Without Anne Demarais, there likely would not have been a Lawrence Greenways trail network, nor would Drexel Woods, at the southern end of Drexel Avenue, have been saved from development.
The Pole Farm at Mercer Meadows Park on Cold Soil Road likely also would have been developed, and Demarais was also a leading advocate for the 22-mile-long Lawrence Hopewell Trail that links the two townships.
For all of those reasons and to recognize Demarais’ work in open space preservation and trail creation, the Lawrence Township Council is renaming the Lawrence Nature Center in her honor. It will be known as the Anne Demarais Nature Center of Lawrence Township.
Lawrence Township purchased the 37-acre Drexel Woods parcel in 1998 for open space preservation. It was one of the last remaining wooded parcels in the southern end of the township, and was slated for residential development.
A short time later, Lawrence Township purchased a brick ranch house – known informally as the Rinck House, after the couple who built it – next to Drexel Woods. The house became the centerpiece and the headquarters of the Lawrence Nature Center.
The renaming of the Lawrence Nature Center is the culmination of efforts by several residents to find a way to honor Demarais, who is a former president of the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center.
The result of those efforts was a resolution to rename the Lawrence Nature Center for Demarais, which was unanimously adopted by the Lawrence Township Council at its Dec. 7 meeting.
The resolution noted that Demarais, who is a longtime resident of the township, had dedicated her time and efforts to create “thoughtful and rewarding recreational and educational experiences throughout the community.”
Demarais understood that it was necessary to build a coalition among like-minded residents, business owners, educators and township officials to work together to achieve anything of lasting value to the community, the resolution said.
Demarais worked together with them to create “such special natural destinations as the Lawrence Greenway, the trails at Drexel Woods, the Lawrence Nature Center and the Lawrence Hopewell Trail,” the resolution said.
Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said that writing the resolution was challenging because there was so much information because Demarais had done so much for Lawrence Township. It is easier to write a resolution for someone who has accomplished one or two things, he said.
“Anne, you have done so much, we couldn’t get it all in the resolution,” Nerwinski said.
Mayor Jim Kownacki recalled working with Demarais to create the greenway path along the former Johnson Trolley line in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood.
“You have made Lawrence Township a better town to live in, a better town for children to play in. Thank you for everything you have done for this township,” Kownacki said.
Demarais declined to comment during the meeting.
“I think it is very telling, after (Kownacki) read the resolution and he asked you to say something and you said ‘no.’ Your actions speak much louder than words,” Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt said.
Lawrence Township Council members Cathleen Lewis, Michael Powers and John Ryan also congratulated Demarais.
Powers told Demarais that she was a “tremendous advocate” and that the Township Council appreciates what she has done over the years.
A ceremony to rename the Lawrence Nature Center for Demarais will be held in the spring, township officials said.