campus fall lake

Institute Woods

George Dyson
"No one will ever know how many problems in mathematics, physics, history, astronomy, economics, political science, social science, computing, and biology have been brought one step closer to a solution by a shared conversation or a solitary walk in the Institute Woods."

After its foundation in 1930, the Institute gradually acquired most of its 589 acres of woods, wetlands, and farmland between 1936 and 1945. In 1997, the lands were further preserved as part of the Green Acres easement, which unified the Institute’s property with nearby preserved lands. This further protected a fifty-six-mile-long greenway network through central New Jersey that is critical for the feeding and nesting of two hundred species of birds on the Atlantic flyway. The preservation was undertaken under the leadership of the late Frank E. Taplin Jr., a Princeton resident who served as an Institute Trustee and Trustee Emeritus for more than thirty years.

The Institute’s woods and farmland are both historically and environmentally important to central New Jersey and beyond. They form an important stop-over point for migrating songbirds, particularly warblers. Aspen, gray birch, beech, oak, hickory, dogwood, sweet gum, and red maple trees provide habitat for summer breeding and spring and fall migrating bird species. Abundant beds of spring wildflowers such as yellow trout lilies, pink and white spring beauties, and purple violets can be found along the flood plain of the Stony Brook, a tributary of the Millstone River which flows through the woods.

Paul Dirac wood chopping
Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center
Former Member Paul Dirac, pictured on the grounds of the Institute around 1962.

Institute Faculty and Members have made a lasting impact on the woods. Founding Faculty member Oswald Veblen “organized what was called a wood-chopping group,” according to Deane Montgomery, past Professor (1951–92) in the School of Mathematics, “they used to go out and clear some of the paths that nobody had cleared at that time.” Veblen was joined by many notable figures, including the distinguished physicist Paul Dirac, a frequent Member in the School of Math/Natural Sciences between 1934 and 1963.

With the assistance of dedicated donors, the Institute funds the maintenance of its lands, which are utilized year-round by the public. In 2008, local residents Addie and Harold Broitman, who joined the Friends of the Institute in 1994, made a generous gift through the Broitman Foundation to support trail maintenance for the benefit of all who use the woods. The Institute Woods can be enjoyed year-round by bird watchers, walkers, runners, and cross-country skiers. For more information about visiting, click here. To download a map of the Woods, click here.