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D&R Greenway Honors Trail Builder Ted Thomas with Annual Conservation Award

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Princeton, N.J.—When we hike a trail and admire the views, we may not be thinking of the individuals who toiled, often as volunteers, to build that trail. This year, in presenting its annual Donald B. Jones Conservation Award, D&R Greenway is honoring one such remarkable individual. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Those words certainly speak of the accomplishments of Ted Thomas, who has built trails around Mountain Lakes, on Baldpate Mountain and around the central New Jersey region.

The Donald B. Jones Award will be presented at D&R Greenway’s Greenway Gala on Sunday, May 6, 4-6 p.m., in Meredith’s Garden for Inspiration at the Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton. For tickets call 609-924-4646 or visit www.drgreenway.org.

Ted Thomas’s interest in land preservation grew from his lifelong passion for hiking. A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, he attended summer camp in Vermont where he developed a love for hiking. “It’s the view when you get to the top,” he says of the enjoyment he receives, as well as the chance to be outdoors. “I’d rather be hiking on a trail than walking down a street. There’s so much more natural beauty.” The 89-year-old, along with his wife, Penny, hikes out west every summer, frequently joined by their four adult children.

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Thomas studied engineering at Princeton University, then served four years as a Navy pilot “before my wife talked me out of it. It was a great way to get an around-the-world cruise, but Penny didn’t see it as a route to longevity.” (And as for seeing the world, the couple has cycled through Mexico, France, Italy, England, Vietnam, New Zealand and beyond.)

For more than three decades, Thomas worked for an electrical manufacturer, but all the while the great outdoors was calling to him. The Princeton resident got involved with Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), . “I prefer open space to tall buildings and pavement. Princeton has always been an attractive place to live” and he wanted to help keep it that way. Over the years, he also became involved with the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and Montgomery Friends of Open Space. As Chair of FOPOS Trails Committee, he is responsible for building and maintaining trails in several areas of Princeton. 

He was a stalwart member of the NJ Trails Association trail crew that works under the leadership of D&R Greenway Past Board Chair Alan Hershey, quite literally moving boulders and creating trails. He makes it seem like no big deal— “You get three or four people, go up there with six-foot steel rods and pry the boulder loose. If you’re lucky it’s downhill.”

In some ways, he admits, trail building is more fun than hiking. “It’s a nice way of getting out in the country and having something to do.”

As a member of D&R Greenway’s Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2016, Thomas served on the land preservation and land stewardship committees, all the while maintaining and building trails, replacing invasive species with native plants, grasses and trees. He also made maps for hikers in the heart of the Garden State, as part of NJ Trails Association.

In 2010, Ted and Penny Thomas set up a Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) with D&R Greenway. A CGA provides an income stream for life to the donor/donor’s spouse or other named beneficiary. The annuity rate, set by the American Council on Gift Annuities, is often higher than investors can get on their own, and the remainder is a charitable gift to the organization. “We have supported a number of environmental organizations over the years, but D&R Greenway does an excellent job of accomplishing its mission.  It’s a good way to donate because you get something in return,” says Thomas. “You are rewarded both financially and by supporting something you believe in.”

The bicycle rack at D&R Greenway’s Johnson Education Center has been donated in honor of Thomas, thanks to a gift from his children for his 85th birthday.  An informational kiosk at D&R Greenway’s Dry Run Creek Trail in West Amwell was donated, also in his name, by his family for his 80th birthday.

Thomas’s dedication to preservation has resulted in permanently protected lands accessible for all to enjoy. Perhaps the next time you’re hiking across a stream at Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve in Princeton, and the boulders are lined up just right so that you can step over the water without getting your feet wet, you’ll think of Ted Thomas and the other members of the trail crew.

Tickets to the Greenway Gala cost $100 and include libations and hors d’oeuvres. Call 609-924-4646 or visit www.drgreenway.org.

D&R Greenway’s Donald B. Jones Conservation Award is presented annually to a person who embodies D&R Greenway’s mission to inspire a conservation ethic. Donald B. Jones (1911-1994) was a determined preservationist who committed his time and resources saving the land and historic landmarks that give our region its sense of place. Awardees display a similar selfless generosity, making a significant impact on the landscape. The Donald B. Jones Conservation Award has been given to a former Governor, a Congressman, a community and a 10-year-old environmental activist. What they have in common is a love for the land and a commitment to action that results in land preservation.

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