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.