Now over 400 acres, the St. Michaels property, which was preserved in 2010 and expanded in 2017, is an expanse of farm fields and forests on the edge of Hopewell Borough. From many parts of this preserve the visitor has long views, lending the preserve a wonderful expansiveness which promotes a sense of well-being in anyone who walks its many farm roads and paths. From 1896 until 1973 this was the home of St. Michael’s Orphanage and Industrial School which was operated by the Catholic Diocese of Trenton. After the orphanage was closed, the building where the children lived and went to school was torn down and most of the land was leased to a local farmer. Before the diocese divested themselves of the property through development they offered one last chance for preservation if D&R Greenway could raise the funds to purchase the property. Over $11 million was raised, and in 2010 D&R Greenway succeeded in purchasing the land through a public/private partnership. It is now preserved as open space forever. The largest amount of the $11M purchase price for this property came from the State farmland preservation program. Six miles of farm roads provide walking trails throughout the preserve.
There are four types of plant communities on this preserve: agricultural fields, shrub/scrub, hedgerows and forest. There are several patches of forest, mainly at the southernmost end of the property and along the eastern side, and a forest of about 35 acres to the east of Aunt Molly Road. This larger forest is an extremely high quality forest, including a shale barren that is reminiscent of a Midwestern savanna with several widely-spaced white oaks.
An ornithologist has been inventorying the birds on this preserve and has identified almost a hundred species, including eleven species of warbler, the lovely Indigo bunting, Rose-breasted grosbeak and Scarlet tanager. Hawks cruise the fields looking for voles and mice, kestrels live in the vicinity of the barn, a great blue and a little green heron have been seen along the creek and sparrows and finches frequent the fields. Purple martin houses grace the stunning view from the Charles Evans Overlook off Aunt Molly Road.