The "D&R" Canal
State Park is a continuous 35-mile greenway that extends from
Trenton to New Brunswick. Bicyclists and pedestrians
can travel from Port Mercer to New Brunswick along the canal
towpath, and canoes can navigate the entire length of the park
with a minimum of portages. The feeder canal towpath is negotiable
by wheelchair when dry, as is the towpath from Turning Basin
Park to New Brunswick.
The Princeton segment is 6.33 miles long, and the towpath is
overgrown and difficult to use in the southern reaches of the
Township. Closer to Alexander Road, the towpath is open, and
from Alexander Road to the Millstone Aqueduct, there are paths
on both sides of the canal. The proximity of the Charles Rogers
Wildlife Refuge and Institute for Advanced Study Woods results
in a much more diverse bird population along this stretch of
the canal than might be expected, particularly during the spring
and fall months.
Turning Basin Park, a natural area that includes picnic facilities,
a canoe launch, and a playground, is located of Alexander Road.
It was built upon the site of what once was a thriving commercial
area which included two turning basins in which canal boats could
turn around as well as unload. The basin east of Alexander Road
can still be seen; the basin on the west side of Alexander Road
has been filled in.
Carnegie Lake is a
prominent and attractive feature of this section of the D & R
Canal Park as well. Owned by Princeton University, the Lake
was built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie
to provide a rowing course for University crews.
Small parking areas are located off Washington and Alexander
Roads where they cross the canal. Access and parking are also
available on the eastern side of the canal from Lake Road.
The D&R Canal was built between 1830 and 1834 by Irish
immigrants using pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The main
canal extended from Bordentown to New Brunswick, with a "feeder" canal
from Raven Rock in Hunterton County to Trenton. The canal was
a major transportation route, especially for transporting coal
from Pennsylvania to New York. It was less used after the turn
of the century because of the competing railroad, which provided
a faster means of transportation.
In 1932 the canal operations were closed and the Canal Company
and Pennsylvania Railroad ceded the land to the state. The canal
remained an important water conduit, and the state park was established
in 1974. Today, the canal serves as water supply, recreational,
historical, and natural resource as well.
The Princeton portion of the Canal Park lies within the physiographic
province of the Inner Coastal Plain. Soils are varied, composed
of clays, silts, sands, and gravels, and are generally fertile.
As the canal was built, the land on either side was leveled for
the towpath construction. Where the Stony Brook flows near the
canal, the park traverses flood plain and marsh areas.
At the southern end of the canal in Princeton, vegetation
runs to hedgerow and thickets of spicebush, Japanese honeysuckle,
greenbrier, and Virginia creeper. Understory trees include
black cherry, hawthorn, river birch, slippery elm, and
red maple. The tree canopy species, often exceeding 50
feet in height, include pin oak, silver and red maple,
white ash, sweetgum, and shagbark hickory.
In the flood plain wetlands near the Rogers wildlife Refuge,
species are similar to those found in the hedgerow thicket, but
the canopy is denser and the understory thinner. Special features
in this section of the park are two specimen shagbark hickories
and a copse of beech trees near the path in any other area of
the Canal Park. Bank vegetation includes smartweed, jewelweed,
and cardinal flower.
At the northern end of the Princeton section, the towpath was
cleared in 1985 and vegetation significantly disturbed. There
is a magnificent stand of river birches between the towpath and
Lake Carnegie north of Harrison St. which was untouched, however.
Occasional communities of aquatic plants, such as water lily,
arrowhead, arrow-arum, and duckweed are found in the canal. A
marshy area near the canal's junction with the Millstone River
(north of Harrison Street) is dominated by cattail and purple
The canal waters emanate from the Delaware River and host species
such as bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, largemouth bass, chain
pickerel, brown bullhead and yellow perch. In addition to these
indigenous species, the canal is stocked with two species unable
to breed in the canal, trout and tiger muskellunge, a cross between
the northern pike and the muskellunge.
As noted, the Princeton segment of the Canal Park is popular
for bird watching because of its proximity to the Institute for
Advanced Study Woods and Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge. Songbirds
that breed in North America and winter in the tropics visit these
areas in large numbers during their spring and fall migrations.
The riparian habitat of the Canal Park supports birds such as
warbling vireos and orioles, both of whom use sycamore trees
for their nesting material and location. The belted kingfisher
uses the canal banks for burrows, and the eastern phoebe and
barn swallow attach their nests to the underside of the canal
bridges. In the marshy areas abutting the canal you may spot
blue and green heron, too.
Mammals found in the Canal Park include
white-tailed deer, muskrat, raccoon, opossum, skunk, woodchuck,
red fox, cottontail rabbit,
white-footed mouse, and several species of moles and shrews.
No formal survey of the amphibians and reptiles has ever been
conducted, but a good number of green frogs, bullfrogs, leopard
frogs, water snakes, garden snakes, and several species of
turtles and salamanders are frequently observed.
New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry owns and maintains
this greenway. Contact
the D&R Canal at the Canal State Park
office at 908-873-3050.
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