Helen Woodman Natural Area
Far Hills, Somerset County
About Helen Woodman Natural Area
The Helen Woodman Natural Area was established on February 9, 1968 when Carl and Betsy Shirley of Bernardsville deeded 22 acres of land adjacent to the Far Hills Fairgrounds to the Upper Raritan Watershed Association (now RHA). With nearly 2,000 feet of frontage on the North Branch of the Raritan River, the donation of this wooded floodplain was a major gift to us and to the citizens of the region.
The land had been subdivided in the 1930’s, and in the 1950’s was proposed for development. Under the leadership of one of URWA’s founders, Helen Woodman, citizens fought the proposal and eventually the land was purchased by the Shirley’s late in 1967. They immediately transferred ownership to us, asking that the tract be used for conservation, open space preservation, conservation education and flood plain protection. Originally called the Far Hills Floodplain Preserve, the name was later changed at a dedication event in October of 1983 to honor Helen for her tenacity and effectiveness as one of the state’s foremost catalysts for floodplain protection. Three small lots were added to the site in 1979 when Nelson and Leola Wortman deeded them to URWA.
The tract has long served as a stormwater detention area and purifier, and a groundwater recharge area. Unlike the smaller, narrow floodplains of RHA’S Hollow Brook and William Post Preserves, large-magnitude floods occur from time to time in the Helen Woodman Natural Area. Recent samples from our water monitoring program have produced a fairly high family biotic index, indicating low levels of pollution in the North Branch flowing past the site.
The wooded floodplain has been recognized as a valuable wildlife habitat area, although unfortunately the land’s conservation value has been degraded over time. Surrounding land uses have led to the introduction of non-native, highly invasive plant species. Healthy populations of native plants are primarily found in the wet areas of the site, although the forest does contain some beautiful hardwood trees including Sycamore, Ash, Maple and Oak.
As is the case with all of our preserves, the Helen Woodman Natural Area is open to the public for passive recreational purposes. The preserve is used by trout fishermen, walkers, joggers and people who simply enjoy observing the natural world.
Plan Your Visit
For directions to the site from your location, follow this link. Parking is available at the Far Hills Fairgrounds. The entrance to the Natural Area is about a hundred yards along the river trail maintained by Far Hills, where you will see a “Helen Woodman Natural Area” sign at the beginning of RHA’s property. Restroom facilities are available at the Far Hills Fairgrounds.
Please be aware that the Visiting Nurse Association conducts large rummage sales at the Fairgrounds the first weekend of April and the first weekend of October each year, and access to the Natural Area is limited during the sales.
A trail runs parallel to the river and fishing is allowed in the trout-stocked waters.
Volunteer projects at this property include trash removal, trail maintenance and invasive plant removal. Please contact Lauren Theis at email@example.com for information about volunteer projects.
Stewardship projects on this property include invasive plant surveying and removal, as well as litter removal during our annual Stream Clean Up, and trail upkeep. Annual surveys are also performed.