The Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge is located along Stony Brook on West Drive off Alexander Street, bordering the Institute for Advanced Study woods. While its heartland is a marsh, the 39-acre refuge also contains woods, bush areas, thickets and the north bank of Stony Brook.
The refuge was originally called the Princeton Wildlife Refuge when it was acquired in 1968 by what is now the Princeton Environmental Commission through a conservation easement. That easement was renewed in 1978 by the Elizabethtown Water Company, owner of the tract, and Princeton Township, grantee of record. The name of the refuge was changed in the spring of 1977 to memorialize Charles H. Rogers, a nationally known ornithologist who died in February of that year and who had played a key role in establishing the sanctuary.
There are a number of signs within the refuge, one of which explains the importance of marshes and swamps. "Marshes: act as 'safety valves' during peak rains; help maintain our water table; provide a highly productive habitat and food supply for fish, waterfowl birds, animals and crustacea; and serve as a collection point for high-ground nutritional runoff." Preservation of this habitat is particularly worthwhile because marshes are disappearing at an alarming rate. Roger Tory Peterson, the eminent ornithologist, states that marshes support "nine or ten birds per acre and often more than that, particularly in migration."
The refuge's diversity of habitat attracts a corresponding diversity of mammals, including whitetail deer, striped skunk, opossum, raccoon, eastern cottontail, red and gray squirrel and wood chuck. Muskrat houses create numerous small hummocks in the marsh. A variety of frogs and turtles also live there. In early spring the peepers set up their shrill chorus; later bull frogs will be heard. When the sun is hot, turtles lie along the logs. There are many kinds of snakes in the area.
Equally diverse is the plant life. The most notable trees are hardwoods in the Institute woods edging the marsh: many varieties of oak, tulip poplar, black gum, sweet gum, beech. In the spring yellow trout lilies, violets and spring beauties carpet the woodlands and yellow iris blooms in pools at the edge of the marsh. In summertime arrowhead, pickerel weed and pond lilies flower in the marsh. Bright purple loosetrife is abundant in the shallows, duckweed floats in the still water and swamp milkweed, boneset, joe-pyeweed and ironweed form a pattern of mauve and purple beside many of the walks. Come fall, the red osier dogwood is in fruit, along with elderberries, rose hips and the tall brown spikes of the cattails.
The tract is a nesting ground for more than 90 species of birds and scores of others pass through the refuge; over the years more than 190 species have been recorded here. There is perhaps no better place of comparable size to find warblers. A few people see up to 30 different kinds of warblers and many spot 20-25 in a single day at the height of spring migration, the first three weeks of May. As a consequence, many bird watchers and nature groups visit the area every spring. Some of the groups include the Summit Nature Club, the Trenton Naturalist Club, the Montclair Nature Club, and the Watchung Nature Club. The Annual Christmas Bird Count and the Princeton Big Day Count cover the refuge extensively.
Focal point of the refuge is the observation tower, from which a broad view of the main body of the marsh may be had. Close by are houses for colonies of purple martins and individual boxes for tree swallows.
Visitors are requested to leave their cars in the parking lot adjacent to the tower and to deposit papers, used bottles or cans in the receptacles provided there. From the tower it is a short walk to all trails marked in dotted lines on the map. Visitors are permitted to walk through the grounds of the water company to the principal one, the Stony Brook Trail, which begins at the water's edge and proceeds to the right (west). A pump situated at the beginning of the trail draws water from Stony Brook into the upper marsh. Two conduits under the road near the tower enable the water to flow to the lower marsh. Thus the entire marsh area is sustained even in time of drought. Any overflow re-enters Stony Brook through natural drainage.
Dumping or discarding any kind of waste is prohibited throughout the refuge. It is also unlawful to kill or molest all forms of wildlife and to damage or remove flowers, shrubs and trees.
For further information write to the Chairman of the Refuge Management Committee, Thomas C. Southerland, Jr., 282 Western Way, Princeton, New Jersey 08540.
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