Herrontown Woods, owned by Mercer County and run by the County
Park Commission, is located in the northeastern corner of Princeton
Township. It can be reached by taking Snowden Lane off Route 27
(Nassau Street). The entrance to the parking area is located on
the left a few hundred feet before the intersection of Snowden
and Herrontown Road.
This completely wooded park, with its mature trees and gently rolling
contour, is among the best in the area for a moderate hiking adventure.
A system of more than three miles of color-coded trails enables
the visitor to explore the forest ecosystem and provides an insight
into the history of the tract as well.
Oswald Veblen, an internationally known mathematician who taught
at Princeton University, lived on this property and enjoyed strolling
through the woods with his colleagues. He and his wife, Elizabeth,
deeded their land to the Mercer County Park System in 1957, to
be maintained as a wildlife and plant sanctuary with nature trails.
Horseback riding was specifically prohibited to protect the soils
from erosion. The County acquired additional acreage, the Levine
tract, in the early 1970's, to bring the Woods to its current
142 acres. The red trail follows the original property line,
and may have been blazed by Dr. Veblen. The blue trail winds
through the Levine tract.
The first Veblen property, in the southeastern part of the Woods,
had been an active farm. Grassy areas still surround the house
and barn. Much of the rest of the land has been used for farming,
wood cutting, or quarrying. The last major timber harvest occurred
in the 1920's. Around the turn of the century, quarrying of traprock
took place on the ridge in the Levine tract, where quarry holes
can still be found. The last major human disturbance of the Woods
took place in 1968 when a strip of forest was cleared for a natural
gas pipeline, bisecting the Woods in a northeast-southwest direction.
Geology and Topography
1 Herrontown Woods lies across the top of the eastern end of the
Princeton Ridge, on the same diabase, or traprock, that is found
in Woodfield and Autumn Hill Reservations. The softer red shale
underlies the southeastern corner of the Woods, giving rise to
variations in soil types and drainage. From a height of 283 feet
in the northwest corner, the land slopes toward the south to about
140 feet. At the foot of this slope, a field of large boulders
was formed from the eroded diabase of the ridge.
intermittent streams flow from north to south through the Woods,
meeting north of the green trail. In turn, the joined streams
meet up with a creek at the southwest corner of the parking
lot. A visitor
setting out from the parking lot may experience damp trails
in this area, evidence of water moving down slope from the high
ground at the northern half of the tract.
Herrontown Woods is a diversified forest of mature broadleaf
deciduous trees. The dominant species are oak (red, white, and
black), sweetgum, tulip, and red maple. These are naturally occurring
species, the result of forest succession following natural and
man-made disturbances of the area. The varying soil conditions
influence the distribution of these species, so you will find
oaks predominating in the uplands, while a mixture of red maples
and oaks predominates in the wetter areas. Two areas are distinct
groves of single species. A beech grove, with numerous flowering
dogwoods in its understory, stands between the wetlands and the
well-drained lands. A white pine grove near the parking area
in the southeastern corner of the tract was planted in the 1930's
but was devastated by a severe wind and snow storm in 1993.
Herrontown Woods trees had previously suffered a major setback
in the 1970's when a gypsy moth infestation killed many mature
trees. Today, a visitor can observe the natural succession of
species that resulted from the openings in the forest canopy
from these and other losses.
The shrubs you will see in the Woods also indicate the underlying
soil conditions. Spicebush predominates in the wet areas, while
maple-leafed viburnum predominate in the well-drained areas.
Among the woody vines, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and Japanese
honeysuckle are widespread. Herbaceous plants come and go with
the seasons. In springtime, mayapple, is found throughout the
forest, and jack-in-the-pulpit can be found in wet areas. In
the fall, woodland aster is widespread, and partridgeberry is
notable in the uplands.
A wide variety of wildlife has been observed in Herrontown Woods,
although many species will elude the eyes of most visitors. Among
the mammals observed are bats, gray fox, eastern mole, opossum,
raccoon, cottontail rabbit, chipmunk, gray and red squirrel, Southern
flying squirrel, woodchuck, shrew, weasel, and white-tailed deer.
Amphibians include the salamander, toad, and frog. (Look for the
green frog in the stream adjacent to the parking lot.) Reptiles
noted in the Woods are the five-lined skink, Eastern box turtle,
wood turtle, garter snake, milk snake, and northern water snake.
There are no poisonous snakes. Bird species vary by season, with
the spring and fall migrations bringing the greatest number of
species to the woods. Herrontown is a particularly good place to
spot warblers and thrushes. The upland wooded warbler and worm-eating
warbler can be seen here, for example. The great horned owl and
Eastern screech owl are permanent residents here as well.
The interested reader may wish to consult Herrontown Woods,
A Guide to A Natural Preserve, by Richard Kramer, (Stony
Brook-Millstone Watersheds Association, Inc.), and Herrontown
Woods, by Joseph
Schmeltz, Mercer County Naturalist (Mercer County Park
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