March 29, 2023

Forest at Princeton’s Northern Gateway Has Been Preserved for Prosperity

STEWARDSHIP IN ACTION: Under the aegis of the Ridgeview Conservancy, a group of high school students has been spending Sundays removing invasive species and creating and managing public trails in Princeton’s forests. Recently, they helped out at the newly-preserved property on the corner of Great Road and Cherry Valley Road.

By Anne Levin 

A collaborative effort of local land preservation organizations has saved 14 acres of mature forest and historic farmland at the corner of Great Road and Cherry Valley Road from development.

Ridgeview Conservancy and D&R Greenway Land Trust announced last week that the two properties will stay green, with trails eventually open to the public. The acreage will be linked to a ring of conserved forests to help create Princeton’s Emerald Necklace, a concept based on the network of parks created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in Boston, Mass., over 150 years ago.

The collaboration was driven not just ecologically, but historically. The two properties being preserved are a small part of what was originally 500 acres of farmland owned by Paul Tulane, founder of Tulane University. Silvia DuBois, a formerly enslaved Black woman who reportedly lived to be close to 120 years old, worked on the farm and is a key figure in the history of Black people in Princeton and the Hopewell Valley. Previous to that, “the Lenni Woodland Indians, ancestors to the Lenni Lenape who inhabited the area between 1,000 and 1,500 AD, fished and hunted along Cherry Run Stream as part of their seasonal migration,” reads a press release from the Ridgeview Conservancy.

“In protecting these two parcels, Ridgeview Conservancy and D&R Greenway are also preserving important and underrepresented vestiges of Princeton’s past,” said Chris Barr, executive director of the Conservancy.

The site marks the northern gateway to Princeton. Ridgeview Conservancy and D&R Greenway Land Trust partnered with Oleg Chebotarev and Katerina Bubnovsky, who owned one of the parcels, to establish a permanent conservation easement on close to nine acres of their property at the southeast corner of Great Road and Cherry Valley Road. The two organizations also jointly purchased an adjacent 4.48-acre lot on Cherry Valley Road from Amboy Bank, which had earlier received conditional permits for construction of a single-family residence.

“These property owners could have chosen to develop their land,” said Linda Mead, CEO of D&R Greenway, in a press release. “Instead, they chose preservation, benefiting the community by keeping a corner of Princeton green.”

Funding for the acquisitions also came from Mercer County’s Open Space Preservation Assistance Fund, the municipality, and several private donors.

Relaying the back story of the project, Barr said he and his wife Patricia Shanley, who is director of stewardship for Ridgeview Conservancy, moved to a home on Ridgeview Road in 2009 from Indonesia, where both worked in forestry. Their property backs up onto the Ridgeview Woods, where they soon purchased a five-acre parcel for conservation. Shanley organized a program with a group of Princeton High School students, called youth stewards, who work on Sundays to help with removing invasive species, creating trails, and learning ecology.

In 2015, Barr, Shanley, and other residents of the area were active in opposition to a natural gas pipeline that was proposed for the Princeton Ridge. “It was then that we learned about the Tulane farmstead,” Barr said. “We could see the old stone wall, and the stone foundations covered over by invasive species. It got us interested in the history.”

Barr and Shanley mentioned to Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck, authors of the 2018 book If These Stones Could Talk: African American Presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey, that they were working on the former Tulane property. “They told us about Silvia DuBois, who worked for Tulane in the mid 19th century,” Barr said. “So we looked into the historic record, and she is a really significant figure. The story of her life is incredible. She worked on the farmstead for a number of years.”

When Barr and Shanley learned that the owners of both parcels had gone in front of the Planning Board to get approvals for building homes, they got in touch with D&R Greenway and invited them to partner on the conservation project. “They’ve been great,” said Barr. “Together we were able to engage with the owners of the two properties, and we ended up with really positive partnerships.”

It wasn’t always easy. “It was an extended process,” Barr said. “Both of them had plans to develop, so we had to explain why it was important historically and ecologically to preserve. Then we had to get the properties appraised and raise funds. It took a while.”

Cheboratev, who is originally from Ukraine, said in the release, “We believe that current and future generations of Princetonians will be inspired by the beauty and history of this preserved land, which will serve the good of all.

G. Gregory Sharpf, president and CEO of Amboy Bank, said the bank “holds a longstanding commitment to supporting local communities. When we became aware of the outstanding conservation efforts of the D&R Greenway Land Trust and Ridgeview Conservancy, we were quite pleased to partner with them to support their open space and natural preservation plans for this special location in Princeton.”

Barr said the site will eventually offer public trails, benches, and signage about the area’s history. The most important outcome will be the link to Princeton’s Emerald Necklace. “There will be continuous walking trails through the municipality,” he said. “So eventually, there will be this link with the Province Line Woods, Ridgeview Woods, and beyond.”