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‘All originated with Anne’

Lawrence Nature Center renamed Anne Demarais Nature Center after longtime preservation advocate. PHOTO BY LEA KAHN/STAFF

Lawrence Nature Center renamed Anne Demarais Nature Center after longtime preservation advocate

For more than 30 years, Anne Demarais has pushed for trail development, open space preservation and outdoor education in Lawrence Township.

Demarais’ efforts were recognized when a sign renaming the Lawrence Nature Center in her honor was unveiled April 22.

The ceremonial unveiling of the new sign coincided with Earth Day.

Dozens of Demarais’ friends and supporters gathered to help her celebrate the event at the newly renamed Anne Demarais Nature Center at 481 Drexel Ave.

Asked whether she had anything to say, Demarais quietly said “no.”

Township Councilman James Kownacki and David Mizenko, who sits on the Trails, Open Space and Stewardship Committee, welcomed Demarais’ friends and supporters to the event.

“We went to the Township Council about a year-and-a-half ago (to seek a way to honor Demarais). This far exceeded my personal expectations,” Mizenko said of renaming the Lawrence Nature Center for Demarais.

Demarais was crucial to the creation of the Lawrence Nature Center and of the preservation of the one-story brick house that became its headquarters, Mizenko said. The house was known as the Rinck House, for the family that built it.

Mizenko said he met Demarais through her work on the Lawrence Greenway trails in the 1990s. He was living in Trenton and met her when she gave a presentation on the trail project.

The Lawrence Township Greenway Committee wanted to create an eight-mile-long loop of trails that followed the stream corridor, starting and ending at the Shabakunk Creek in southern Lawrence Township.

The trail made its way to Colonial Lake and Brunswick Pike/Route 1 to the Lawrence Library. It followed the Five-Mile-Run creek off Stonicker Drive to Turtleback Park and back to Rider University and the Shabakunk Creek.

Demarais also was instrumental in helping to preserve the Drexel Avenue Woods, which was slated to become a single-family-home subdivision in the 1990s. Lawrence Township bought the land for open space preservation and added to it by purchasing the adjacent Rinck House property.

Lawrence Township officials were considering demolishing the Rinck House, which was in poor condition. Demarais thought about it and suggested renovating it to become the headquarters for a nature center, Mizenko said.

Demarais also played a role in encouraging the creation of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail. The 22-mile-long trail links Lawrence and Hopewell townships.

When Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. considered creating an off-road trail for bicyclists and pedestrians in 2001, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. representative Becky Taylor approached Demarais and the Greenway Committee about the concept, he said. The Educational Testing Service signed onto the creation of a trail, also.

Demarais was supportive of the proposed Lawrence Hopewell Trail, Mizenko said.

“There would be no Lawrence Hopewell Trail without Anne,” he said.

Now, Lawrence Township officials are hoping to buy the Lavender family farm for open space preservation, Mizenko said. The property borders the Shabakunk Creek. Demarais  has been talking about the Lavender farm property for 20 years, he said.

“It all originated with Anne,” Mizenko said.

Lawrence Nature Center renamed Anne Demarais Nature Center after longtime preservation advocate. PHOTO BY LEA KAHN/STAFF
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