Deptford, New Jersey, is known mainly for its huge shopping mall, located just off Route 42 which becomes the Atlantic City Expressway. Two miles away is the Old Pine Farm Natural Lands Trust.
In 1954, Quaker activists Lillian and George Willoughby bought a farmhouse in then-rural Deptford Township along Big Timber Creek. Lillian’s father left her money that she used to buy 35 acres of woods, meadows, and wetlands next to their house a few years after his death. In 1974, they established the first land trust for the property. In 1992, the property was incorporated as the Old Pine Farm Natural Lands Trust. Today, the trust is undergoing a major development that will be of major interest to Friends.
The 1992 trust was established with an official board. For the first few years, members spent hundreds of hours removing trash bags full of garbage and junk. Large industrial tires got stuck in the small streams that merge into the contiguous Big Timber Creek, and we had to use all our energy to haul them out.
Later, we created a trail that went down the hill, through the woods, and across the meadow to the creek. Some Boy Scouts asked if we would like them to build benches along the trail and a picnic table by the creek. We could hardly say no! We have continued to add simple improvements over the years, such as a sign at the entrance, additional trails, and reliable steps at one steeper section.
Throughout this time, we regularly communicated with the Deptford Township government. Occasionally, parcels of land were donated to the township. If the land could not be used, it was offered to the trust. Gradually, the Old Pine Farm grew to its current size of 46 acres.
We have learned that the board needs to spend half its energy in caring for the land and half its energy in educating neighbors about the trust. Therefore, we hold an annual public meeting featuring a speaker who talks about some element of nature found on the trust. Last year the speaker was Jeanne Woodford of the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford Lakes, N.J.
Another annual event is a fundraising potluck meal including dishes donated by board members. It is held behind the Willoughby house. At the last event, local dulcimer musicians added their talents, and a cluster of chickadees joined in, making the music even sweeter!
We held our second annual “Fright Night” just before Halloween in 2012. Once again, Boy Scouts helped out by creating ghoulish sounds and “creatures” that provided a spooky experience for visitors. Our hope to raise funds was fulfilled. More importantly, neighbors were able to experience the land trust so it’s more likely they will come back even when it is not late October!
The board holds a work day each month when members and friends carry out chores such as collecting fallen branches and picking up trash. Also each month, the chairman of the board leads a “Walk in the Wild,” a time when people become acquainted with nature in the woods and meadow. In November 2012, the topic was how plants prepare themselves for winter.
The house where the Willoughby’s lived was built in 1702. Various additions have been built, including a bedroom and a small bath on the ground floor. Sally, one of George and Lillian’s daughters, who has amazing talents in woodworking, rebuilt the kitchen cabinets and kitchen floor. A few years ago, the family discovered that the ceiling over the living room was sagging, and Sally learned how to stabilize and strengthen it. She also built a new living room floor and a walkway from the front door to the driveway. After George and Lillian died, Sally decided that she wanted to move to another home. The land trust board is currently raising money to buy the house and turn it into a real center for the organization. The New Jersey Green Acres program has given permission to include the building as part of the land trust—a unique ruling.
George Willoughby always had the dream for Old Pine Farm to have a building to be used as a community and nature center, where visitors can get maps of the trails, and learn about the plants and animals living on the trust and about various trust activities. Some of the land near the house has potential to be used by the South Jersey Organic Gardening group. In fact, the possibility to tend a garden on nearby land broadens the vision of the trust.
The board needs to raise $50,000 more to meet the final expenses to buy the house. Tax-deductible contributions can be made online at oldpinefarm.org/bigtimbercreek/house.php or by check (made out to “Old Pine Farm” and mailed to: Old Pine Farm Natural Lands Trust, 340 Pine Avenue, Deptford, NJ 08096).