HAMILTON: Nature center offers variety of wonders

By Anthony Stoeckert, Packet Media Group
Last week, as I headed toward the new Tulpehaking Nature Center in Hamilton, I drove a route that took me past a section of Broad Street that I drive on regularly. It’s a busy road, packed with chain businesses — fast food places, a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Quick Check — along with a car wash and, of course, a diner.
I felt a long way from nature, but MapQuest informed me I was minutes from my destination, which is located near the Abbott Marshlands, a wonder of nature, protected land that resembles a rain forest with wondrous vegetation, and an active animal life.
I ended up in a residential neighborhood. The building housing the center is a former residence, right next to an entrance for John A. Roebling Park, which is located within the marshlands. As I walked a path that leads to a section of picnic tables, a robust floral scent filled the air, in total contrast with the busy suburban scene I just drove through. At one spot, I looked to my left, and saw stream surrounded by foliage. After I posted a photo (which is accompanying this story) of that scene on my Facebook page, a friend commented that it would be a perfect place to re-enact "The Lord of the Rings." I looked to the left, on the other side of the path, and in the distance could see busy highways.
It is with a degree of mild shame that I say I have lived about seven minutes from this spot for nearly 10 years, and had never been there. I didn’t even know about the park. The little I know about the marsh comes from a sign in Northern Community Park in Bordentown, which shares some basics of the marsh’s story. A ravine in the park is packed with trees, and walking in the park offers a view of those treetops. However, I’ve been hesitant to walk deep into the ravine because of my fear of ticks and Lyme disease.
The marsh has had a few names, most recently the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. The name was recently changed in honor of Charles Conrad Abbott. According to the website for the group Friends for the Abbott Marshlands, Mr. Abbott was a 19th- and 20th-century archaeologist, naturalist and doctor who lived on bluffs near the marsh, and wrote about it.
The marsh’s 3,000 acres contain tidal streams, rivers, swamps and forests. It is considered one of the most significant wildlife habitats in New Jersey.
The marsh also is important in terms of archaeology. According to Kelly Rypkea, manager and naturalist for the Tulpehaking Nature Center, archeologists have found evidence of 13,000 years of human history at the marsh. Ancient pottery was unearthed on the land as the center was being built, and will likely be displayed at the center.
The Tulpehaking Nature Center is designed to help folks like me learn about the Abbott Marshlands, with educational programs, exhibits and information about the marsh. "Tulpehaking" means "turtleland" and is the Lenape name for a creek in Burlington County.
Highlights of the nature center include a demonstration native plant garden with plants that are indigenous to the marsh. A gazebo will host orientations and educational programs.A nature center devoted to the marsh was first proposed in 1975 by Dennis Whigham, an ecologist who did research at the Marsh. Mr. Whigham is now a botanist for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
The Tulpehaking Nature Center started as a project more than 20 years ago. It is owned by Mercer County and operated by the Mercer County Park Commission. Other partners include the D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Friends for the Abbott Marshlands.
"Mercer County is excited to expand its robust nature programs to our new Tulpehaking Nature Center," Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes says in a press release. "This beautiful new classroom and meeting space adds an important recreational resource — especially for children from the nearby city of Trenton — and will serve as a window to one of our richest natural habitats, the Abbott Marshlands. I credit the success of this important project to our steadfast public and private partners, especially the D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Friends of the Marsh."
The center will open with a family fun day, Oct. 11. Guests can see animals, take a guided trail tour, and win prizes and giveaways. Kayak tours will be offered Oct. 12. Art also will be part of the center, with the first exhibit being a photography exhibit, "The Best of the Voices of the Abbott Marshlands." More photography about the marshlands can be seen at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park in Trenton in the exhibit "Abbott Marshlands — More Than Meets the Eye." That exhibit is on view through Nov. 16.
"The idea of Family Fun Day is to introduce people to the type of programs they can experience here throughout the rest of the year," Ms. Rypkea says. Weather permitting, tables will be set up outside. An exploration center will allow kids to explore marsh water and get an up-close look at some of the creatures that live in the marsh.
The center also will host educational programs for children, including hoe-school programs. The goal is for people to explore the marshlands for themselves. Some of the animals that can be found there are beavers, skunks, turtles, frogs, and even eels, which Ms. Rypkea says are currently getting ready for their migration south."I want to get people in here asking questions, exploring and observing and discovering things for themselves," she says. "That’s the goal that we’re going to have with our exhibits — to give people a tease of what the Marshlands have to offer, to whet their appetite. And then they’ll go out and explore these wonderful marshlands themselves."
The Tulpehaking Nature Center is located at 157 Westcott Ave., Hamilton. Family Fun Day will take place Oct. 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Kayak tours on Spring Lake will be offered Oct. 12 with tours leaving at 1 and 3 p.m. at Spring Lake. Tours cost $10. Reservations are required for tours, call 609-303-0704. For more information, call 609-303-0704.