Picture this: you are walking along a trail on a D&R Greenway preserve. It’s a sunny day. You hear the sound of water flowing over rocks. You feel the coolness of the shade from towering tulip trees. You stop for a refreshing drink of water and bite into a juicy Jersey tomato from D&R Greenway’s Capital City Farm. The cares of the world are gone from your mind. You might even hum a tune from a song released in the 1970s, I Can See Clearly Now. Your clarity comes from experiencing the direct effects of nature – and of D&R Greenway’s mission to preserve and care for land.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story. The land that D&R Greenway preserves provides the essential ingredients of life. To continue thriving on Earth, humans need clean air and water, nourishment, a diverse web of other living creatures, and places that keep us physically and emotionally healthy – and we need each other.
Why we do what we do is the story of life itself. Land gives life to the planet.
D&R Greenway preserves land for the life we love.
It’s fitting that our preservation history began by saving headwaters of the Stony Brook. Land containing wetlands and forested first-order streams remains one of our top conservation priorities. Protecting water at its source is essential to ensuring water quality downstream. Trees, plants and soil on protected land replenish ground and surface water, filter contaminants and absorb stormwater. Communities benefit from reduced cost of water treatment, as well as protection from flooding.
To understand how preserving land benefits clean air, just…Breathe! There is nothing like fresh air, naturally filtered by trees, to demonstrate the impact of preserving land. Trees, and the soil beneath them, are marvelously effective at filtering particulate pollution. One study found that trees remove 17.4 million tons of particulate matter in a year, for a $6.8 billion reduction in health care costs – and avoidance of 850 deaths. D&R Greenway’s 2,000+ preserved acres in the Sourlands enables thousands of trees to serve as health care providers.
Of the 20,000 acres we’ve preserved, 8,000 are farmland. We’ve been at the forefront of preserving land that is the foundation of a local “food shed.” People have rediscovered the unbeatable taste and the health benefits of food produced by a farmer whom they know and trust. Helping farmers stay close to markets boosts our local economy, reduces energy use, and nurtures bonds of community among farmers and customers. Our preserved farms range from family produce and pastures for grazing animals in countryside to the 2 acre Capital City farm in the heart of Trenton.
Every acre of land contains over 43,000 square feet; 20,000 acres is 871 million square feet. Each square foot is just a slice of the Earth’s biosphere: the thin membrane that supports life on the only planet where we know life exists. The biosphere begins beneath the soil, home to literally billions of organisms per cubic foot, all of them creating nutrients essential to life. Eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson writes, “When you thrust a shovel into the soil …, you are, godlike, cutting through an entire world…. the most vital place on Earth for human existence.”
Above-ground, in Cranbury, Hopewell and Princeton, we’ve created places for plants and their pollinators to flourish: meadows chock-full of purple coneflowers, yellow black-eyed Susans, pink milkweed, orange butterfly weed, yellow goldenrod, white asters, red cardinal flower and blue lobelia.
For every color there is a flower and for every flower there are hundreds of hungry bees, butterflies, moths and even hummingbirds that feed on the plants nectar. Worldwide, pollinator populations are in freefall, endangering not only wild plants but also the 60% of food crop plants that depend on their services. Our preserves help support a vital food web.
Migrating neotropical birds, those harbingers of spring and bringers of song, follow insect populations as they head north in spring to their breeding grounds. D&R Greenway’s forested preserves provide insects what they need to feed and reproduce: leaves, flowers, and trees. The birds come to feast on the insects, continuing the circle of life.
Our preserved oasis near Trenton, the Abbott Marshlands, is the northernmost tidal freshwater wetland on the Delaware River and home to an amazing variety of amphibians, plants, and aquatic animals. Once derided as disease-infested swamps that had to be drained and covered over, wetlands are now understood to be among the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth.
…health and healing
Not so long ago in human evolutionary history, land was the default case, not something we had to set aside and save. Human sensory systems are tuned to resonate with the land we’ve evolved to need. Our noses recognize the scent of geosmin, the chemical substance linked with wet earth, the source of life, at 1 part in a trillion. The retinal system in our eyes scans landscapes in fractal patterns that enable us to discern both the forest and the trees…as well as a leaf and the whole sky beyond it. We are drawn to those patterns in nature, and in art: we call them beautiful. In the words of poet Gary Snyder,
This living flowing land
is all there is, forever,
We are it
it sings through us—
No wonder that, as more and more scientific studies are proving, people respond to green space physically and mentally. Simply looking at images of natural landscapes reduces blood pressure, improves mood, accelerates healing. Even better for our health, though, is direct experience of nature. Sight, sound, smell and physical activity are good, but it is the complex experience of all of these at once– the experience of place – that does us the most good. Finland’s public health officials advise spending at least 5 hours a month in the woods to stave off depression. Try “forest bathing,” the Japanese healing practice of spending time in expanses of hinoki pines. D&R Greenway’s public preserves are perfect for bathing in Northeast hardwood forests, replete with sharp tannin aromas of oak leaves, lush humidity of fern-carpeted rocky woods, and the sweet song of wood thrushes like the jingle of bells on the wind.
D&R Greenway’s preserves include 30 miles of trails to walk, hike, play and explore: to engage in the activity embodied by the Norwegian word “friluftsliv”, literally “free air life”, which might be translated as “having fun outdoors.” And as if fun weren’t enough, it’s good for us. Physical activity in nature decreases activity in our neural centers for anxiety and depression. It makes us resistant to ruminating on negative thoughts. Nature changes our brains for the better.
Humans’ remarkable success on planet Earth can be attributed in no small part to our astonishing capacity for community. We are said to be a hypersocial species. Research shows that nature contributes to the social glue, increasing our sense of empathy and instinct to cooperate. One study found that after just one minute gazing up at tall trees people were much more likely to help someone in need. Our bodies reinforce the social effects: the more socially connected we are, the lower our stress levels and inflammation: in other words, we lead healthier lives.
Every square foot of these 20,000 acres of D&R Greenway-preserved land creates a link in a network of community that connects people to each other, and to the life that land makes possible.