Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/30/17
With warm and sunny weather finally here, many of our friends, co-workers and neighbors are busy planning far-off getaways to beach destinations, summer homes and exotic locales.
However, here in bustling Central Jersey, you don’t need to go far to have a good time — and you also don’t need to open your wallet.
If you’re trying to put some cash away and you don’t have the funds to venture far, there are tons of free activities throughout Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Union counties that make for a great way to spend a day with friends or family.
Read on to discover how you can have fun — but still save — this season.
Explore greenery of Duke Farms
Duke Farms, a 2,740-acre property at 1112 Dukes Parkway West in Hillsborough, is more than a great way to spend a single day — instead, you’ll probably need several visits to explore all that this estate known for its sustainability efforts has to offer.
With the option to sightsee by foot, bicycle, bicycle rental ($5 for two hours) or by tram car, visitors can check out the outdoor sculpture garden, Great Falls waterfall, orchid range, classes for both children and adults focused on nature and stewardship (with ranging prices) and the Sunday farmers market, among many other activities.
If you go: Duke Farms is at 1112 Dukes Parkway West in Hillsborough and can be reached at 908-722-3700 or dukefarms.org.
Misunderstood birds at Raptor Trust
Would you know what to do if you found an injured bird? Have you ever seen an owl or a hawk up close? Anyone who has visited the Raptor Trust, one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States, at 1390 White Bridge Road in Millington, can answer yes to both questions.
That’s because the Raptor Trust, which rehabilitates and releases about 600 birds at any given time and also houses about 50 permanently injured birds, is open to visitors 365 days a year and also promotes public education, foster parenting and captive breeding of New Jersey raptors. There is no charge to visit the 130,000-foot space, but a $2 donation is encouraged because the Raptor Trust is nonprofit.
If you go: The Raptor Trust is at 1390 White Bridge Road in Millington and can be reached at 908-647-2353 or theraptortrust.org.
Experience early-1900s farming
You may not be able to hunt down a time machine in New Jersey, but those with a penchant for history will certainly feel like they have found one after they step into the Howell Living History Farm, which, at 70 Woodens Lane in Lambertville, presents remnants of more than 250 years of farming practice and life.
Visitors can check out the many historical facilities on the farm, such as the corn crib, ox barn, hog house, blacksmith area, ice house, sheep barn and more. Plus, the farm is also home to several animals and is also host to special events, such as hog slopping and weighing on June 3, a family bird excursion on June 4, old-time baseball on June 10 and milking and butter making on June 17.
If you go: Howell Living History Farm is at 70 Woodens Lane in Lambertville and can be reached at 609-737-3299 or howellfarm.org.
Local culture at Princeton Art Museum
The Princeton University Art Museum, at McCormick Hall on the Princeton University campus, may not look like the Museum of Modern Art, but it is one of the world’s leading university art museums with collections of more than 92,000 works.
Plus, the museum — which is featuring exhibits focusing on landscapes that are not as ordinary as they may first appear, paintings of solar eclipses and celestial landscapes; and British drawings from the world’s oldest university museum — is always free.
If you go: The Princeton University Art Museum is at McCormick Hall on the Princeton University campus and can be reached at 609-258-3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu.
Exotic plants at Colonial Park Gardens
Most museums may have a price tag, but Colonial Park Gardens, a “living tree museum” within 144 acres on the western section of Colonial Park at 150 Mettlers Road in the East Millstone section of Franklin, is one “museum” that visitors can explore without ever printing out an admission ticket.
Here, you can expect to see flowering trees, evergreens, shade trees, dwarf conifers and flowering shrubs native to the United States and native as well as Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. Plus, every year, new trees, flowers and plants can be found at this ever-growing arboretum.
If you go: Colonial Park Gardens is at 150 Mettlers Road in the East Millstone section of Franklin and can be reached at 732-873-2459 or somersetcountyparks.org/parksFacilities/colonial/ColonialPark.html.