Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Film Premiere & Panel Discussion

PA/NJ lead the nation in deer-vehicle collision.
Seeing dead deer on the side of the road is a common experience in Hopewell Valley. Yet, most of us still cringe at the scene. 

This increasingly frequent sight is an upsetting symptom of a much larger issue.  As the deer population increases, the impact is devastating to both the deer and our local economy.

Through grant funding, local nonprofits Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) and The Sourland Conservancy commissioned documentary filmmaker Jared Flesher to explore the impact of deer on the local environment.

FoHVOS Stewardship Director Michael Van Clef Ph.D appears in the film and asks the disturbing question, “Who would have thought that we literally cannot grow new trees in a forest?” He explains that excessive deer destroy the forest understory where new trees normally take root.

The short film “The Deer Stand,” premiers at the new Hopewell Theatre on October 3rd and will be followed by a panel discussion that includes the filmmaker, an ecologist, a sustainable farmer, law enforcement, hunters and others.

Filmmaker Jared Flesher will be on the panel and discuss his experience making the film. Panelists Michael Van Clef Ph.D, Brian Kubin, a management hunter, and Chris Moran, a new hunter, all appear in the film.

Jon McConaughy, co-founder of Brick Farm Groups and a panelist, will share that deer are among the biggest threats to food costs from the perspective of a local sustainable farmer.

Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney is a panelist that will share his insights regarding impact of deer accidents throughout Hopewell Valley.

2017 Hopewell Valley Central High School graduate Fiona Crawford rounds out our panel to share the important perspective of an active, budding environmentalist. 

The film and panel discussion will engage anyone that cares about maintaining Hopewell's bucolic environment. Our responsibility goes far beyond simply preserving open space. We need to ensure that we take care of our land.  It is the heart and soul needed to ensure our quality of life here in the Valley. 

Sponsor Trattoria Procaccini will provide seasonal appetizers and Sourland Mountain Spirits will serve cocktails, and 
coffee, tea and sweets will be provided. 

It should be a great evening at The Hopewell Theatre, this Tuesday, October 3rd at 7pm. Don't miss it.

For more information and to reserve tickets, visit:

Monday, August 21, 2017

What is "Barn(yard) Chic"?

Invitation to Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space gala
Lots of excitement is building around the upcoming FoHVOS 30th anniversary gala to be held on September 16th at the Historic Barn of Glenmoore Farm.  

The enthusiasm is understandable.  Unlike other local fundraisers, our VIP guests will ride a hot air balloon high above Hopewell Valley to view the 7,500+ acres of land FoHVOS has preserved by partnering with landowners, government and other nonprofit organizations.

We will eagerly recognize the many who helped preserve the Valley's character through open space and farmland preservation, and natural resource protection. There will be a Ted Stiles photo montage and we honor the achievements of conservationists, leaders, & partners, working to protect land & support stewardship in the Hopewell Valley including:

Jack Gleeson Environmental Award
Patricia Sziber
Retired FoHVOS Executive Director

FoHVOS Friends Individual Recognition
Paul Pogorzelski
Hopewell Township Administrator/Engineer

FoHVOS Friends Corporate Recognition
Bristol-Myers Squibb

Finally, our auction will feature all local experiences.  Here are just a few examples: 

  • A sustainable Double Brook Farm tour & Brick Farm Tavern dinner for four 
  • A flight piloted by Paul Pogo around Hopewell Valley for two
  • Unionville Vineyards tour and wine-tasting for ten 
  • A "Hidden Hopewell" tour led by historian David Blackwell for six 
  • A surprise to be announced by our municipality mayors
  • A lunch with wine & Executive Chef Assi La Ponte at Bonne Assiette for four
  • A private photo session and portrait 
  • and many other opportunities to experience Hopewell Valley!
So the most frequent question we have received about the evening is, "As we enjoy the locally sourced menu, live music, and other festivities, how should we be dressed?"

Our answer: Barnyard Chic

Our team wrestled with the perfect way to suggest a dress code.  "Semi-formal" may be appropriate to demonstrate ample respect for our honorees and the importance of the occasion. Yet, we need to acknowledge that we are hanging out in a barn. 

While "cocktail attire" is fine, guests probably don't want to be donning high heels on the wooden floor boards or through the gravel and grass. Yet "casual" sounded too, uh, casual.

I voiced our labeling dilemma to benevolent extraordinaire and LHT Co-Founder, Eleanor Horne, and without missing a beat she coined Barnyard Chic.

Watch for Barnyard Chic to become a thing around Hopewell Valley and remember you heard it here first!

Late Blog Addition! A reader suggested that Barnyard implies the yard where the animals are and we should call it "Barn Chic" to ensure attendees are dressed to be in an upscale barn.

Barnyard, Barn, or do you have a better idea?

In any case, I'll see you on September 16th and look forward to seeing you in all your barn(yard) chic splendor.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Forest Bathing in Hopewell Valley

A view from my walk through the Ted Stiles Preserve.

As health care debates abound in the news, preventive medicine should be a focus as it is among the best ways to improve well-being and keep health care costs down.

What are you doing to stay healthy?  We know all the standard advice: Eat healthy. Exercise. Get plenty of sleep.   And to really improve longevity, find ways to reduce stress.

A lesser-known scientifically proven method to improve health is spending time outdoors.  The Japanese refer to the practice as Shinrin-yoku or “Forest bathing.”

Hopewell Valley is particularly conducive to forest bathing since we have an amazing selection of beautifully preserved forest trails from which to choose.

Studies published by Harvard Medical School and the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) confirm each others findings that forest environment exposure: 

  • Boosts immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure and pulse rates
  • Reduces stress hormone production and relieves stress
  • Increases focus for both young and old
  • Accelerates healing from surgical procedure or sickness
  • Improves mood and overall feelings of wellbeing
  • Increases stamina
  • Improves sleep

These results are contributing to the development of a research field dedicated to forest medicine and may be used as a strategy for preventive medicine. While much has been published about your brain on nature in the past, recent media is reporting the Japanese practice of forest bathing is exploding in the United States and an emerging industry of forest therapy consultants abound.

The key to forest bathing is simply to be mindful. Immersion in the forest will help clear your mind and open your senses to connect with nature.

Many people find the experience meditative and notice their breathing while walking through the forest tuning into the sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes to experience a very visceral reaction of senses to their surroundings.

Reducing stress improves mortality and lowers health care costs.  Incorporating forest therapy is an excellent stress-reduction therapy and couldn’t be easier in Hopewell Valley.

Many Valley dwellers have lived here for years and haven’t explored the bucolic opportunities right in our backyard. There is probably a forest preserve surprisingly close to your home.

Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) is a nonprofit land trust that is dedicated to preserving the Valley's character though open space and farmland preservation, and natural resource protection.

FoHVOS has partnered with landowners, government and other non-profit organizations to preserve and steward thousands of acres of natural forest in Hopewell Valley that are open to the public.

Download our free 36 page Guide to the Walking Trails in the Hopewell Valley (also found at

Find your own inspiration by exploring the best of the Valley. Visit Pole Farm at Mercer Meadows, Thompson Preserves in Hopewell, the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain, or the numerous other preserves our Valley has to share.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

(Climate) Change begins at home

Native wildflowers replace a manicured detention basin.

Changes in the political landscape have spurred discussions regarding global responsibility for the environment. 

As a result, increased visibility has propelled this issue to center stage and a common bond has formed among disparate groups joining together to actively support our planet.
Dan Pace, MC Planning & FoHVOS Trustee, me, and
Hopewell Twp Mayor Kevin Kuchinski at Science March

In response to intensified environmental fears, marches, teach-Ins, and other activism spontaneously formed throughout the country which led to a heightened sense of community.  I am pictured at right in Trenton at one of the many Science Marches.

While activism raises awareness and leaves participants feeling motivated and inspired, it does little to actually address the issues at hand.

A perk of being the Executive Director of an environmental nonprofit is working and partnering with some of the best and brightest experts in the field to set up programs for outreach and education.

Most people realize that their lifestyle choices (i.e turning off lights, fuel efficient cars, and even food selection) have a big impact on reducing our carbon footprint, reducing pollution, and improving water quality.  Let's hope this new awareness leads us to seek out additional knowledge and education and consider more of our actions through an environmental lens. We all need to do our part.

Consider that this weekend offers many summer kick-off events including garden tours, guided hikes and other outdoor friendly activities. Attend them all and delight in the riches that our Valley offers but prioritize those that provide some education that you can use later to improve the environment.

For example, start with a Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space short tour that features experts who can show you how turn your garden into a sanctuary for native plants.  Check out how Mark and Samantha Bean transformed their backyard into an ecological paradise. They converted their neighborhood detention basin into a thriving meadow and have implemented a number of environmentally beneficial features into their own yard. 

Register to attend the garden tour. Enjoy yourself and make proactive choices to positively impact our environment. Change begins at home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Featured Partner: Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

Joining the ranks of Mercer County Parks, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is our newest Featured Partner.

Bean's Wildflower Meadow
The Watershed works to keep our water clean, safe and healthy. FoHVOS works to preserve Hopewell Valley's character through open space and farmland preservation and by helping private land owners protect natural resources.

Since water is the lifeblood of our earth, our mission would be impossible if they were unsuccessful in theirs.

Just as we see much cross pollination in nature, so it goes for environmental non-profits. Recognizing the importance of a healthy ecosystem, supporters generously advocate for both land and water and we all thrive together.

For example, FoHVOS Trustee and Board Secretary, Chris Berry, serves as volunteer teacher-naturalist and provides support for The Watershed stewardship efforts.
Bean Family receives Watershed Award

Additionally, we were thrilled when The Watershed recognized The Bean Family as their "Resident of the Year" for their work initiated under our FoHVOS Private Land Stewardship Program.  The Beans further their efforts by attending The Watershed Institute's environmental education. 

The Watershed Executive Director Jim Waltman attended our Meet the Executive Director Open House and has graciously welcomed me into the fold.

We have also done several joint programs and they have engaged our stewardship director on their own stewardship plan. We are currently planning additional events to appeal to Hopewell Valley residents.

Finally, the Watershed hosts the FoHVOS monthly board meeting.  

Jimmy Waltman w/my son in their funny hats
Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed is a great Friend of Hopewell Valley Open Space. 

Speaking of Friends, I've included an old photo of Jim Waltman's son and mine. (They are in high school now.)

Just to complete the loop, Jim and I may need to don silly hats... or not...

Hats off to our featured partner -- The  Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PennEast Pipeline: A habitat threat

Long Eared Owl at Baldpate Mountain - WCAS (Sharyn Magee)

The major component of the FoHVOS stewardship mission is protecting and restoring natural habitats.  A quick review of our stewardship staff and volunteers’ time indicate various types of activities that ultimately lead to protecting habitat. From invasive species management through forest and grassland restorations, our eye is always on stewarding an environment where flora and fauna will thrive.

With this mission in mind, we were disappointed to learn that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) seemed to change their habitat requirements on the PennEast application.  Previously the NJDEP noted that PennEast’s draft Environmental Impact Statement lacked information on the pipeline’s impact on threatened and endangered flora and fauna and required that they conduct two years of wildlife surveys along portions of the proposed route.  Unfortunately, these conditions were not included in their latest feedback to PennEast.

Hooded warbler
We are aware that many groups opposing the PennEast pipeline were encouraged when the Army Corps of Engineers and the NJDEP ruled that PennEast’s application for its Clean Water Act permits were incomplete, missing significant required data.  Additionally, NJDEP ruled that PennEast’s application was made without having legal authority to enter all of the impacted properties along the proposed route since almost 70% of landowners in New Jersey have denied PennEast survey access.   PennEast was given 30 days to remedy those application deficiencies.
Kentucky warbler

We are less encouraged.  The NJDEP delay does not mitigate our habitat concerns. Environmental impact should be considered before PennEast’s applications are reviewed. 

The Mercer County Parks Commission has partnered with FoHVOS for over 10 years to properly steward the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain. Our FoHVOS champion for whom the preserve was named, spent a decade protecting the mountain from improper development.  Now, Baldpate Mountain is under serious threat from the proposed pipeline, with PennEast proposing to expand the existing utility right-of-way by clear-cutting an additional 150+ feet of mature forest. 

Baldpate Mountain is not only amon Mercer County’s largest contiguous forests and wildlife habitats, but has also been designated as an Audubon Important Bird Area and is an important migratory stop and breeding area for Neotropical birds, many of which are ranked by the American Bird Conservancy as birds of conservation concern.  Hooded and Kentucky warblers are not found elsewhere in Hopewell - Baldpate harbors the only forest large enough for them.  The potential damage to these breeding birds cannot be mitigated by PennEast. 

Bald Eagle - US Fish & Wildlife
In our developing Forest Stewardship Plan, we’ve found that nearly 1,000 species of plants and animals can be found at Baldpate.  Of these species, there are over 30 rare species and another 75 species of high conservation value.  Plant species include the beautiful wild comfrey and yellow giant hyssop.  Rare long-eared owls (see top photo) have recently been discovered by Washington Crossing Audubon Society and Hopewell Township just documented an American bald eagle directly on the pipeline’s proposed path. 

Baldpate Mountain was preserved with taxpayer monies to permanently protect its sensitive ecosystem and the rare species that depend upon it.  In a mostly built out state, it’s simply not possible to replace the preserved lands like Baldpate that PennEast is proposing to degrade or destroy.

We encourage the NJDEP to restore its previous protections and survey requirements for threatened and endangered flora and fauna, before it reviews PennEast’s permit applications.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Building a corridor... not a wall

Since writing the story of our FoHVOS founder’s decade long battle to preserve Baldpate Mountain from development in Remembering Ted Stiles,  I have regularly discussed his long-term vision for the future.

On one occasion, a resident informed me that not everyone shared my enthusiasm for open space.

I explained that aside from his famous win at Baldpate, Ted Stiles had other protection ideals like his vision for land planning a greenbelt for our Valley.

The resident was incredulous, “Preserved forest land to surround our town? Sounds like a wall… You wanna build a wall!?!”

I was taken aback by his reaction.

Aside from obvious political implications, the mental imagery of the exclusionary starkness that “a wall” produces is the polar opposite impression of the bucolic welcome I had envisioned.

It was time for help from the big guns.  I reached out to FoHVOS Board Trustees Daniel Pace and Daniel Rubenstein.

Mr. Pace works for the County of Mercer Planning Department and is also a Trustee on the Hopewell Valley Historical Society. Dr. Rubenstein has been a FoHVOS trustee since the early days and knew Ted Stiles firsthand. Also he studies how environmental variations shape social behavior and the dynamics of populations.

So, if anyone could shed light on whether a greenbelt would act as a wall, it was The Double Dans.

Mr. Pace immediately shared that the concept of “Green Belt” dates back to the 19th century as part of “the garden city movement” and was meant to plan cities in England in response to overcrowding and nature-isolated cities. The objective was proportionate areas of residences, industry, and agriculture.

While I like the idea of reducing overcrowding and ensuring proportional open space is balanced with development, my interest was more about whether the effect of a greenbelt was to wall off the surrounding area.

Dr. Rubenstein suggested to me that a greenbelt done properly acts like more of corridor than a wall.  Rather then excluding people or wildlife, belts attract them.  Additionally if surrounding areas have connected belts, disparate wild species as well as members of the neighboring communities will be joined together—

Kinda like the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail  When I’m out there, I don’t notice where Hopewell ends and Lawrence begins.

It makes perfect sense. Everyone is attracted to the beauty in nature.  Clearly the greening of the area acts as a magnet, not a wall. Don’t most people move here because they are attracted to the character of the Valley?

A wonderful by-product is our symbiotic relationship – as we keep our preserves healthier for flora and fauna, our quality of life improves.

That may also explain why greenbelts are often referred to as an emerald necklace. They are designed to increase public access and interconnect the networks of beautiful jewels that surround us.

To further Ted’s vision, consider supporting FoHVOS. Also, come join Hopewell Township Committee, Environmental Commission and Open Space Committee members as they dedicate their 2017 Arbor Day Tree. This year’s native white dogwood memorial tree honors the late Ted Stiles. A brief ceremony will be held at 10 am on Friday, April 28 at Woolsey Park, located on Washington Crossing – Pennington Rd.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Finding Inspiration

My blog today is about enjoying the benefits of being outside. We can start by appreciating our local preserves and the well-being attained by connecting with nature.

Consider The Harvard Medical school newsletter that explains that spending time outdoors provides discernible benefits for physical and mental health. Their studies indicate that the "greening" of exercise results in being happier, thinking more clearly, and healing more quickly.

While that information is truly compelling, it lacks that local connection I sought. So... where could I find the right inspiration?  

Deb Dauer rolling the wheelchair accessible LHT trail at Pole Farm. 
As fate would have it, while looking for more info, I came across Deb Dauer's blog post from today and not surprisingly, it contained exactly what I needed. First a bit of background…

I have known Deb since our children, now in college, were in preschool together. She has always been an inspiration, especially to her first grade students at Robbinsville's Sharon Elementary School.  

Last year Deb was diagnosed with ALS and more of her story is here. As the ALS progresses it steals her mobility and with it some of the activities that most of us take for granted.  Instead of mourning those losses, Deb finds new and creative ways of finding joy. That brings us back to today…

Deb shared that she was at Pole Farm where her husband Adam walked while she rolled in her wheelchair. She writes:

Pole Farm (photo courtesy of Deb Dauer)
"The woods on the side of the trail brought me back to the woods I used to trek through during my childhood. The views across the fields were breathtaking. I am thrilled that Adam and I have found another outside activity that we can do together!"

Deb's comment captured my intent far better than I could have stated myself. 

She is probably unaware that FoHVOS and Mercer County Parks spent two years restoring Pole Farm's expansive grassland habitats. The project, completed in 2014, removed non-native vegetation and seeded 435 acres of fields with native grasses and wildflowers to bring back native pollinators and grassland birds.
Pole Farm (photo courtesy of Deb Dauer)

The restoration funded through generous grants from Conservation Resources Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has brought back significant populations of owls and other birds as noted by New Jersey Audubon. Pole farm is part of our esteemed partner Mercer County Park's Mercer Meadows.

While most residents are oblivious to FoHVOS stewardship efforts, once out on the trails they share the visceral reaction that Deb describes, which are not found indoors, and may relate to the health benefits realized.

Find your own inspiration by exploring the best of the Valley. Visit Pole Farm at Mercer Meadows, the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain, or any of the other preserves in our Guide to the Walking Trails in the Hopewell Valley.

See you on the trails.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Featured Partner: Mercer County Parks

Today's view from the FoHVOS Office

After Remembering Ted Stiles, you know that FoHVOS founder, Ted Stiles worked for a decade to protect the beautiful Baldpate mountain from development. 

The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain now comprises over 1500 acres, making it the largest preserved natural area in Mercer County.  FoHVOS employees enjoy these beautiful views, from our home atop Strawberry Hill Mansion, every day we come to work! 

Driving up to FoHVOS
The Mercer County Park Commission has been a great partner with us and it's time to give props.

Mercer County is the primary owner of the Preserve and they work hard to keep the facilities in great shape and accessible to the public. Today's Baldpate visitors had the pleasure of snow-covered mountain with the safety of a salted and cleared path. 

Hopewell Valley locals and visitors are the biggest winner of our FoHVOS/Mercer County partnership! Our joint stewardship teams continue to care for the
Driving down from FoHVOS
mountain through restoration of forest and meadow, tracking and caring for rare species and reducing the threats of invasive species.  We are now jointly working on a comprehensive Forest Stewardship Plan that will guide our work over the next 10 years.  The plan will guide as we fulfill the goal of stewarding a healthy and beautiful mountain!

FoHVOS has also restored and filled the stone-walled Strawberry Hill garden with native wildflowers, shrubs & trees.

Mansion entrance
When not restoring native plants, FoHVOS stewards and volunteers are removing invasive species and using advanced GPS/GIS mapping techniques to 
track our efforts across the mountain.

The County provides trail maps here so that you can enjoy the mountain on your own.

FoHVOS also offer special guided hikes that share unique insights about local history and ecology.

FoHVOS offices
Mercer County and their catering partner provide a beautiful venue for events.

Whether enjoying Baldpate from the mountain or from the Mansion, visitors can delight in nature and enjoy our own private paradise.

Hats off to the Mercer County Parks Commission -- our featured partner. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Remembering Ted Stiles

Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space
1989 - 2007
While most Hopewell Valley folks know Baldpate Mountain, few newcomers are familiar with its rich history including the decade long fight led by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) early member Ted Stiles to save this beautiful land from development.

According to majority owner, Mercer County:
“In 1986 the property was sold to Trap Rock Industries, who planned to expand the quarry that already existed on Route 29.  When these plans failed, the remaining land was destined to be sold for luxury housing development.  Public concern and the efforts of the late conservationist Ted Stiles led to the property’s acquisition by Mercer County in 1998, creating today’s Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain.”

The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain sign
The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain now comprises over 1500 acres, making it the largest preserved natural area in Mercer County. 

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of Ted Stiles’s passing, yet his legacy lives on in our continued work at Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. 

We try to hold true to his vision and passion to ensure the land will be used and appreciated for generations to come.

For Ted, the presence of species like the Hooded or Kentucky Warbler would have further confirmed the great importance of protecting Baldpate. According to FoHVOS Stewardship Director, Mike Van Clef Ph.D.:

Kentucky Warbler
Hooded Warbler
"Above all else, Ted was fueled by an unabiding love of nature.  As an ecologist, he studied its intricacies and the interactions between its components (especially the co-evolution between birds and the fruit they eat). But for him, this was not enough.  He felt compelled to protect every last piece of nature that was humanly possible.  Untiring, he protected lands throughout the state, including adding many acres to the Hutcheson Memorial Forest (one of New Jersey's only old growth forests).  Lucky for all residents of the Hopewell Valley, Ted focused his protection efforts where he lived."  

Ted led or assisted with the protection of nearly 6,500 acres, which is over half of the protected lands in the Valley.  FoHVOS has continued his work and we now have increased our impact to almost 60% of the protected lands throughout the Valley.  A map and list of locations of our preserves is available here.

Our most recent preserve at Mount Rose will open in June 2017. Co-owners include Mercer County, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and Hopewell Township. We know that Ted would be so proud to see that work conclude with nearly 400 acres of preserved land.

Bronze Plaque dedicated at the first Ted Stiles Memorial Hike