These tracts are located between Alexander Road and Quaker Road
and can be entered on foot at the end of Olden Lane. Visitors
preferring to enter the area through the Refuge can use West
Drive, which enters Alexander Road just north of the Stony Brook
The Institute for Advanced Study Woods and Charles H. Rogers Wildlife
Refuge form a 300-acre tract of deciduous forest bounded on the
east side by the wet woodlands and marsh of the Refuge. Though
crisscrossed by a network of trails and a sewer right-of-way, the
Woods include a small area of virgin forest and harbor an unusual
number of bird species, particularly during the songbird migration
seasons. For this reason, the Woods are described in many birding
guides and hiking books, and birders from all over the country
come to visit. The Woods are particularly popular in early May,
and the area is also covered extensively during the annual Christmas
bird count. An observation platform built by Boy Scout Troop 40
overlooks the main section of the marsh.
The Woods were purchased parcel by parcel by the Institute
for Advanced Study between 1936 and 1945, Louis Bamberger and
Carrie B.F. Fuld initiating the project with a gift to enable
the first purchase. The Woods are now open to the public and
managed under the N.J. Green Acres program. Use of the contiguous
land as a wildlife refuge was accomplished by the Princeton
Open Space Commission through a conservation easement from
the Elizabethtown Water Company.
The original Princeton settlement on the Stony Brook was just
to the west of the Woods, and the Quaker Meeting House on the
corner of Mercer Road and Quaker Road is still used. Most of
the land was farmed or planted as orchard at one time, and a
working farm abuts the western end of the Woods today. An old
trolley line between Trenton and Princeton marks the northern
edge of the Woods behind the Institute fields.
The Woods are located in the upper plains area
between New Jersey's upland rocky ridges and the sandy coastal plain. Here the
soil is a mixture of eroded shale, clay, and sand. The mixture is rich with phosphates
and has good drainage properties for the most part, so luxuriant growth is encouraged.
The Stony Brook flows from west to east through the Wood, bordered
by a broad flood plain. This area usually floods for a day
or two twice a year. You can look for debris tangled in the
bushes to gauge the level of the last flood.
Because so many marshes in the region have been drained and
filled for development, the Refuge marsh is practically unique.
A pump draws water from the Stony Brook into the upper marsh,
and water drains from this marsh under the road through conduits
to the lower marsh. This helps sustain the water table in both
marshes, and any overflow reenters the Stony Brook through natural
An unusual number-at least 45-of tree species is found in the
Woods, in part because the area was at one time a patchwork of
farming fields and orchards. These were abandoned at different
times, and each occasion fostered a particular type of growth
as forests replaced open fields. Look for distinct stands of
trees that dominate the upper canopy of woods in the areas once
used for open farm land. You will see aspen and gray birch in
areas that were farmed as recently as 1940, and a beech stand
that shows little evidence of human disruption and includes trees
dating from the 1720's. This area may well be virgin forest.
Throughout the Woods you will also spot lines of large trees
with spreading branches; these are trees that grew up in fencerows
when the fields around them were open.
Some of the variation in tree type is due to natural circumstances
such as soil conditions, wind storms, and trees falling because
of old age or disease. Oaks and hickories and an understory of
dogwoods are found in well-drained upland areas. Sweet gum, red
maple, and beech have done well in poorly drained soils. Young
trees among older stands of different species are growing where
trees have fallen and created a gap in the leafy canopy that
light can penetrate to nourish new growth.
Most imposing of all the trees is a stand of tulip trees, among
the tallest species in our Eastern forests. Their thick, straight
trunks are easy to identify. Dogwoods are the most numerous tree
species in the understory throughout the Woods.
Spring wildflowers are abundant in this tract. Along the Stony
Brook flood plain you will see beds of yellow trout lilies, light
pink spring beauties, and purple violets. Mayapples carpet the
uplands at this time, while wild yellow iris can be found in
the wet areas of the Refuge.
As noted, birds are by far the major wildlife attraction here.
Normally, the Woods are home to some 42 species. During the migratory
season, that number jumps to 200, with the warbler migration arguably
equal to any place of comparable size in the U.S. Bird watchers
flock to the Woods in May particularly to catch sight of the many
warblers that pass through. This is a good place to spot a Kentucky
warbler, and another prized sighting is the prothonotary, or golden
swamp warbler. Among the transitory birds, quite a few species
stay to breed in the Woods over the summer. The most common nesting
species are bluejays, rufous-sided towhees, and wood thrushes who
forage on the floor of the Woods. Yellow-throated vireos can be
spotted near the water. The brightest birds you may spot in the
spring are the Northern orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and scarlet
tanagers. Tanagers are welcome both for their bright red plumage
and their voracious appetites for gypsy moths.
In the early 1990's, deliberations on the future of the
Woods and open farmland are continuing. At this writing
state Green Acres loans have been secured, and Princeton
Township has pledged to aid a coalition of private conservation
groups in purchasing the development rights to the land
to insure its preservation as open space and a historic
district accessible to the public.
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