Autumn Hill Reservation
Autumn Hill Reservation is located in the northeastern corner of Princeton Township.A small parking lot on the north side of Herrontown Road, west of its junction with Snowden Lane, indicates the entrance to the Reservation.
The most striking characteristic of Autumn Hill is the complete solitude it offers. The understory has many brambles and vines, and seems nearly untouched. Although the Reservation is near Princeton Airport, the occasional drone of single-engine airplanes adds to the lazy feeling of the place. Trails through the long, narrow 72-acre tract are limited, so hikers must take care to maintain their bearings. A rudimentary loop trail was cleared as an Eagle Scout project by Boy Scout Troop 43.
The Reservation also offers an unusual vista for those who hike to the back section. The property line abuts the Montgomery Woods townhouses, but a man-made and high boulder-covered berm separates the townhouses from the Reservation. As a result, the visitor's view merely grazes the rooftops and lingers instead on the town of Rocky Hill, the further Millstone River valley, and rising slopes well towards the north. These hills are the southernmost remnants of lava that filled a fissure as North America and Europe began drifting apart in the age of the dinosaurs.
Most of the Reservation was purchased in 1967 by the Township with Borough participation and Green Acres funds in part. Through the nineteenth century, a number of hardscrabble farms were located here, and the old stone fences mark the farm fields and pasture built on this thin rock-strewn soil. The farmers in this area were referred to as the "Herrontown" or "Herringtown" farmers, as early in the century it had been their practice to drive to the shore and bring back herring to use as fertilizer for their vegetable crops. By the middle of the twentieth century, the small farms here had been abandoned.
Geology and Topography:
The Reservation is located at the eastern end of the Princeton Ridge, and the boulders here are coarse-grained basalt. The Reservation ranges up to 271 feet above sea level. The ground is generally flat except for some slope by the natural gas pipeline easement, which runs east-west through the property. Due to the nature of the underlying bedrock, drainage is slow. The soil is wet much of the time, generating considerable undergrowth.
Since the Reservation was first farmed and subsequently used as a woodlot, no mature forest has succeeded in establishing itself. Deep into the tract, however, large tulip poplars, red maples, sweet gums, elderberry, tupelo, and dogwood may be found. Shrubs include spicebush, arrowwood, and maple-leafed viburnum.
The juxtaposition of undisturbed undergrowth and the clear swath of the pipeline attracts a large population of deer, opossum, skunks, and foxes.
The back section of the tract is a good place to observe large birds of prey which frequent the forest areas along the Ridge. Turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks can often be seen, while the great horned owls which are also residents can be heard more readily than they can be seen.
Although Autumn Hill Reservation is owned by both the Township and Borough, the Township has oversight.