Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve

Posted on Tuesday, 12th March 2019 5:22 PM EDT

To fend off seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and get some fresh air, Bhavna and I decided that in 2019 we would find our way outside despite both hating the cold. We joined the REI co-op, bought some base layers, and new jackets, hiking boots, etc. After three months of staying indoors drinking craft ales, I start to look and feel "round", especially in. my belly.

One of the perks of joining the REI Co-op is that we get access to classes about hammocking, hiking, biking etc. This past weekend Bhavana and I signed up for a beginner's hike; the Hike and Hops at St. Michael's Farm Preserve. The Lawrenceville REI Co-op organised this hike. When we awoke that morning, Bhavna and I were sure REI would cancel the walk. It had rained the night before, and the warmer air temp was melting the snow. We expected the trail would be too wet to hike. It was too wet but not so much to cancel the hike. We layered up and drove to the trailhead on Princeton Avenue to find a group of about eight people waiting in the parking lot.

Google Earth, Hopewell Township, St. Michael's Preserve
St. Michael's Farm Preserve

Some history on the property is provided by the D&R Greenway Land Trust.

Now over 400 acres, the St. Michael's 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.

We met the trail guide Dan and his friend John. John lives in the area and is an educator in a local public school. We were given an overview of the trail and a history of St. Michael's Farm before proceeding along a soggy and muddy open field. We struggled to make our way back to more solid ground, and since I stopped for Bhavna and to take photos, we fell behind the rest of the group.

The trail was soggy; perhaps boggy is a better word. Our guide Dan had to choose alternative paths across some of the streams. On the trail, we ducked under fallen trees and scrambled over others. We forded streams with water just barely under the ankle of the shoe. Water entered Bhavna's shoes.

I'm working from home today. We both injured a foot this weekend while on this beginner's hike. I think the issue is that we are both barefoot inside our house. We only wear shoes for work or to go hiking. For both of us, wearing shoes is an exercise in damage control. When I wear shoes outside on walks and hike along difficult terrain, my toes curl inside the shoe; trying to get a grip. This action stresses my toes. Is this the reason Westerners have such ugly feet? It's damaged from years of doing the opposite of what nature intended?

What made the trek worthwhile was the camaraderie of the group during the hike and the post-hike Troon craft ale we drank together at the Brick Farm Tavern.

The part where we introduce ourselves but there are so many new names we almost immediately forget them. | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 17 mm | f/8.0 | ISO320 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
Waiting for the slowpoke photographer to catch up. | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 24.2 mm | f/8.0 | ISO200 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
The grassland was extremely soggy. Out boots were completely covered with mud and walking became difficult on the wet grass. | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 36.5 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO200 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO200 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
At the half-way point, Dan and John explained the route we would be taking through the forest. | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0, ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. | Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 + Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 37.6 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve with REI Outdoor School | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 37.6 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
In the background, I can see John fording the stream. We followed him across a few minutes later. | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400) | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
St. Michaels Farm Preserve | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400) | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve with REI Outdoor School | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 16 mm | f/8.0 | ISO400 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams
Troon Brewing Inspissated | FujiFilm X-T2 | Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 55 mm | f/3.2 | ISO4000 | Copyright 2019-03-10 Khürt L. Williams

7 thoughts on “Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve”

  1. On Saturday, I woke up, got dressed and drove to Aunt Chubby's in Hopewell for breakfast. Before my health challenges started, Aunt Molly was my favourite weekend treat but I hadn't been there in several months. I packed my Fujifilm X-T2 + Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, iPad and Bluetooth headphones. I wanted to get to Aunt Chubby's just as they opened to get a seat in the corner, to read blog posts while listening to music. I found parking right out front, which is rare, but now I know how to avoid the weekend breakfast crowd. Aunt Chubby's is walking distance from most of the homes in Hopewell Borough.I found a table near the rear of the restaurant and my attentive table attendant took my order, avocado toast with a poached egg on top and a cappuccino. The restaurant was still mostly empty with one man sitting at the breakfast bar, and a few friends sitting in the other room.During my commute last week, I caught up on listening to episodes of the FujiCast podcast, which I missed while going through my health challenges during the last few months. The universe must be sending me a message because on this particular FujiCast episode, Ian MacDonald, was a guest talking about how photography helps him treat and overcome PTSD caused by years working in emergency medical services (EMS).This got me to thinking about how much I missed my form of stress reduction therapy, being outside walking around with my camera on the nature trails of the Sourlands. I finished eating and while I waited for my check, I looked up as Jeff Hoagland had walked in and sat down at the breakfast counter.Jeff Hoagland is a lifelong naturalist and the Education Director for the Watershed Institute. The institute is championed for the environment of 950 acres of streams and woodlands in Hopewell Township. I met Jeff over a decade ago when I took my then elementary school children on an ambling nature walk along one of the streams in Montgomery Township. My kids had a blast and over the years we took many more walks with Jeff. He's also a fan of craft ale and we often see each other in line during a crowler release at Troon Brewing.
    St. Michael's Farm PreserveI closed out my check and walked over to the breakfast counter to say. Jeff and I chatted for a bit. He noticed the camera and suggested I try walking a section of the St. Michael's Preserve which is accessible from Aunt Molly Road. I have walked another part of the St. Michael's Preserve earlier this year and was happy for Jeff's recommendation of something new.In the Borough of Hopewell, St. Michael's Preserve includes a total of 396 acres of preserved land, mostly between Hopewell-Princeton Road and Aunt Molly Road, but a portion of the preserve lies on the east side of Aunt Molly Road and is preserved by the D& R Greenway Land Trust. This is the section that Jeff stated was his favourite section of the preserve trails.

    In 2004, the Diocese of Trenton asked D&R Greenway to preserve the property for $11 million. Working with our state, county, and local partners, we secured $8 million in public funding. The remaining $3 million needed to be raised from private sources. Faced with the frightening prospect of unwanted development, in the summer of 2006, a group of concerned Hopewell residents stepped forward to raise the remaining funds required to preserve the St. Michael's Preserve land.

    The St. Michael's Preserve property had been owned by the Diocese of Trenton since the 1890s upon which an orphanage and industrial school were built in 1896. The facility closed in 1973.Aunt Molly Road is about a five-minute drive from Aunt Chubby's. I parked, donned my headphones, and started streaming Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, while I walked along the frozen trail, stopping to take photos of the woods and trail path with the changing morning light streaming through. I could hear the crunch of frozen dirt, grass, and ice underfoot.A man with a dog approached from a fork in the path. I removed my headphones, said hello and commented about the cold. It was cold. I have not walked this trail before so I had no specific agenda for images. I listened to Dark Side of the Moon, stopping to photograph whatever light caught my eye. I found myself just stopping and standing to stare at the light, getting lost in my mind. Relaxing.I got as far as the bridge before the cold air, despite gloves and thick socks, started to gnaw at fingers and toes. Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
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  2. Tuesday Photo Challenge – Trail by jansenphoto

    Welcome to week 165 of the Tuesday Photo Challenge!
    You certainly hit the Road with a passion! Not only were your posts creative, but there were a lot of them! This week, as I’m on the road for work, I went through some of images from Ireland and found a nice next step along our journey: Trail! Wh…

    Yesterday I walked the Stonebrodge Trails with Bhavana. I’ve hiked or walked many of the trails in the area around Hopewell, Princeton, Hillsborough, and Montgomery including Van Horne Park Trail, Devil’s Half Acre, Autumn Hill Reserve,Institute Woods Trails, D&R Canal Park Trail, Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve Trail, St. Michaels Farm Preserve, etc.. Most of the trails in Montgomery Township were cleared and created by the Montgomery Friends of Open Space (MFOS) and D&R Greenway Land Trust.
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.025 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. WilliamsBhavna has had problems with a heel spur in her right foot. She’s been in pain for several weeks, but she wanted to get out of the house. I wanted to capture trail images for Frank’s weekly challenge. I remembered that Stonebridge Trails were mostly flat terrain that could be easy on her foot. She was hesitant but agreed to come with me. Neither one of us has walked the trail.The trail wraps around the Stonebridge at Montgomery senior living community. We parked in the lot next to the Montgomery 1860’s house. We did not find the trailhead, which we later discovered was near the entrance to the 1860’s property but found a way onto the trail from behind the red barn.
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.005 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. WilliamsWe took a wrong turn at the fork in the trail, and I think ended up going south-east toward the D&R Canal toward Rocky Hill. The trail was muddy. We turned around and returned to the fork to go the other direction.
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.014 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. WilliamsSome of the trails are part of a paved loop walkway which I think was built for Stonebridge. It’s early summer, and most of the spring wildflowers have since disappeared. However, I did find small islands of colour among the ocean of green.Bhavna’s pain threshold was breached 30 minutes into the walk, so we took the abbreviate trail and headed back to the car.
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.000 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.006 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (36.5 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
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  3. Tuesday Photo Challenge – Rock by Frank Jansen (Dutch Goes the Photo)

    Rock it!

    My first thought when I saw the challenge was, “I’ll hike the Sourland Mountain Preserve to Devil’s Half Acre“. Bhavna offered to come with me. The parking in the area near the trailhead on Mountain View Road was filled with cars.Devil’s Half Acre is a large boulder field with talus caves which can be approached through the Sourland Mountain Preserve by taking the northernmost trail 34 of the way up and then heading about 12 mile to the north/northwest.The warmer weather seduced local area residents and their dogs to enjoy the outdoors. We started up over the rocky terrain. I scrambled, took this shot and noticed that Bhavna was way behind me.
    Rock, Sourland Mountain Preserve —FujiFilm X-T2 + Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. WilliamsWhile on Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve a few weeks ago, we both injured our feet. It seems Bhavna didn’t recover as quickly as I did. Her mind was willing, but her body was not able. We walked the shortest part of the trail returning to the car, just thirty minutes after starting. I got this shot and a few others.
    FujiFilm X-T2 + Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (17.6 mm, f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
    Rock, Sourland Mountain Preserve —FujiFilm X-T2 + Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
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  4. I think I’ve had more “sick” days in the first few months of 2019 than I had in the first half of 2018. I put sick in quotes because all of those days off have not been related to viral or bacterial infection. Some of these sick days are related to recovering from an injured foot due to hiking or walking. In February I injured my right foot while on a two-hour photo walk through the Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve. Two weeks ago I hurt my left foot while on a two-hour hike through the St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell. In January I was out of the office for a few days due to food poisoning. In those situations, I had suffered an injury to my body.Today, I am feeling the effects of whatever tests were done at my visit to the orbital surgeon at Wills Eye Surgery Center to determine the severity of my Graves Eye Disease. Some of the tests— look as far up as you can see for the next 30 seconds— were painful. The sensitivity to light that I felt yesterday after dilating drops was to be expected. But the feeling continued into the evening and is no less severe this morning. We have a wet, overcast day here in New Jersey. The light from the window is causing some minor pain. I can’t imagine driving in this. I adjusted the brightness of the iMac’s display and increased the font size in Safari to make it easier on my eyes.I am sitting in the dark of my home office workspace with just the light from a second-floor window. But even that feels uncomfortable. I called in sick because I don’t see how I could drive to work and work in a fully lit office while looking at two displays all day. Typing up this blog post took longer than I expected. I took numerous breaks to give my eyes some rest in between typing sentences. I am hoping that a day of rest will help.I’m terrible at being sick, though. When I can’t go hiking or walking because of a foot injury, I like to read on my iPad. Or I may spend some time in Adobe Lightroom, editing some of the back catalogues of images on my iMac. Or I would binge-watch something a series on Netflix or a watch a movie on the Apple TV. But I can’t do any of that today. Can I?
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  5. I think this image perfectly reflects the weather and the feeling Bhavana and I had while on a Hike and Hops at St. Michaels Farm Preserve. The Lawrenceville REI Co-op organized this hike. When we awoke that morning, Bhhavna and I were sure the walk would be cancelled. It has rained the night before, and the warmer air temp was melting the snow.Read more about the hike at St. Michaels Farm Preserve.NOTE: This photo is the last photo in this series. I am not abandoning my 52-week project. I am switching my effort and focus on the annual Dogwood 52 Week Photography Challenge. Starting with Week 11, I will post images based on the challenges in that calendar on that website.Photo of the Week is personal photography project where I post the best image captured that week. I will post the picture at the end of the week. That will be a Sunday. I can take one or 100 photos for the week, but I will post only one, the best one.
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