Jeff Hoagland is a lifelong naturalist and the Education Director for The Watershed Institute, a major force championing the environment on 950 stunning acres in Hopewell. The beauty and wildness of the natural world also inspires him creatively: He is a prolific poet whose haiku has been published many times over.
“In 1965, my family moved to a new development in Hopewell, where Washington Crossing State Park was literally in our backyard. Being constantly immersed in nature was a key force in shaping my identity [and igniting] my lasting wonder with the diverse collection of our plant and animal neighbors. When I was 10, I had an encounter with a knot of snakes emerging from their winter den. I tried to catch one, [but it] promptly bit me, so I released it. I repeated this action and the results were the same. [Then] a car stopped and a long-haired man in uniform emerged. Rather than scolding me, he coached me in the fine art of snake charming, indicating that mindset was as important as technique. He left, I caught a snake, and as I walked the half mile home, the snake seemed very at home as he crawled through my fingers. It turns out that this young man worked at the nature center.
Ten years later, I got a summer job at that same center and there was no looking back. After a stint there and at Point Reyes Bird Observatory, [in California], I got an offer to work at the Watershed’s summer camp in 1984 and never left—how could I? The Watershed has offered me a platform to celebrate nature on my own terms and to provide important education on the environment to thousands of people annually.
My wife, Michelle Hamilton, a Hopewell Elementary teacher, and I love Hopewell mostly for the people: a diverse bunch with a lively spirit and an interest in connection. Some of our favorite local hiking spots include the Watershed Reserve, the Sourland Mountain, the Jacobs Creek Trail, Rocky Brook Trail, and St. Michaels Farm Preserve. We also love to eat out, whether it’s breakfast at Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette, wood-fired pizza at Nomad Pizza, a cup of tea on Boro Bean’s porch, or locally crafted beer at Brick Farm Tavern and The Referend Bier Blendery. Hopewell Theater is a fun night out, whether for a movie or music.
The Watershed Institute remains at the center of my life. My work here continues to grow as we expand our work with secondary students, during the school year and through several weeklong summer High School Science Academies. We are planning programming that will put people on the water, in canoes, as part of an effort to increase Water I.Q. We will be expanding our adult-education program [and] increasing our outreach to nearby underserved teachers and students. We are lucky to have so much open space around us not just for our own enjoyment, but for all the ecological services it provides.”
—Rae Padulo (article originally appeared in Bricks & Mortar: Fall/Winter 2019, Vol. 6)