Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that preservation of Princeton’s open space and biodiversity requires a combination of legal protection and habitat restoration. Many factors, including invasions of exotic species, fragmentation of natural areas, past plowing and removal of key predators, have created ecological imbalances that nature itself cannot mend.
In 2006, FOPOS hired Steve Hiltner as a part-time natural resources manager to work on preserving and enhancing native plant diversity, restoring habitats, and community outreach. Working with community volunteers, Steve undertook many projects at Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve such as the native-plant rain garden near the house and wildlife habitat restoration areas near the streams. He also initiated projects at other parks and schools. Steve was succeeded by AeLin Compton, who built on work he started to create a detailed and visionary management plan for Mountain Lakes Preserve and neighboring Mountain Lakes North and John Witherspoon Woods. The plan includes many maps of soils, plant communities and other data, as well as goals for each sub-management area. AeLin was succeeded by Adam Schellhammer, who continued to work on, and add to our management plan. Today, the stewardship effort is led by Natural Resources Manager, Jeff Geist. Jeff has a degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources. He has previously worked for the NJ Department of Agriculture, practicing invasive species management.
The management plan for the greater Mountain Lakes Preserve area includes an evaluation of existing biological communities, and outlines major goals and strategies to guide stewardship efforts. The plan calls for aggressive and strategic control of invasive species, which are a major source of degradation to Princeton’s plant communities and biodiversity. It also outlines steps to facilitate forest regeneration, improve wildlife habitat, and enhance Mountain Lakes Preserve’s value as a source of recreation and education for the community.
FOPOS works to accomplish these goals with the help of partnering organizations and volunteers within the community. Students from local schools, church groups, individual volunteers, corporate volunteer programs and summer interns have all contributed to the effort to shift the balance from invasive to native species. We currently have five fenced areas where we are working to regenerate a native forest environment, protected from deer browse until it is well established. Our trails committee and volunteers are critical to maintaining the trail system throughout Mountain Lakes Preserve and several other parks (such as John Witherspoon Woods, Community Park North and Tusculum).