Freneau Woods: A Wild New Addition to Monmouth County Parks

May 11, 2018
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Monmouth County Park Naturalist Jason Goldman paused along a path during a tour of Freneau Woods park to explain the difference between oak tree varieties. The park is accessible from the parking lot at 360 Monastery Lane in Aberdeen. Photo by Christina Johnson

By Michaela Boneva |

ABERDEEN – The Monmouth County Park System has started to promote one of its newest parks, Freneau Woods, a 220-acre – and still growing – park along Matawan Creek and Lake Lefferts in Aberdeen. The park is named after poet Philip Freneau, who was nicknamed the “Poet of the American Revolution” and who grew up in Monmouth County.

At a recent “Splendid Spring Stroll,” a guided walk through Freneau Woods, a few people came to see the park, including Middletown residents Kathy and Dave Cofield and two young boys, Milan and Roman, who live nearby the park and frequently visit it. Park guides Jason Goldman and Bridget Jones took the group through several of the park’s trails.

The park currently has about four main trails that are still being worked on to make them more accessible. Prior to the Freneau Woods becoming a park of the Monmouth County Park System, children would ride quads through the trails, which are the same ones being adapted for walking now. Milan and Roman even knew some shortcut trails, not for the faint of heart though because they’re less easy to walk.

Along the first trail of the stroll, visitors were taken to a vernal pond that is home to countless frogs before it dries up in the late summer. The frogs’ green heads could be spotted above the water in several spots. Bird calls could be heard throughout the walk, including the striking alarm call of a blue jay. More frogs, as well as a great blue heron, live by a larger pond in the woods. Along the trail of the pond, visitors can see various trees, such as birch trees, recognized by the distinct smell of their leaves, tulip trees that grow very straight and tall, and oaks that have papery, peeling bark.

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This peeling bark makes a great home for flying squirrels and bats, which can be seen in the park later at night. A good opportunity for this is the Starry Night Hike in Freneau on Aug. 25. Bats tend to fly in irregular patterns while flying squirrels will glide, likely closer to the ground, making it easier for visitors to spot.

Freneau Woods is a passive park, with four trails and active wildlife. Presently the two sections of the park are not linked for pedestrians due to natural obstacles, but there is a future plan to address that with a footbridge. Photo by Christina Johnson

Freneau Woods has more great habitats for various animals. On the other side of the park, separated by a stream that might soon have a short bridge for easy crossing, there is a large freshwater pond, home to herons, fish, snapping turtles, and red-winged blackbirds.

Around the pond is a vast, flat expanse of wild growth and fields that were once part of Fariello farms. In late summer, the fields will transform into meadows of goldenrod and purple aster.

An aspect of the park still in development is the building at the main entrance on Monastery Lane. The building, once part of a military academy and more recently a monastery, is in the process of being made into a visitor’s center that will have activities and nature exhibits. Also in the works is a plan for a long-term exhibit of succession, or the process of a field becoming a forest and so on. Using controlled mowing of the various parts of the park, Monmouth County Parks hopes to show this process to visitors.

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An exhibit like this would include the whole park, from the meadows to the wooded areas. The soon-to-be meadowy areas were Dave’s favorite part of the park while Kathy’s favorite were the frogs that dwell in the ponds. Both pointed out that Freneau Woods is different from the other parks in the county because it’s still wild and rustic. “I like going to different parks, seeing the woods, you know. Each one is a little individual.” Kathy said of the different Monmouth County parks.

This article was first published in the May 10-17, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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