Natirar: the First Two Miles

Physiologists say that a walker of moderate good health will traverse a gentle two-mile trail in under 45 minutes. That’s provided, of course, that she doesn’t stop to take in the scenery or to idle alongside a murmuring stream, distractions that occur regularly on the new public hiking trail at Natirar, Somerset County’s newest and most spectacular public park. This article appeared in the June 2007 edition of the BOROUGH GAZETTE, Peapack-Gladstone’s community newsletter.

Opened for daily public use on May 1, Natirar immediately takes its place as the crown jewel of New Jersey’s Open Space preservation movement and showcases what determined public land preservation programs can achieve. Your Open Space property taxes, along with those of other Somerset County residents, have provided our small community with a brilliant new reminder that wall-to-wall development in the Garden State need not be inevitable. Rather than lamenting yet another housing tract, early summer here will forevermore be a great time to grab a pair of comfortable shoes and go experience Natirar for yourself.

First established as the Walter Graeme & Kate Macy Ladd estate in 1905, Natirar bore witness to the Somerset Hills’ original gilded era and eventually encompassed nearly 1,000 acres of rolling hills, lawns, and woodlands within the municipalities of Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills, and Bedminster, mostly astride the North Branch of the Raritan River from whence the estate and new public park take their name. (Natirar is “Raritan” spelled backwards.)

First-time visitors to the new Park will observe that Ladd was a most-capable steward of his land, leaving spectacular undisturbed vistas of the surrounding countryside and taming the course of the North Branch to preserve its orderly flow for nearly a century. The result is a unique achievement, all the more remarkable for what has survived than for what has been lost during subsequent changes in ownership. Following Ladd’s death, the estate served as a convalescent home until 1983 when it was acquired by H.R.H. Hassan II, King of Morocco. Having long eyed the property as potential parkland, Somerset County purchased the estate from the King’s heirs for $22 million in 2003 with the intention to preserve it forever as public Open Space.

We are fortunate that what remains today is 411 acres, of which 247 are located within the Borough of Peapack and Gladstone. Accessed via the Park’s main gate on Peapack Road, the new trail is open for pedestrian hiking each day from dawn to dusk, unless otherwise posted. County Park Rangers are on-site should you require assistance, but in keeping with the spirit of passive-use, permanent sanitary facilities and concessionaires are not.

Consisting exclusively of level, graded ground, the new trail is undemanding, non-technical hiking but even the most energetic stroller will find the two miles to be an agreeable outing. The trail loops along the North Branch for most of its length and provides expansive views of former pasturelands, as well as the estate’s main residence, a 40-room, Tudor-style hilltop mansion that is currently closed to the public while it undergoes renovation as a world-class spa/retreat center. On a recent visit, birdcalls and running water were the only discernible noises and an enlarged sense of space and perspective were everywhere apparent. Passing away from the river, a newly-graded trail segment traverses what County Parks officials are calling the “Great Lawn,” a large, open meadow beneath the brow of the hill that will eventually be used for public musical performances and other community events.

Whether you walk, jog, or simply find an agreeable spot to sit apart and clear your mind, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the enduring marvel that is Natirar and your Open Space tax dollars at work.