Herrontown Woods, owned by Mercer County and run by the County Park Commission, is located in the northeastern corner of Princeton Township. It can be reached by taking Snowden Lane off Route 27 (Nassau Street). The entrance to the parking area is located on the left a few hundred feet before the intersection of Snowden and Herrontown Road.
This completely wooded park, with its mature trees and gently rolling contour, is among the best in the area for a moderate hiking adventure. A system of more than three miles of color-coded trails enables the visitor to explore the forest ecosystem and provides an insight into the history of the tract as well.
Oswald Veblen, an internationally known mathematician who taught at Princeton University, lived on this property and enjoyed strolling through the woods with his colleagues. He and his wife, Elizabeth, deeded their land to the Mercer County Park System in 1957, to be maintained as a wildlife and plant sanctuary with nature trails. Horseback riding was specifically prohibited to protect the soils from erosion. The County acquired additional acreage, the Levine tract, in the early 1970's, to bring the Woods to its current 142 acres. The red trail follows the original property line, and may have been blazed by Dr. Veblen. The blue trail winds through the Levine tract.
The first Veblen property, in the southeastern part of the Woods, had been an active farm. Grassy areas still surround the house and barn. Much of the rest of the land has been used for farming, wood cutting, or quarrying. The last major timber harvest occurred in the 1920's. Around the turn of the century, quarrying of traprock took place on the ridge in the Levine tract, where quarry holes can still be found. The last major human disturbance of the Woods took place in 1968 when a strip of forest was cleared for a natural gas pipeline, bisecting the Woods in a northeast-southwest direction.
Geology and Topography
1 Herrontown Woods lies across the top of the eastern end of the Princeton Ridge, on the same diabase, or traprock, that is found in Woodfield and Autumn Hill Reservations. The softer red shale underlies the southeastern corner of the Woods, giving rise to variations in soil types and drainage. From a height of 283 feet in the northwest corner, the land slopes toward the south to about 140 feet. At the foot of this slope, a field of large boulders was formed from the eroded diabase of the ridge.
Two intermittent streams flow from north to south through the Woods, meeting north of the green trail. In turn, the joined streams meet up with a creek at the southwest corner of the parking lot. A visitor setting out from the parking lot may experience damp trails in this area, evidence of water moving down slope from the high ground at the northern half of the tract.
Herrontown Woods is a diversified forest of mature broadleaf deciduous trees. The dominant species are oak (red, white, and black), sweetgum, tulip, and red maple. These are naturally occurring species, the result of forest succession following natural and man-made disturbances of the area. The varying soil conditions influence the distribution of these species, so you will find oaks predominating in the uplands, while a mixture of red maples and oaks predominates in the wetter areas. Two areas are distinct groves of single species. A beech grove, with numerous flowering dogwoods in its understory, stands between the wetlands and the well-drained lands. A white pine grove near the parking area in the southeastern corner of the tract was planted in the 1930's but was devastated by a severe wind and snow storm in 1993.
Herrontown Woods trees had previously suffered a major setback in the 1970's when a gypsy moth infestation killed many mature trees. Today, a visitor can observe the natural succession of species that resulted from the openings in the forest canopy from these and other losses.
The shrubs you will see in the Woods also indicate the underlying soil conditions. Spicebush predominates in the wet areas, while maple-leafed viburnum predominate in the well-drained areas. Among the woody vines, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and Japanese honeysuckle are widespread. Herbaceous plants come and go with the seasons. In springtime, mayapple, is found throughout the forest, and jack-in-the-pulpit can be found in wet areas. In the fall, woodland aster is widespread, and partridgeberry is notable in the uplands.
A wide variety of wildlife has been observed in Herrontown Woods, although many species will elude the eyes of most visitors. Among the mammals observed are bats, gray fox, eastern mole, opossum, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, chipmunk, gray and red squirrel, Southern flying squirrel, woodchuck, shrew, weasel, and white-tailed deer. Amphibians include the salamander, toad, and frog. (Look for the green frog in the stream adjacent to the parking lot.) Reptiles noted in the Woods are the five-lined skink, Eastern box turtle, wood turtle, garter snake, milk snake, and northern water snake. There are no poisonous snakes. Bird species vary by season, with the spring and fall migrations bringing the greatest number of species to the woods. Herrontown is a particularly good place to spot warblers and thrushes. The upland wooded warbler and worm-eating warbler can be seen here, for example. The great horned owl and Eastern screech owl are permanent residents here as well.
The interested reader may wish to consult Herrontown Woods, A Guide to A Natural Preserve, by Richard Kramer, (Stony Brook-Millstone Watersheds Association, Inc.), and Herrontown Woods, by Joseph Schmeltz, Mercer County Naturalist (Mercer County Park Commission).