east at the end of this year to teach sustainability practices at a farming community and retreat center at the foothills of India’s Sahyadhri Mountains. Afterward, she’ll return to New Jersey to start work as a program coordinator for the state’s Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Lovejoy says that while the Trenton farm relies on nonprofit funding and sales of its harvest to operate, staff sometimes give away produce to poor and homeless people in the area: “We want people to eat,” she says. “We grow food in solidarity and support of the low-income communities that surround us and are open to any means to get that food into their kitchens.” Both members of her staff are Trenton residents; one was raised across the street from the farm lot.

“For people growing up in an entirely man-made environment, developing a connection to nature is no small thing,” she says. “That connection has been very transformative for me, and I’ve seen its impact on others — we set up and manage the farm with that intention.”