Environmental Education Centers
For the Highland Park Greenway

— By Arnold Henderson

View of Raritan River from Donaldson Park
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Highland Park's outstanding natural asset is the Raritan River. Discussions on environmental education and open space have long centered on the river and floodplain as our best "environmental education tool." Now, a proposal would give residents throughout town access to natural sites, trails, and small "centers" such as pavilions or stone council rings.

The plan comes from a working group drawn from a larger committee of school and environmental representatives. The impetus for action now is our receiving a Middlesex County "environmental education center" grant. A first idea of a classroom/laboratory building at our River Road Green Acres site (Native Plant Reserve) appeared overly expensive, as well as emphasizing one site. Instead, the working group proposes site restoration and a modest center there, within budget. But this one very visible site would relate to others along the river, as envisioned in 1994's Greenway Feasibility Study. There, other grants and county actions would offer natural experiences to users from school children to senior citizens:

River Road/Native Plant Reserve. The main grant would provide native plantings, a modest center (pavilion, parking, and stone council ring), educational signage, a possible sculpture garden, paths/nature trails, and access to Johnson Park's fine natural area at the pond.

Donaldson Park. Middlesex County plans to add a pavilion, restroom, parking, and native plantings near the southeast corner. These would suit school field trips to river and marsh and provide easy paths for all ages.

"The Meadows." Two grants provide a biological survey, trail, educational signage, and perhaps council ring for the wilder woods, meadow, streams, and tidal marsh east of Donaldson Park. ("The Meadows" is the historic name.) The adjacent Southside Bikeway provides native plantings and environmental signage, with access to The Meadows and the municipal part of Buck's Woods.

Ayres Beach and Valley Place. West of Donaldson, the county may purchase Red's Marina and the adjacent freshwater marsh as an "Ayres Beach Natural Area" (named for its historic swimming beach). Upstream, Valley Place Ravine is public Green Acres property that could have simple seats and signage for casual environmental education and walks to the river.

The working group welcomes comments via this web site. Members are Arnold Henderson (chair), Mike Rosenberg (Environmental Commission), Ruth Bowers (Shade Tree Advisory Committee), Loren Muldowney (Environmental Commission), and former councilman Gene Young (now deceased).

For more information, see Environmental Education Focal Points.

[Reprinted from Borough of Highland Park Newsletter]

Photo Credit for Raritan River from Donaldson Park: Leora Wenger