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William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest

 
 

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HMF Caretaker Yard in Fall

What is the Hutcheson Memorial Forest? The Hutcheson Memorial Forest (HMF) is a unique area consisting of one of the last uncut forests in the Mid-Atlantic states, along with the surrounding lands devoted to protection of the old forest and research into ecological interactions necessary to understand the forest. The tract is administered and protected by Rutgers University. It consists of the 26 ha Mettler's Woods, the primeval, mixed oak forest, which is one of the last uncut stands of this sort of forest in the United States. It is apparently the only uncut upland forest in New Jersey, and appears on the National Park Service Register of Natural Landmarks.

The old forest is surrounded by more than 200 ha of young forest, abandoned agricultural fields undergoing plant succession, and the research plots. The forest and surrounding land is one of the most intensively studied areas in North America. For example, the long term studies of birds and of vegetation change after agricultural abandonment are some of the longest running studies of this kind, anywhere. The research conducted at HMF has resulted in more than 250 scientific publications, and is known worldwide for long-term ecological, botanical and zoological research.

What is the history of the Forest? The recorded history of Mettler's Woods begins in 1701 when the area was acquired by a consortium of Dutch settlers. The old forest was maintained without exploitation by descendants of the original settlers. The average age of living white oak trees in the forest is 235 years. Some trees that have died within the past two decades have been as old as 350 years. The old trees record ground fires in their growth rings at about 11 year intervals up to 1711. Such fires may well have been set by Native Americans for improving productivity of the understory or driving game in the region. Other disturbances have included windthrow of old canopy trees by storms, and defoliation by peak gypsy moth populations. No timber has ever been cut, nor the soil turned within the forest.

In contrast to the history of the forest, the adjacent lands were plowed or pastured for several hundred years. These fields now serve as a contrast to the old forest in scientific studies, as a buffer from damaging human encroachment into the old forest, and as a nature reserve in their own right in an increasingly urban landscape. Stark contrasts in soil erosion and structure, microclimate and plant and animal communities between the old forest and the surrounding land that has been so strongly affected by humans, is one of the important features of HMF. 

Dedication of HMF

How did the Forest come to be preserved? The Hutcheson Memorial Forest has enjoyed the interest and active support of many people and organizations in preserving the primeval oak forest. The Citizen's Committee for the Preservation of Mettler's Woods was the first organization devoted to saving the woods when development threatened. The Committee raised funds from private donors throughout New Jersey and the U.S. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners clenched the initial preservation effort with a donation to purchase the property in 1955. The Nature Conservancy has been a long time supporter and partner with Rutgers in the preservation of HMF. Franklin Township and the New Jersey Green Acres Program have been instrumental in recent efforts to bolster protection and buffering of the Forest. Thus, the Hutcheson Memorial Forest, named for William L. Hutcheson, a past President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, is a prime example of cooperation and partnership in conservation.

How can people see the Forest? The public is welcome on the regularly scheduled tours given on Sundays throughout the year. These tours are led by Rutgers University faculty who volunteer their time. The tours take from about an hour to two hours in length. Depending on the expertise of the tour leader, the interest of the group, and what is flowering, flying, calling or crawling, various aspects of natural history, forest ecology, conservation issues and ecological relationships are pointed out and discussed. There is no need for reservations, but groups of more than ten (10) people, or people wishing a tour at some other time, must arrange for a private tour. Such private tours are led by graduate students in ecology and biology. In order to arrange a tour, write or email at least two weeks in advance, to:


Director, Hutcheson Memorial Forest
Department of Ecology, Evolution & Natural Resources
Rutgers University
14 College Farm Road
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

hmfdirector@aesop.rutgers.edu

 

Tour Schedule