December 11, 2019

New Book on the Sourlands Details Treasures of the Region

BEAUTY IN NATURE: In his new book of essays and photos about the Sourlands, Jim Amon hopes to make local residents aware that this unique region of forests and wetlands is just a short drive away. All sales of the book benefit the Sourland Conservancy. (Photo by Jim Amon)

By Anne Levin

Jim Amon had been leading nature walks through the Sourlands for 20 years when it occurred to him that visitors might not be learning as much as they could about the treasured region encompassing parts of Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties. He decided it was time to write a book.

“It became clear to me that a lot of people just see green, and they don’t know what they’re looking at,” said Amon of Seeing the Sourlands, a coffee table book-style collection of essays and photographs. Newly released, the book’s sales will benefit the Sourland Conservancy.

“If people knew more about what they were seeing, they would get more out of it,” Amon continued. “I wrote the book in the style of someone who says, ‘I’m not really an expert but I’ve done some research and this is what I found out, and isn’t it wonderful?’ And that’s an accurate representation of who I am.”

Not an expert? Amon was the executive director of the D&R Canal Commission for 29 years, overseeing its development from an abandoned waterway to the most visited state park in New Jersey. He also spent 10 years as director of stewardship for the D&R Greenway Land Trust, doing ecological restoration work on more than 100 nature preserves.

“I have no formal training in the sciences,” Amon said, modestly. “I was a philosophy major in college. But I have learned along the way.”

Raised in Ohio, Amon moved to Hopewell Borough after taking a job with the New York office of Oxford University Press. He was an editor of scholarly books in history, anthropology, and politics there before his hiring by the D&R Canal Commission upon its establishment in 1974.

For the last five years he has written a blog, “Seeing the Sourlands,” published by the Sourland Conservancy with essays and photographs of plants and animals in the region. Amon was a founder of D&R Greenway in 1989. When he retired from the Canal Commission, he became the Greenway’s stewardship director, starting a Wednesday morning, volunteer stewardship crew. Members adopt a preserve, and Amon’s own is 187 acres located in parts of Hopewell Township and East Amwell. Asked if he has a favorite place in the Sourlands, he didn’t hesitate to cite his adopted preserve.

“I’ve been going there most Monday mornings for five years, and I try to do some ecological restoration and path-clearing,” he said. “I go there other days, too, just to walk around.”

One of Amon’s goals with Seeing the Sourlands is to make people aware of the region’s accessibility. “Most people have this notion that if they want to experience the natural world, they have to get in their car and drive hours and hours to Maine or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” he said. “But I drive 10 minutes from my house in Lambertville, and I’m in this special place. It’s not distant and remote. So it’s not only beautiful and natural, but it’s handy. It’s part of your life. And that makes it special.”