Have you been out to the Millstone Bluffs recently?
I didn't think so. I was out there just the other day and didn't see you, or any of the old crowd for that matter, either. It's an exclusive place, of course, and not one where you would expect to find a horde of people. Still, a few familiar faces would have been nice.
Truth to tell I did not even know about the Millstone Bluffs until I read about them in a letter to the editor of our sister publication, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. The letter was submitted by environmental activists opposed to the proposed new bypass road that would connect Route 571 at the main line of the railroad and pass along the Millstone River through the Sarnoff property to an interchange on Route 1 near Harrison Street. The letter quotes an unnamed engineer who in 2001 provided the following description of the Sarnoff property to the West Windsor Planning Board:
"This property contains some of the most spectacular views that can be found anywhere in West Windsor. The bluffs overlooking the Millstone need to be preserved so that future generations can enjoy them. The potential for rare or endangered species to be present on site is possible."
The Millstone Bluffs. They sounded a little romantic, certainly dramatic, something to be protected. The developer side of my brain could imagine a condo development or hotel with a restaurant perched on the edge of the river, with a panoramic view stretching from here to wherever. The outdoorsman in me imagined a hiking path with vistas stretching into . . . well, Plainsboro anyhow.
But where are these Millstone Bluffs, anyhow? I have lived here for 30 some years and know about the footbridge in the Institute Woods and the Plainsboro Preserve and a few other natural treasures in the midst of all this humanity. But I had never heard of the Millstone bluffs.
Shing Fu-Hsueh, the mayor of West Windsor who never misses a chance to extol any virtue of his township, admitted he had never heard of the Millstone Bluffs. I called Carolyn Foote Edelmann, our freelance writer who has chronicled in vivid detail virtually every natural resource in our region, and asked her. She in turn checked with her friends. None had heard of the Millstone Bluffs.
"Could you be referring to the Bordentown Bluffs," she wondered. Those bluffs, above the Trenton-Hamilton Marsh, provide a spectacular view of the marsh from above, and are a spectacular site themselves when viewed from a kayak or canoe from below. No, I told her, the Millstone Bluffs are in West Windsor.
Then I checked with Sue Parris, a person who was born and raised and still lives in the Penns Neck section of West Windsor. Had she ever heard of the Millstone Bluffs? Not ever, she replied. She then checked with her husband, a paleontologist and a member of the roundtable that just concluded its study of various bypass options, and he had never heard of any "bluffs" on the Millstone. A neighbor, Larry Cohen, had reported that the Millstone might have some embankments that are six feet high or so but nothing suggesting a high, steep bank worthy of a grand promenade or a fancy restaurant of my imagination.
As a kid Sue Parris heard her grandparents, who lived in the area since the late 19th century, referring to a "sheepwash" in the area now owned by Sarnoff, a place where sheep were cleansed in the river prior to shearing.
By now thoroughly intrigued I drove over to Sarnoff, parked at the edge of a vast parking areas, and began to walk the ground in search of those Millstone Bluffs. I found lots of open space: Room for at least three ball fields that could handle Barry Bonds with ease; four soccer fields; a half dozen satellite dishes; two vegetable gardens; and woods -- lots of woods.
At one point I plunged into the woods along a fairly prominent trail. I found a wooden footbridge that crossed a small creek, and then a trail that led right up to the river. An old rope hung from a tall tree. Years ago kids must have swung out on the rope and dropped into the river -- an old-fashioned swimming hole. At my pace I walked about eight minutes into the woods -- more than half a mile -- and saw some rabbits, a woodchuck, a heron, and possibly an otter or a beaver but no trace of human civilization.
One thing seemed clear from my walk. The Sarnoff land has a lot of potential. A four-lane highway could cut a swath of 70 feet or so through the woods and not be visible from either the river or from the open fields adjoining Washington Road.
Sarnoff's 336 acres could easily accommodate an expanded office-research center, as Sarnoff has planned. Or, knowing that the medical center wants to escape from its cramped, seven-acre site in downtown Princeton, it wouldn't be hard to imagine it relocating to a 50-acre corner of the Sarnoff land -- a scenario that some Sarnoff neighbors think is being investigated by the hospital.
I could imagine all that but I couldn't find the bluffs or that sheepwash, either. Hmmm. Bluffs, bluff; sheepwash, hogwash.