There is little doubt that Anne Demarais has been a leader in open space preservation, outdoor education and trail development in Lawrence Township, and that’s why proponents are urging township officials to recognize her efforts.
Pointing to Demarais’ role in creating the Lawrence Greenway trail system, helping to save the Drexel Woods property from development, and creating the Bossio-Salt Preserve in the Eldridge Park neighborhood, several residents called on the Lawrence Township Council to honor her.
“If you have been involved in open space, you know Anne’s name,” resident Peter Wood told the Lawrence Township Council at its Oct. 5 meeting.
“Anne has been enormously influential in Lawrence, yet she has not been recognized officially with a plaque,” Wood said.
Wood urged the Township Council to pay attention to Demarais. While no decision was reached at the meeting, the council agreed to consider the residents’ request.
“Miss Anne,” as she was known to the children in the Eggerts Crossing Village affordable housing development, would frequently take the children on walks along the Johnson Trolley path, Wood said. She would give them illustrations of leaves and ask them to match the leaf with the species of tree.
Demarais wanted to teach the children to like and respect trees, Wood said. It was “very important” to Demarais, who was a teacher in upstate New York before moving to Lawrence, he said.
Eleanor Horne, who is the co-president of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail Corp., said Demarais is well-known for her service on the Lawrence Township Greenway Committee, beginning with its inception in 1990.
Demarais served as the co-director of the Friends of Lawrence Greenway, and volunteered at the Lawrence Nature Center, Horne said. She also pushed to preserve the Pole Farm on Cold Soil Road, which is now part of the Mercer Meadows Park.
“In 2002, when the idea for the Lawrence Hopewell Trail was born, we sought the advice of Anne Demarais because everyone said she was a huge advocate of trails and open space,” Horne said. The Lawrence Hopewell Trail is a 22-mile-long pedestrian and bicycle path that links the two towns.
“Anne provided much of the leadership that resulted in early work on trails in Lawrence Township,” Horne said.
Demarais, who became one of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail’s main supporters, also had advocated for a pedestrian bridge over I-95 to connect north and south Lawrence, Horne said.
“Anne was adamant about the need for the bridge that it was suggested that the bridge should be called Anne’s Span. When she was criticized for advocating for a bridge to nowhere, she insisted that a bridge over I-95 was a bridge to everywhere,” Horne said.
Now, 20-plus years later, a group of local, county and regional trail advocates has picked up the charge and is following in Demarais’ footsteps, trying to make the bridge over I-95 a reality, she said.
“When Anne is determined to see something happen, it usually does happen. Now, a group of Anne’s biggest fans are determined to see that Anne’s many accomplishments are recognized by the town she loves dearly,” Horne told the council.
Terri Gabriell said she has known Demarais for more than 40 years, and she has always worked diligently to preserve the natural treasures of the township and to make them accessible to everyone.
“Anne has worked to save open space throughout the township, and to create a greenway – a walking path – to tie them together,” Gabriell said.
“It has been an enduring and creative task, and we owe Anne a debt of gratitude for her vision and tireless work,” she said.
When the residents had finished making their pitch, all that Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt could say was, “Wow.”
“I thought I knew Anne, but I think I need to know her a little bit more,” Bobbitt said.
Mayor Jim Kownacki said he was aware of Demarais and her efforts – especially her involvement in helping to create the Lawrence Nature Center at the end of Drexel Avenue.
“This Township Council will review everything we heard,” Kownacki said, thanking the residents for coming out to support Demarais.