By Michele S. Byers
Land conservation is often invisible. When a farm or forest is permanently preserved, it looks exactly the same, so many folks don’t notice something important has happened.
Michael Heffler, president of the Princeton Freewheelers bicycle club and a frequent ride leader, notices. He recently wrote an essay on what preserved open space means to him. I’m pleased to share it here:
“ ‘What’s going on inside your head?’ my mother asked. My young head was a jumble. ‘I don’t know.’
There was a lot of open space in my youthful head, a mix of imagination, fear, questions, crushes and a desire to learn. I was trying to figure things out. I’m still trying to figure things out.
Lately I’ve been educating myself on the open space around Lambertville. The main reason I moved to Lambertville was to get away from the ever-growing traffic and population in the suburbs.
Until recently, if someone had asked me, ‘Do you enjoy the open space around here?’ I would have said, ‘I don’t know.’ That answer, like my youthful one, was out of ignorance. The concept of open space wasn’t one I was familiar with. As much as I appreciated seeing the farms, the woods and fields, they were just there.
For someone who’s led rides with titles like “More Animals than Cars,” you would think that preserved land would be something I knew about. It’s beautiful. There are scenic vistas, open fields, and forests. More open space means less traffic; less traffic means more enjoyable cycling. It took a while for me to discover that open space organizations are working to make sure our area retains its beauty and charm.
I’m not sure that ignorance is bliss, but I am sure that knowledge provides the ability to appreciate our blessings and act wisely. I have never heard a cyclist say, ‘If only there was more traffic where we cycle!’ More open space equals better cycling.
I’ve cycled in France, Italy, the Berkshires and Oregon the last few years. Each time I came home, I realized our area is just as beautiful and we can help keep it this way.
There are problems in the world that don’t impact most of us directly and there are problems that do. Some are bigger than an individual can solve, like a broken tax system or climate change. There are other problems we have to solve, like paying bills.
Keeping our area beautiful, for ourselves and our children, is a problem with a ready solution, much like taking care of our health. With some action and forethought, we can all contribute to preserving open space.
There are local open space organizations whose staff and volunteers keep our area beautiful by buying and providing stewardship for the open space. This work benefits everyone, but it’s mostly invisible to us. When open space gets developed we notice. Developed land tends to stay developed.
My mother’s question keeps coming back. My answer is that what goes on in my head is much happier when I’m in a beautiful area doing what I enjoy. When you take the time to appreciate the Delaware River, the creeks, canal, the woods, the beautiful roads, and the fields, it will fill much more than your head.
There is a natural alignment between open space and the enjoyment of cycling. Give your support to local open space organizations to keep our area beautiful. It’s a great way to make sure the place you live is a place where you want to keep pedaling.”
Thank you to Michael for sharing, and happy cycling!
For more information about upcoming rides – including the April 14 Tour de Open Space in Hunterdon County, which the Princeton Freewheelers are co-sponsoring with New Jersey Conservation Foundation – go to princetonfreewheelers.com/pfwevents.
And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.