WWBPA volunteers clear the West Windsor trails

WWBPA board member Henry Murphy has done incredible work leading volunteers in clearing West Windsor trails so that all of us can better enjoy them. Here’s his report – and consider showing your thanks by becoming a WWBPA member this year.

I really had some fun and rewarding days in 2023 with my latest adventure in community service: clearing the West Windsor trails. The eastern deciduous forests are some of the most productive ecosystems on Earth, and right here in town we have a few pockets of wilderness showcasing their splendor.

As a new board member of the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance, I volunteered to take on tail maintenance. Working with Dan Dobromilski, the Township Landscape Architect, and Tom Driver, Public Works Crew Chief for parks and open space, I tried to spend most Tuesday afternoons on the trails. Some were so isolated and far from roads that I was reminded of past wilderness trips. Others were so heavily traveled that people passed by during each work session, and almost all said an encouraging word of thanks.

I had great help from volunteers, such as those in the photo at the top. Help ranged from strong men with prybars levering several hundred-pound boles to middle school gardeners, weighing less than 100 pounds themselves, clearing the overgrowth with hand snippers.

As a team, we put in about 160 hours, or about 20 hours per mile. In subsequent years, I would expect about half the hours, though much depends on windstorms, snowfall, rain patterns, and how much local volunteers do.

We started on the “Orphaned Trolley Line Trail”, as we call it. This is the section between Princeton Hightstown Road and South Mill Road along the side of Windsor Business Park. It’s used by dozens of people each day, and we found it choked with invasive multiflora rose, downed limbs, spectacular poison ivy infestations, and hosts of plants attesting to the fecundity of West Windsor. As we worked, we got a few protests from the resident birds, distant looks of curiosity from the deer, and close-up faces of surprise from a few foxes.

Millstone Preserve West, located off Joanne Street by Stobbe Lane, came to our attention during Alison Miller’s Friends of West Windsor Open Space (FOWWOS) spring naturalist walk. One entrance, choked with multiflora and wild grape, took us three visits to clear, during which time we met many local residents. I think one reason so many came to see us is how quietly we work.  We use hand tools whenever possible, only rarely breaking out a few battery-operated tools, mostly chainsaws and lawnmowers, and they can hardly be heard 50 years away.

If you go to Millstone Preserve West, there is room at the trailhead for a few cars, and, once you head in, you will be transported to a new and wonderous world.

The trails at Millstone East form a Y shape, with the single tail connecting to Melville Road, where there is ample parking and a lot of local use down to the picnic tables and benches. Farther down, the trail bifurcates, with one arm of the Y leading to a spacious upper lot on Millstone Road and the other lower down on Millstone Road toward Millstone Creek.  We needed strong men and thick leather gloves to clear this section. Large, downed trees on the upper arm and decade-old multiflora on the lower arm almost had me giving up, but a few volunteers encouraged me, and we knocked it off in four or five afternoons.

Zaitz Preserve along Southfield Road was our next challenge, with one trail so overgrown that we thought the trail markers and maps were in error. But we had a large and cheerful weekend crew and a few Tuesday afternoon stalwarts. Even those 20-inch-diameter downed trees and overgrown trails made way for what we all think, perhaps with too much hubris, is now good competition for even the best-maintained trails.

We’ve also cleared trails at Ron Rogers Arboretum at Clarkskville Road and Princeton Hightstown Road.

I am glad nature will try to grow back, because I had such a good time doing this work that I don’t want it to end. If you are ever free on a Tuesday afternoon and want some fresh air, exercise, and comradery, check the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance’s Facebook page (or email us at [email protected]) to find out where we’re working next. Tools, gloves, water and snacks provided. 

Whether with us or on your own, I hope you and your family enjoy our local pockets of car-free woods.

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