Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strolling like the rich folks at Huber Woods

Among the multimillion dollar estates lining the Navesink River in Middletown, birds and other creatures find homes, too. The wooded tracts that obscure celebrities’ homes are the domain of a wealth of wildlife, largely inaccessible to the average person, but for Huber Woods, preserved open space with a beautiful alpine-style mansion. It’s a relatively short drive from Sandy Hook, and Ivan and I checked it out a few weeks ago after a trip to Fort Hancock.

So how is it that a county park arises on land that’s probably worth several million dollars? The property itself was once the home of the Huber family, who’d emigrated from Germany in the late 1800’s to develop markets for their ink business, which eventually became JM Huber. At first, they merely vacationed in the area, but they later bought land and built their home here and then planned for the preservation of the woods and surrounding lands upon the deaths of Hans and Catherine, the second generation of Hubers. The company later donated additional land and the home to Monmouth County to complete the park.

Today, the home is an environmental center, focusing on educating young children about nature and the surrounding habitat. It’s welcoming and comfortable, and you can imagine the Hubers inviting many friends there for casual dinners after a good hike through the woods.

But… we weren’t there for the house. We came for the birds, and though we were there at mid to late afternoon, there was plenty of singing to be heard as we set into the woods. There are about eight miles of trails, with varying degrees of difficulty and special designations for horseback riding and nature observation. You can guess where we went.

Not expecting much, the stroll was nicely productive. For example, we saw a pair of nuthatches popping into and out of a hole in a tree trunk, most likely keeping an eye on their nest. Not far away, we saw a scarlet tanager working its way around. (Honestly, they’re one of my new favorites, particularly because I can spot them easily and they sport the Rutgers colors, scarlet and black.) The usual culprits – catbirds and robins and blue jays – were showing themselves, too.

We didn’t go very far into the woods but it’s clearly a good place to check out at a later date, probably earlier in the day and later in the season. Such an easy destination from one of my favorite haunts, and located in the midst of beautiful countryside – there’s no reason not to return.

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