To paraphrase Dorothy, sometimes the very thing you are looking for is no further than your own backyard. That’s how I feel about Mercer County Park, the 2,500-acre multi-use facility just a few miles from my home. This four-square mile park has been the site of numerous family bike rides, picnics, 4th of July firework shows, and outdoor concerts.
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The park has 17 athletic fields, a tennis center, ice skating rink, 5 paved miles of cross country and mountain bike trails, a dog park and a marina that is home to the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team. In the Spring they have hosted Dragon Boat races to benefit Paddle for Pink; in the fall they have hosted Beerfest.
Mercer County Park also holds a special place in my heart for the hiking trails. They are flat and easy to follow. I like to begin my hikes from the West Picnic Area. If you take the Red Trail to the right it will weave you through the woods. This trail takes you to the Roger’s House. Built from land acquired through the 1960’s and 70’s, the park has a rich local history. The open area ruins of the Roger’s House still stand. Constructed in 1761, this is believed to be the oldest structure in West Windsor.
If you take the Yellow Trail to the left from the parking lot you can walk around Mercer Lake. This is a paved trail, so watch out for bikers. This trail not only gives you beautiful lake views, you also have the opportunity to observe our nesting pair of Bald Eagles across the lake. The Boy Scouts have erected a small viewing area and I have been fortunate enough to observe eagles in flight as well as perched on the nest with their young. Great Blue Herons are also frequent visitors to the lake so bring your camera!
Walking the Yellow Trail along Mercer Lake I have observed some of the biggest mushroom caps I have ever seen. In season, this park is haven for those of us that get a thrill out of these mycological delights. The Yellow Trail will intersect with the Red Trail. If you want to keep walking around the lake switch to the Red. The woods are often frequented by deer so keep your eyes open for company. Also note, during the winter the park does have controlled hunting and certain trails are closed to the public in hunting season.
Mercer County Park is a wildlife oasis in the heart of our suburbia. If you want to see ground hogs enter from Old Trenton Road at dawn or dusk. You are bound to see the furry heads poking out of the numerous burrows that line the access road. In addition to the previously mentioned deer, eagles and herons there are also wild turkeys, grey squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, song birds, beavers and hawks that frequent the park. Bring your camera when you come to hike here; there’s no better feeling than exercising your body and getting that one great shot!
All photos by the author. Follow her on Instagram.