About the Center
The Birth of the Demarest Nature Center
In 1971, a group of citizens began to address the issue of preserving some of the remaining open spaces in Demarest. Of particular interest was a parcel of town-owned land bordered by Columbus Road on the west and County Road on the east. The piece wrapped around Wakelee Field and the Demarest Swim Club and included acreage on both sides of the railroad tracks. It was also contiguous to a protected wooded area in the neighboring borough of Closter. Sections of the tract had been used for many years as an open dump, but other parts included acres of virgin woodland.
The committee, as yet unnamed, appealed to the Demarest Mayor and Council to set aside the land as a protected natural preserve and, after much discussion, the administration agreed to a two-year trial period which temporarily protected it from development. On the fourth of December, 1972, a group of 15 individuals, 14 of them from Demarest, formally signed incorporation papers bringing into legal existence the Demarest Nature Center Association, a not-for-profit corporation. Luther Lee Emerson was elected to be its first president. In 1973, again after considerable debate, the mayor and Council granted the Association a 41-year lease, for the sum of $1.00 per year.
Originally, the association had requested that 77 acres be included in the nature center. However, the final number of acres was reduced to 55, with 22 acres reserved for possible DPW or recreational uses. Nevertheless, from the point of view of the wildlife living in the nature center, the protected area is much larger than 55—or even 77—acres, including, as it does, Wakelee Field, the Demarest Playground, the Swim Club, areas used by the DPW, and the contiguous Closter tract.
Growth of the Demarest Nature Center
Since 1971, The Demarest Nature Center Association, in cooperation with the people of Demarest, has been working toward the fulfillment of the original goals. A full history has yet to be written, but some of the highlights are included here.
The first of the annual “clean up the woods days” was held on the eigth of April 1972. Since the area had been neglected for years and actually included an old dump, volunteers pulled out an amazing amount and variety of refuse. An entire 40′ Dumpster, parked in the swim club parking lot, was filled to capacity. The refuse included tires, paint buckets, construction materials, discarded clothes and toys, an automobile engine block and fender, discarded beverage and food containers, and much, much more. The 1973 clean-up was much the same, including another engine block and more tires. Thankfully, clean-up days held in recent years have yielded far less.
Over the next few years, trails were laid out, sometimes utilizing pre-existing paths. A newsletter was begun, programs for all ages were held, one bridge was repaired, and another was built. The logo came into being when a Great Blue Heron was spotted wading in the Tenakill Brook in the nature center. Henry Duffy, the son of Dr. Philip Duffy, one of the original trustees, sketched the large bird and incorporated the drawing into the logo used today.