Princeton, N.J.— D&R Greenway Land Trust will begin formally celebrating its 30th Anniversary, recognizing seven trail-blazers who have contributed significantly to the preservation of more than 20,000 acres of New Jersey land, in seven counties. The public is invited to its annual Greenway Gala Garden Party, Saturday, May 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. Libations and hors d’oeuvres will be served in Meredith’s Garden for Inspiration, alongside the 1900 vintage barn, – the Johnson Education Center. Garden party attire and footwear are suggested. The 2019 Donald B. Jones Conservation Award will honor Alan Hershey for 30 years of service as a dedicated champion, trail builder and former Chair of the Board of Trustees. Special preservation awards will be given to Brendan Burns, David Stempien and Bob Vaucher for preserving land rich in Revolutionary history, along the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail in Bridgewater. Beverly Mills and Elaine and John Buck will receive awards for raising current awareness, through their book and presentations, of significant stories of diverse communities from earliest days in the Sourland Mountains. The Inspiration Award is being granted to Margee Harper, Greenway Star and former trustee, particularly instrumental in preserving Princeton’s Greenway Meadows park. Purchase tickets at $130 per person by May 3, at www.drgreenway.org, or 609.924.4646.
“These special awards represent the three parts of our mission: land preservation, land stewardship and inspiration,” reveals D&R Greenway President & CEO Linda Mead. “As we launch celebrations of our 30th anniversary, it is clear that we have evolved well beyond the aspirations of our founders.” Mead explains, “When we were called into being three decades ago, New Jersey open land was swiftly disappearing into complex development. By 1989, having become a nonprofit land trust, D&R Greenway’s Board of Trustees included Alan Hershey. Active in many pivotal roles ever since, he will be given our 30th Anniversary Donald B. Jones Conservation Award.”
“By 2004, stewardship of land including welcoming people onto our preserved properties became a part of our mission.” Mead declares. “Alan created a vibrant group of trail builders. Their weekly work sessions encourage people of our region to enjoy the outdoors on D&R Greenway Preserves. Alan founded NJ Trails, providing thorough maps for trails in the central New Jersey area: www.njtrails.org. In a unique fellowship, more than 100 volunteers, ranging in age from 16 to 90, work with him every weekend May to September, building bridges and stone steps with hand tools, even moving boulders with crowbars and nets.“
“Being part of the trail crew builds community,” declares Hershey, recently retired from Mathematica Policy Research, as a senior fellow. “And it’s not about how strong you are. There are tremendous benefits to this physical activity in nature; being out there and working together to move a big stone or dig a trail into a hillside. We work right across age lines.”
“My interest in land preservation came from having lived in Europe,” he reveals. “When I returned home, I was frustrated by all the No Trespassing signs.” He shared his concerns with New Jersey Future’s Tom O’Neill, who suggested that Hershey seek out a new group forming to preserve land near the D&R Canal and Towpath. Hershey joined the Board of Trustees, six months later, serving as treasurer for more than a decade and a half, and Chair for three years. He was instrumental in the growth of the nonprofit organization to become today’s highly recognized D&R Greenway Land Trust. In addition Hershey serves as treasurer for the board of the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail Association and vice chair of the Mercer County Open Space Board.
When it comes to inspiration, long-time Princeton resident Margee Harper is a Greenway Star. Thirteen years ago, in April 2006, D&R Greenway opened the Johnson Education Center, in what had been General Robert Wood Johnson’s working barn. “Preservation of Greenway Meadows and restoration of the barn into our home would not have been possible without the inspiration and action of Margee Harper. She dynamically rallied Princeton community support. She is a constant presence, continually initiating new ways of furthering our mission,” declares Mead.
Harper had just witnessed a development of 100 homes in her own community. “A developer was looking to put 50 houses all over what is now Greenway Meadows Park. This destruction seemed preposterous. I walked all over the neighborhood, leaving notes in doors and talking to people to prevent this project,” she recounts. Inspired by her husband John’s work with D&R Greenway to preserve Institute for Advanced Study land, Margee Harper asked D&R Greenway to lead the rescue. “My commitment continues strongly, since having grown up on a farm. I want others to have the joy of land around them. I am not a guardian angel, but a down-to-earth person who reaches out to help many organizations. Among my favorites is D&R Greenway, directly impacting those living right here in our community.”
Local communities include the Sourlands, north of Hopewell. Long-term area residents, Beverly Mills and Elaine and John Buck are effectively raising awareness about African-Americans with multi-generational roots on this wooded mountain. Along with the Sourland Conservancy, the three have catalyzed a plan to create the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum that will share documents and artifacts evoking this essential history stretching back to the American Revolution. “We are so excited about receiving this prestigious award!” says Mills. “As trustees of the Stoutsburg Cemetery and advisors on the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum Board (with John Buck the president of both boards) we are so grateful that overlooked stories about the African American presence and contribution to our community and country is finally coming to light. It is humbling to think that we have been instrumental in preserving the land of our ancestors, many of whom were founding African American families brought here as enslaved individuals who first had to clear the land to work without pay,” Beverly Mills declares.
“We were delighted that so many people came out to experience our [recent] program at D&R Greenway,” she continues. “This award is another opportunity to illustrate how the African American contribution, especially our military presence dating back to the Revolutionary War, transcends the single Anglo narrative we are commonly taught. Our book, If These Stones Could Talk (Wild River Books) allows us to open the eyes of many, who are eager to learn about slavery in our region and how that past has affected this future.”
Preserving a place of significance from America’s past for future generations is exactly what was accomplished recently in Bridgewater. Now local heroes, Brendan Burns, Dave Stempien and 100-year-old Bob Vaucher, a decorated WWII veteran, advocated diligently for six challenging years to save land along a route critical to our Revolution. General George Washington and French General, Comte de Rochambeau, marched with their armies along Bridgewater land in August 1781. This trail of living history was slated to hold fifteen new houses before these three neighbors became involved. This award recognizes the heroism of locals whose success calls to attention Revolutionary courage in our region.
“The Greenway Gala Garden Party is an opportunity for guests to meet real heroes of today whose dedication and hard work benefit all of us,” says Linda Mead. “We invite all who care about the quality of life in our region to attend, supporting the work of present and future local champions, leaving positive marks on the landscape of our lives.”