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Monday, August 16, 2021

Walk in the Park: Volunteering and Future Plans


Growing up I spent quite a lot of time in the fields and woodlands of northeast Missouri. After coming to New Jersey in 2005, by way of New Mexico and Brazil before that, I've had little opportunity to soak in the sounds, scents, and scenes of the woods. At the same time I always had green growing things in my home and when the opportunity arose I planted a garden. 

Several months ago I was looking for volunteer opportunities that would get me out into the woods or tending gardens. After having no success with the state or other local programs, all suspended due to COVID, the Parks & Recreation department of Middlesex County, New Jersey got back to me. They were looking for trail walkers to report on issues along the trails, and possibly even effect repairs. It was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for, and I opted to regularly check on Thompson Park Conservation Area. here's a bit about from the county website:

The Thompson Park Conservation Area was saved through the cooperative efforts of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Township of Monroe and the State of NJ, Green Acres Program. The initial purchase of land from the Bank of China was in July of 2000 and additional properties are continually added to this remarkable area. The series of County land parcels total 925-acres. Combined with the existing 675-acre Thompson Park and 335-acres of adjacent State owned land, the total preserved open space in this part of Monroe Township is nearly 2000 acres. 
 
The conservation area stretches south from Thompson Park and Schoolhouse Road along the Gravel Hill. It is dominated by heavily wooded forests and lowland swamps along the Manalapan Brook. Parts of the area also continue to support local agriculture, with farmers growing corn and soybeans.

It really is a lovely area. Some of the trails are used more than others, and my favorite to walk just for more quiet is the Gravel Hill Trail. 

With the building fire that destroyed practically everything I own my plans for monitoring the trails have been postponed. This will be a year-round commitment, though, and summer youth corp groups have already cleared and effected repairs in the past couple of months. As soon as I'm settled into a new apartment I intend to acquire the basic tools and equipment and set a schedule for my tours. 

There is slightly more to this than the sense of well-being I experience in the woods. It's true that there I'm able to clear my thoughts by focusing on the sounds of singing birds and rustling leaves. My affection for woodlands and gardening needs a better outlet. Volunteering in this way is one step, and another I will be taking along academic lines. Without giving up on working towards an MDiv, by any means, I am also now enrolled at the University of Missouri for an online course in Agroforestry. While currently I am non-degree seeking, if this goes well and the subject matter works for me I'll apply to enter the Master of Science program to focus on the topic. 

What I want to do is bring together community development, project management, pastoral care, and agroforestry in one ministry. What exactly that will look like remains to be seen, but that's the general shape of it. As I mentioned in my last entry, my desire for biblical studies seems to have gone away completely, so the way has been cleared to shift my focus to something else that I find incredibly meaningful.