Sunday, October 31, 2010

Field Report: Soldiers & Sailors Preserve from the Edison Tower

Note: This post is compiled from the Eco-Tour guide provided by Walter Stochel as well as personal observations - information on upcoming tours (.pdf)

The State of New Jersey owns 102 acres of parkland/preserves in the Menlo Park section of Edison. The parcels are located in the Southern Branch of the Rahway River watershed. When combined with the County owned Roosevelt Park, and an Edison Township parcel, there are 344 acres in this watershed that are preserved.

Our tour, led by Walter Stochel and Kyle, a local scout, began at the Edison Memorial Tower - photo - at the corner of Christie Street and Tower Road. This 131' tall monument was built at the exact location of Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory. Unmarked for many years, the Tower is now on the National Register of Historic Places and features a number of descriptive markers - 1 + 2. The tower will be undergoing restoration next year and the museum reopened after the removal of asbestos insulation. The undeveloped land you see around here is the 36-acre Edison State Park.

The tour began with some discussion of the significance of the Edison Tower - image. We then walked down Tower Road, which was originally called Woodbridge Avenue, to Frederick Street. Some of the houses we passed on the left were State owned (and rented). Following the path down to the ball field, recently cleaned up as part of a Boy Scout Eagle project, and through the woods to the west, we spied Carmen's Pond - photo & description. The Carmen family owned land in Menlo Park, and Wiliam Carmen was Edison's secretary. The pond is loaded with wildlife, ducks, geese, turtles, and fish.

Forming into a tight group, we scrambled through brush along the edge of Rt. 27 (the historic Lincoln Highway) to a new crosswalk, installed in response to local advocacy. Kyle pushed the button and the light changed so that we could cross the busy highway unmolested. Proceeding down the sidewalk, we soon arrived at a recently-improved and repainted underpass. Here the group stopped and listened to the story of how 50 Cub Scouts frustrated a succession of graffiti artists to reclaim this space. As you can see from the inset photo, the rusticated surface was very attractive with the shiny new coat of reddish brown paint.

Heading further south, we again stopped to view the forest on the west side of North Evergreen Road. These woods sit on a rugged 17-acre parcel that at one time was offered to developers but instead was bought by the State of New Jersey and Edison Township to be included in the Soldiers and Sailors Preserve. It is now managed by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust. This is a mostly wooded upland tract, now a protected wetland.

Crossing over the South Branch of the Rahway River, we entered a large wooded parcel to the left. the 49-acre main parcel of the Soldiers and Sailors Preserve. Small streams and ditches cross this property. Isolated without parking access, it has been used over the years for children't play and shelter for homeless people. In the 1980s, the State of New Jersey entered a contract to sell this parcel to a developer who wanted to build a 26-story hotel/office/parking complex on the site. In the 200s, the sale was canceled and the property was transfered to the NJ Natural Lands Trust for preservation.

There are no marked trails in this preserve. We walked east through the site, and then south towards the railroad, until, after spotting the skeleton head of a deer, we finally ended up at a wide ditch. This was the end of our trail, and we retraced our steps. Taking a different route to the road, we ran across an old rusted children's toy that may have dated back to the 1950s and several trees that showed evidence of damage from rutting deer - image.

All in all, it was an excellent two-hour adventure into a rugged and natural bit of New Jersey. It is hard to believe that such beauty survives in the middle of the most extensively urbanized state in the country. These tours are held year-round:
#6 Saturday, November 6, 2010, from 9:00 am - 12 noon
Annual Menlo
Park School Nature Trail Cleanup
Meet: Menlo Park School parking lot, on
Monroe Avenue and Edison

#7 Sunday, November 14, 2010, from 10:00 am - 12 noon
Stevens Preserve
from Petti Lane
150 acres of wood to walk in
Meet: End of Petti Lane, Edison

#8 Date and time to be announced
Annual Greenway Hike

#9 Sunday, November 28, 2010, from 10 am - 12 noon
Millbrook parcel on Mill Road
Hike beside the Mill Brook on a slate
Meet: End of Mill Road off of Old Post Road, at the New Jersey

#10 Sunday, December 5, 2010, 10am
Oak Ridge Park, located in both Edison and Clark Township
Any easy hike on paved roads - includes Ash Swamp
Meet: Parking lot off Featherbed Lane, in Edison

More information on these hikes can be found on the Township of Edison website - flier.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Field Report: Middle States geography meeting in West Point, New York

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Middle States Division, Association of American Geographers - website. This is always an interesting meeting, but this year it had the added attraction of being held at the historic Thayer Hotel, located on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Having already visited the Academy back in the August 1995 while conducting research for my PhD dissertation, I was anxious to return. My memories of the first visit are sketchy: I was only there for a day, and wasn't that awake, having spent the previous evening at a tent in Bear Mountain State Park. I am sure I enjoyed that first visit, discovering useful West Point materials that would make their way into my dissertation, but in hindsight this summer might also represent a fallow period for my creative energies. I now realize that my photography really helps train my mind and memory, but by this point in my life I had given up on 35mm photography and had yet to take advantage of the rapid advances in digital. I was excited to be returning to West Point, to rediscover a landscape that I once known well, from personal acquaintance as well as from descriptions that I had read in the letters of nineteenth century travelers.

I got a late start driving up to West Point - the conference at noon, but I didn't drive onto the Academy grounds until 5:30 pm. Some of the delay had to do with business I needed to attend to on Long Island. But another contributor to the delay was the panorama of fall colors on display as I drove up the Palisades Interstate Parkway. I stopped to pick up maps at the Bear Mountain State Park Visitor's Center, located in a widened portion of the Parkway median, and again at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site. With the limited amount to time at my disposal, I wasn't able to tour the museum - although I later learned that it definitely worth an hour or two on my next trip. Instead I took to the trails, walking up to the Bridge crossing Popolopen Creek [taking the shot to the right] and down to the water's edge, which offered additional photo opportunities - check out some of the shots that I have posted to my flickr photostream (search for West Point).

Once I had finally arrived and checked in to the Thayer Hotel, I met up with my companion for the weekend, Katherine Keirns, a graduate student in the Federated Department of History (Rutgers-Newark & New Jersey Institute of Technology) who also happens to be my sister-in-law. We enjoyed the dinner buffet and options for night life. What turned out to be the last game of the American League Champoionship Series was on - the crowd seemed to be equally split between Yankees fans and haters.

Saturday morning, I attended (and tweeted) sessions on the History and Geography of West Point, and Military Geography. Both sessions were interesting, although I was particularly engaged during the first, because of my interest in photographing the historic fortifications and architecture of the campus, and because Katherine presented her paper "The Brush is Mightier than the Sword: How Drawing Nature Saved West Point" in that session. All of the papers were excellent and really helped give the audience a sense for the changing historical role of this awesome location. I hope to be able to share more insights from this sessions in forthcoming posts.

Kenneth E. Foote, a professor of Geography at the University of Colorado who is currently serving as President of the Association of American Geographers, delived a well-received lunchtime keynote concerning efforts to support the professional development of young faculty in the field. This luncheon doubled as an awards banquet. We were suprised to hear that Katherine had not only been selected as a member of the Middle States Geography Bowl team (based on her performance in the Geography Bowl challenge the previous evening) with financial support to compete at the national AAG conference in Seattle 2011, but was also selected one of the student paper competition winners. We aren't sure yet whether we will be making the trip, and thus reporting from, Seattle, so you'll just have to watch this space and see!

In no hurry to leave, Katherine and I signed on for a bus tour. Our guide was a middle aged woman with blonde hair and large sunglasses who had obviously been giving tours for many years and liked to speak from personal experience. Since this was the two-hour tour, we were able to visit many of the standard sites including the Cadet Chapel and the "million dollar view" from Trophy Point. But we also visited the Academy Cemetery, where we had a chance to look inside the Old Cadet Chapel and to interview two young men - first-years or "plebes" - who appeared to be writing up notes on some of the more significant former cadets who were buried there. If you visit my photostream, you will see that the tour gave me a chance to refamiliarize myself with some of the more iconic sites, and served to point out locations, such as the monument to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, that I would return to on my own later. As you can see from my "All Things Kosciuzko" photoset I have a soft spot for the Polish engineer and freedom fighter who redesigned the defenses at West Point and who, in his will, set aside funds for Thomas Jefferson to use in freeing his slaves. As Gary Nash documents in the book Friends of Liberty he co-authored with Graham Hodges, Thomas Jefferson was never able to make good on his promise. Kosciuszko spent the year 1797-1798 convalescing in Philadelphia from disabilities occassioned fighting for human freedom from bondage in both Europe and the Americas (NPS). His vision would take generations for the country to fully (if ever) realize.