April 27, 2022

Hundreds Learn and Explore in Nature, Celebrating Earth Day in Herrontown Woods

EARTH DAY EXPLORATIONS: More than 200 visitors to Herrontown Woods last Sunday, April 24 learned about becoming stewards of their local environment. They participated in nature hikes and explored a variety of different encounters with nature, arts and crafts, and other activities in an all-day event sponsored by Friends of Herrontown Woods and the Princeton Public Library. (Photo courtesy of Friends of Herrontown Woods)

By Donald Gilpin

Herrontown Woods was in bloom last weekend with its customary spring array of redbuds, crabapple trees, and yellow violets as well as trout lilies, spring beauties, wood anemones, and rue anemones, according to Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW) President Steve Hiltner. 

“The daffodils have been in their splendor near Veblen House and Cottage,” he wrote in his April 21 blog post. “They could have been planted by Elizabeth Veblen herself, or by one of the garden clubs that worked to renovate the gardens after she died in 1974.”

On Sunday, April 24 the quiet beauties of nature displayed in Herrontown Woods were joined by hundreds of admiring visitors celebrating Earth Day 2022: Becoming a Steward of Your Local Environment, a day-long event sponsored by the FOHW and the Princeton Public Library (PPL).

About 140 people participated in seven different nature walks. Tables were spread out at the Barden (Botanical Art Garden) and Veblen House grounds, each featuring a different aspect of nature: native plants, mushrooms, invasive species, herbal vinegars, nature mandalas, and more.

The popular PPL table presented a display of books on pollinators and wild flowers, with bee identification cards and butterfly bookmarks to take home. And May’s Barden Cafe served coffee, baked treats, and freshly brewed tea, including a specially created Barden Blend, from Tipple and Rose, a new Nassau Street tea parlor and apothecary.

Hiltner described the event as “historic for our group and for Herrontown Woods, in that it was the first event that took full advantage of the whole preserve — the trails, Veblen House, and the Barden. It was also the first event we’ve had that mobilized the full abilities and passions of the FOHW board, which has grown quite a bit in the past year. Several board members were up into the wee hours the night before, working on displays and taking care of last-minute details.”

Inge Regan, FOHW board member and lead organizer of the event, noted the theme of “building community through stewardship,” pointing out the importance of learning more about the natural world that surrounds us. 

“Knowledge is very important if you’re going to have opinions,” she said, pointing out hundreds of interactions between people who might not have known too much about nature and the experts at the different tables. “They were all connecting with each other and learning from each other,” she added. “Wonderful discussions took place. It was a glorious day.”

Through her work with FOHW and her recent founding of the “relaxed and friendly” Invasive Species of the Month Club, Regan, a Princeton resident and physician, has gained new respect for botanists. “I’ve started to call them the physicians of the earth,” she said.

Emphasizing the urgency of protecting the environment, she continued, “You can really do more than just recycle. There’s so much that people can do. Like my club. You don’t need tons of knowledge to get started. It’s so exciting to see the world open up to you and to look with open eyes around you at how you can help.”

Among additional popular offerings at the celebration were the Flowers and Frogs Family Hike with local botanists Hiltner and Fairfax Hutter; planting wildflower seeds with Mathilde Burlion of Pousse Petit Jardinier; mushroom foraging with Philip Poniz; a geology walk with Princeton University Geosciences Professor Emeritus Lincoln Hollister, discussing the formation of the Princeton Ridge and its special rocks; making herbal vinegar using local plants and herbs with Tish Streetan of Mab’s Herbs; bringing home a potted native plant for your yard; and a variety of arts and crafts.

FOHW started in the summer of 2013 as an informal group that came together to clear trails in Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation. The Barden, an extensive native plant garden with 130 native species of plants, was created in 2017. In 2020 FOHW signed a lease with Princeton for the Veblen House and Cottage and has begun work to repurpose the buildings for community use. For more information, visit fohw.org.