|Location||Trip Time||Travel Type|
|New Jersey||1 hour|
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Is a good life one that lets you live well? Or is it a life of doing good? The trails at St. Michaels wind around evidence that we don’t have to choose. The good life can be both. Agriculture is an essential part of the Hopewell Valley’s history. In managing the Farm Preserve, D&R Greenway aims to help preserve farming as a part of the local economy. The fenced fields around you are leased to a Hopewell Valley farmer. In some fields, sheep graze on pasture; in others, the farmer grows hay. From the beginning, this preserve was conceived as a place where farming would coexist with wildlife. The goal is to demonstrate sustainable, low-impact practices that don’t harm the land or our community. This is healthy farming. It yields not only a good living for the farmer but also a robust ecosystem. There’s no overgrazing or practices that kill off plant life and cause soil erosion. One of the most important healthy farming practices here benefits uncommon birds that nest in the fields. These meadowlarks, bobolinks and grasshopper sparrows are grassland birds that nest only in expansive fields of tall grass, including hayfields. Grasslands are vanishing throughout North America. But the Farm Preserve has hundreds of acres of open fields, which attract grassland birds during the nesting season in late spring and summer. To protect grassland birds, the hayfields located on the other side of the stream are only mowed outside the nesting season. That may mean the farmer gets one or two cuts of hay in a good-weather year, rather than three. Such careful farming practices have created reliable habitat to which birds return to breed year after year. One of these grassland bird species is the grasshopper sparrow, whose North American population has plummeted more than 70% since 1966. This precipitous decline is due to loss of habitat, in both their summer nesting grounds and their winter territory in Central America, where D&R Greenway has encouraged protection through a sister land trust. That grasshopper sparrows are nesting here at the Farm Preserve is cause for special celebration. These small, shy, brown birds are hard to spot among the tall grasses where they nest. They prefer to run along the ground rather than fly. It may be easier to hear the male’s buzzy song, which he declaims while perched high on a grass stem. Birders from the Washington Crossing Audubon Society have observed these birds moving around from year to year to select the “most perfect” field: one free of woody plants (where predators could perch) and that has moderately high grass, tall enough to provide cover but not so dense as to limit ground for running. A lightly grazed pasture or an unmowed hayfield is a perfect place to settle down. The good life? It’s right here. Healthy farming, happy birds. Fields that support a farmer and nurture a wider community.