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Live the Wild Life in Franklin Lakes

Connecting with Nature in Suburbia

Lace-up your hiking boots, grab your camera, find your binoculars, and take in some wildlife in your own backyard.

Located on Ewing Avenue in Franklin Lakes, the Lorrimer Sanctuary was bequeathed to the New Jersey Audubon Society by Ms. Lucine L. Lorrimer in 1956. The main house, which dates back to the late 1700s, is the Visitors’ Center and office. It served as New Jersey Audubon’s first headquarters.

As a privately supported, not-for-profit, New Jersey Audubon is the largest conservation organization in the State. It is an independent and separate entity from the National Audubon Society. New Jersey Audubon maintains stewardship of 34 sanctuaries and conducts its programs through seven staffed facilities.

Lorrimer Sanctuary Director Kirsten Holt says, “We have 14 acres here in Franklin Lakes, 11 of which have self-guided walking/hiking trails. It’s an awesome opportunity for people to connect with nature in the middle of suburbia.” As a wildlife sanctuary, all plants and animals are protected; however, members of the local deer population are not invited. They are kept off the property by an 8-foot fence to allow native plants and wildflowers to thrive. “The deer overbrowse the plant life, which severely impacts the forest’s biodiversity and vegetation. Keeping them away has allowed so many plants to come back, some of which have not been here for decades,” says Kirsten.

The Visitors’ Center has an exhibit and lecture room, a winter bird feeding station, interpretive displays, hands-on exhibits, and a gift shop, which benefits the Sanctuary. The shop is stocked with birdseed, birdhouses, feeders, and field guides focusing on environmental issues and programming.

The Lorrimer Center is not just “for the birds.” Kirsten emphasizes that their mission is to educate and disseminate information on conservation and the natural environment. The Center offers gardening programs, maple sugaring, apple cider (part of the property had once been an apple orchard), and spring wildflowers. Kirsten and her staff also offer opportunities for scout groups, Eagle Scout projects, summer camps, and class trips. Of course, they also provide all kinds of birding and natural photography classes as well. All in-person programs are held outdoors and are socially distant, and pre-registration is required. “Smaller groups make the experience more intimate and a better opportunity to see wildlife,” explains Kirsten.

New Jersey Audubon also offers guided Eco Travel opportunities led by members of their ornithology team. Once COVID restrictions are lifted, they’ll offer wildlife adventures in countries like Belize or Peru as well as domestic trips. “They are unique experiences. We hope to get them up for 2022 and expand them to other types of wildlife as well,” says Kirsten.

Lorrimer runs a popular firefly program in the summer, which provides education on the many firefly species and how observing them can be an excellent indicator of a community’s environmental health. New Jersey Audubon also sponsors a monarch butterfly monitoring program that primarily occurs in their Cape May facility. A tiny sticker is placed on the wing of a butterfly, and if found, information may be entered on a website to help track the migration routes between Mexico and Canada. The Franklin Lakes facility offers monarch programming as well.

It’s been an exciting time for the Lorrimer Sanctuary, which recently received a generous donation of $1m from the Winifred M. and George P. Pitkin Foundation. “It’s the largest donation that we’ve ever received. They are a great partner, and we are especially excited that the community can benefit from this gift as well,” says Kirsten. This gift, along with an additional donation of $500k, has gotten Lorrimer half-way to its goal of $3m for an ambitious renovation. “The Center has remained unchanged since the ’50s. This effort will include renovating the information center, indoor and outdoor spaces, and will expand our reach to the Franklin Lakes community and beyond,” says Kirsten. The Center sees about 5,000 visitors annually, but Kirsten’s goal is to double that number.

“It’s exciting to connect more people to the Center. Our staff is our biggest asset, and all of us have passion for the mission. A lot of people who come in have never been here before, even though they live nearby. Once they visit, they are hooked and make a point of coming back!”

The Center also sponsors seasonal plant sales. Springtime selections include milkweed plants (which attract monarch butterflies), native wildflowers, and other perennials that support local wildlife. Click on to pre-order and support the Sanctuary’s spring sale running from May 15-16.

“We want to get people to connect with nature. Our culture is designed to be busy—we want to create opportunities for people to slow down, take a walk, and enjoy nature,” says Kirsten.