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Conservation IssuesTake A Hike, and Do Some Birding, at the Pole Farm
Herb Lord
Pat Sziber
Lou Beck

Whether you call it the Pole Farm, the AT&T Property, or Mercer County Park NW, the 812-acre County-owned land in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships is the perfect spot for a quiet autumn walk on your own, with a group, or with children. The property is bounded by Keefe Road to the south, Cold Soil Road to the east, Blackwell Road to the north, Federal City Road to the west and Lawrenceville - Pennington Road to the southwest. Broad, easy trails curve past farm fields, fallow fields and woodlands presenting an array of fall color against the open sky. Just a brief stroll will take you seemingly far from civilization right here in the middle of rural New Jersey. Milkweed scatters in the wind, late-blooming goldenrods and asters catch the afternoon sun, and butterflies hover over the field flowers.

Come out and see why, in a recent survey commissioned by Mercer County, 46% of county residents indicated they would like the Pole Farm to be kept for passive recreational activities. The trails are flat and easy to walk for all ages. This is a great place to introduce small children to the simple joys of nature. (Three farmers lease fields on the property from the county; please don't walk through their cultivated fields or the electrically fenced dairy farm.)

Pole Farm Map Directions: From the traffic light at Manors Corner shopping center on Pennington-Lawrenceville Road take Keefe Road toward Princeton for 1.1 miles to the bend where it meets Cold Soil Road. At that bend, the entrance is on the left through a chain link gate. There is a white barn on the left inside the gate. (You may flush a red-tailed hawk from its roof as you drive in.) Go straight on the macadam road about 0.2 miles to the parking area, a macadam loop on the right. If starting in Princeton take Cold Soil Road, go 1.1 miles past Blackwell Road to the bend, and look for the entrance on the right. (Click on map to view more detailed site map.)


Hiking/Birding: There are several trails through the park. To follow the suggested loop, walk back along the macadam road towards the entrance (southeast) for about 100 yards and turn right onto a tree/shrub lined trail that heads west between open fields. A pair of ring-necked pheasants may greet you there. The trees and thickets lining the trail may produce nesting gray catbird, brown thrasher, yellow and common yellowthroat warblers and migrating warblers, American goldfinch, indigo bunting, and/or rufous-sided towhee.

After about 600 yards the trail bends to the right entering an open area between fields. Eastern meadowlarks nest in the fields to the northeast of this point, and bobolinks may nest there (the males display in the spring). Savannah and grasshopper sparrows occur there too. American kestrels are often seen hovering, northern harriers patrol during the colder months, and red-tailed hawks often soar above. A northern shrike stopped by for awhile last winter. You aren't supposed to be in county parks after dark, but if you're there at dusk in the spring, you may hear (and maybe see) the unique courting behavior of American woodcocks.

The trail passes through the open area for about 120 yards then re-enters the woods. After another 350 yards or so it bends to the right and heads northwest. Keep your ears open for the beautiful calls of wood thrush and veery, and also for red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers and northern flicker. After another 300 yards, a wide trail intersects the current trail from the right. If you continue straight (northwest) for another 250 yards you'll come to the end of the trail, where you should turn around and backtrack to the wide trail leading northeast; but before backtracking enjoy a very nice view of the dairy farm that occupies the northwest corner of the property. Wild turkey are sometimes seen there.

Take the wide trail toward the northeast; wildflowers bloom and butterflies are abundant in season. Scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeak can sometimes be heard and seen there, along with flycatchers such as eastern wood pewee, willow and great crested.

After about 600 yards, jog left onto an intersecting trail, take it about 200 yards, and turn right onto another trail that also heads northeast, parallel to the wide trail. After about 200 yards keep an eye out for a small pond (it dries up in the summer) hidden behind a patch of cattails to the right. American bittern has been seen at the pond, along with wood duck and rose-breasted grosbeak. Continue along the trail until it intersects a gravel road. The field to the northeast of that intersection is a good place to look for eastern bluebird. Red-tailed hawk and great horned owl probably nest in the woods to the north.

If you wish, you can turn left and walk to the end of the road, which will take you alongside the wooded wetlands in the northeastern corner of the tract, after which you'll need to backtrack. If your energy level is dropping, skip the northeast woods; turn right and follow the gravel road back toward the parking area. You'll want to jog to the right after about 250 yards to get back to the macadam road, turn left and follow the road back to the parking area. You'll pass nest boxes that were erected for tree swallows at the western edge of the field where the bobolinks court, and can listen and look for eastern meadowlark, northern oriole, brown thrasher, goldfinch, white-eyed vireo and cedar waxwing.

Note: We encourage visitors to tell us about their sightings at the Pole Farm either by mail or the chapter phone number on the front page, attention "Conservation."

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Last revision: Sunday, October 24, 1999 - 07:30 PM