Rutgers Ecological Preserve offers outdoor opportunities

The Rutgers University Ecological Preserve contains seven different nature trails that each provide a different perspective into the wooded area.
Photo by Photo by | The Daily TargumThe Rutgers University Ecological Preserve contains seven different nature trails that each provide a different perspective into the wooded area.

The recent reports of an aggressive coyote on Livingston campus put the Rutgers University Ecological Preserve and Natural Teaching Area in the spotlight. The preserve is a 360-acre wooded area that boasts scenic views and multiple hiking trails. It serves as a setting for public events, learning opportunities and an environment for a quiet walk.

The preserve is closed as investigations continue regarding the aggressive coyote, according to a University-wide email sent on Nov. 22. Despite the recent attacks, Dr. Richard G. Lathrop Jr., a professor at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, emphasized that the ecological preserve is a safe place. 

“It’s a rare instance,” Lathrop said. “I hope that it doesn’t dissuade people from visiting in the future once the present situation is cleared up.”

The coyotes, although native to the area, usually remain out of sight and do not interact with visitors. When the preserve reopens, students should take the time to visit, Lathrop said.

Lathrop has been the faculty director of the Rutgers University Ecological Preserve since April 2009. Under Lathrop’s supervision, the trails at the ecological preserve were formalized to create the system seen today. 

“There was an ad hoc system of trails there, so we’ve blazed the trails, built new trails, built boardwalks, built bridges,” Lathrop said. “We’ve gone out and improved the trail bed with gravel and wood chips, and we’ve also created maps.”

There are seven different trails of varying difficulty and length at the preserve, each providing a different perspective into the wooded area, according to the ecological preserve website. Two of them stand out for their rich, historical presence — the Yellow and White Trails.

The Yellow Trail meanders through the heart of the forest known as Kilmer Woods, which has been untouched since the Colonial Era. It also provides scenic views of Buell Brook. The White Trail, on the other hand, is a 0.8-mile hiking path that presents visitors the remnants of Camp Kilmer, a military camp established during World War II, according to the website.

The ecological preserve advertises a rich history on its website. Although it was formally designated as the Rutgers University Ecological Preserve in 1976 by the Rutgers Board of Governors, the land traces back to the mid-1800s, when it used to be part of the estates of the upper class, including the Metlar-Bodine House Museum and Ross Hall.

Many famous individuals have been on the property, including George Washington, who is known to have attended multiple galas at Ross Hall during the American Revolutionary War. Joyce Kilmer, an American poet who grew up in New Brunswick, is also prominently featured in the preserve, with the Kilmer Woods and the historical Camp Kilmer named after him, according to the website.

Visitors are bound to encounter thriving vegetation in the preserve, regardless of the trail that they hike. Springtime visits can especially introduce visitors to the colorful ephemerals such as mayapples, yellow trout lilies and Virginia spring beauty, according to the website. In the mature forest section of the area, visitors can admire the oak, ash, beech and hickory trees.

Visitors may also encounter a variety of wildlife, Lathrop said. 

“We set up a network of motion detector cameras this past fall,” Lathrop said, “So we see deer, coyotes, red foxes, opossums, raccoons, wild turkeys, all kinds of hawks, screech owls — all sorts of different kinds of wildlife.” 

The ecological preserve is also home to forest songbirds, warblers and even an endangered species of bats, according to the website.

One of Lathrop’s long-term objectives has been to increase the use of the preserve for recreation by the Rutgers community and the community at large. 

“We occasionally have guided hikes or small groups,” Lathrop said. “We’re trying to balance enhanced use of the preserve while maintaining its ecological integrity.”

Throughout the year, the ecological preserve hosts three major events as part of Lathrop’s vision: RU Muddy, Run for the Woods and orienteering, all of which will take place in the Spring semester. RU Muddy is a 3.5-mile run with different obstacles, trail running, a mud pit and “fun surprises,” while Run for the Woods is a single-loop trail race through the preserve. Alternatively, participants of the orienteering event headed off the trails, relying on their navigational skills.

The preserve is usually open to anyone throughout the year, Lathrop said. Certain parts may close during the winter, but there are still opportunities for students to use the preserve.

“During the winter, it’s a great time to go around cross-country skiing, snowshoeing when we have snow,” Lathrop said. “Just go out there, spend some time to walk the trail. Spend an hour, find a place to sit by the brook, it can be a way to clear your head. Or put on some running shoes and go out for a jog.”