The New Jersey Audubon Society has completed a state-of-the-art facility at Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education, designed to meet the growing needs of the state's conservation community. It is here, embraced by the protected scenic landscape of the Somerset Hills, that the pristine headwaters of the Passaic River wind their way through the forest. School children discover biological indicators that determine water quality; educators learn to integrate the environment into their classroom lessons; conservation and government leaders gain important insight into forest ecology; birders gather to share stories and sightings while honing their skills and expertise, and homeowners realize the benefits of backyard habitat gardening.
Lively seasonal displays and rotating exhibits by area school children and local artists line the building's hallways. Opposite the center's nature store, illustrative panels convey New Jersey Audubon's three-fold mission. Around the corner, an elevator rises to an outdoor tree-top observation deck for a canopy perspective of the more than 175 bird species known to frequent the sanctuary. From this vantage point, guests can peer eye-to-eye with a state-threatened Coopers Hawk nesting in the vicinity; experience the magic of a spring warbler fallout without craning their necks, or listen for the haunting hoots of a Great-horned Owl calling to its mate beneath a January moon.
The new center was annexed to the former home of G. Frederick Hoffman, founder of the Hoffman Beverage Company. The post-depression era dwelling has provided office and classroom space for close to four decades, and now houses NJ Audubon staff. Portions of the Hoffman estate had been donated to NJ Audubon between 1973 and 1981, when a final tract was bequeathed to the Society upon Mr. Hoffman's death at the age of 97. These parcels, along with the initial 125-acre tract donated by Harry and Bernadine Scherman several years earlier, combine to protect a total of 276 acres of woodland, field and floodplain habitat that supports some 200 species of wildlife throughout the year.
For the past five years, a section of forest at the heart of the sanctuary has been fenced-off, and through extensive eradication of non-native and invasive plants, coupled with a respite from deer browsing, native vegetation has re-grown. A Forest Health Interpretive Trail bisects the "exclosed" woodland, guiding visitors on an educational journey through the regenerated native spicebush, maple leaf viburnum, bloodroot, Solomon's seal and numerous saplings sprouting in the leaf litter.
Sanctuary managers have also established vernal ponds on the property that sustain plants, animals and invertebrates that would otherwise not occur in the landscape. The ponds should eventually attract indicator species, like Barred Owl and Red-shouldered Hawk (threatened in NJ) that depend on a diet of amphibians, to breed at the sanctuary once again. Finally, the grounds directly surrounding the new center have been re-landscaped with carefully selected native plantings that attract a host of insects, birds and mammals. The native gardens will also serve as models for local residents interested in attracting wildlife, conserving water, and reducing the use of agents detrimental to the environment.
To find out more about New Jersey Audubon, Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, the Hoffman Center for Conservation and Environmental Education, visit New Jersey Audubon's website.
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