By Young Soo Yang
This Saturday, May 19, Duke Farms will open to the public after a $45 million makeover. Larger than New York City’s Central Park, the property is spread across 2,740-acres in Hillsborough. Its most famous resident was the late tobacco heiress Doris Duke. She shared a love of horticulture and the natural environment with her father James Buchanan “Buck” Duke who chose and developed the Somerset County site to become a fully operational farm similar to the one he grew up on in North Carolina. NJ Today spoke with Sarah Tremallo, a spokesperson for the estate, about the grand opening and the mission of Duke Farms.
Q: Your website touts May 19 as the beginning of a new era for Duke Farms. After a reported $45 million makeover, what can visitors expect?
A: Visitors will begin their journey at our Orientation Center, featuring interactive displays and then head out to enjoy the property. Visitors can expect almost 20 miles of trails for biking, hiking, walking and passive recreation. Expansive open spaces, lakes, waterfalls, meadows, hundreds of species of plants and animals, including 17 endangered species. Additionally, our Orchid Range is a LEED-certified renovated green house, featuring thousands of orchids — along the way, visitors can stop to picnic and enjoy the architectural elements and sculpture are scattered throughout the property.
Q: Duke Farms is a unique research institute that promotes environmental stewardship. How will providing public access help to achieve its objective?
A: Duke Farms educational programs range from elementary school groups all the way through Professional Education courses. Public access will allow greater interest in environmental studies and conservation to bloom among our visitors.
Star-Ledger video by Andre Malok features Nora Wagner, Director of Programs at Duke Farms, who provides a guided tour of the estate.
Q: Many visitors will be lured to Duke Farms purely out of an interest in Doris Duke herself. Will visitors gain any insight into the late heiress through Duke Farms?
A: Absolutely! Select exhibits such as those in the Orientation Center and at the Old Foundation highlight the history of Buck and Doris Duke and their vision for the property. The true insight into Doris Duke that can be found at Duke Farms is in seeing what her love for plants, animals and conservation produced via the reopening of Duke Farms.
Q: What was her intent for the estate?
A: Her intent for the estate was outlined in her will and reflected her life-long passions. Doris Duke’s will stated that the property be used “to protect endangered species” and conduct “horticultural research.” In 2006, the foundation’s board decided to use the estate to promote environmental conservation, green technology and sustainable agriculture.
Q: Did she spend a lot of time there and was horticulture one of her passions?
A: Horticulture was definitely a passion of Doris Duke. It was she in her will that specified that Duke Farms be used for just this purpose. It was her lifelong home, and her legal residence, built by her father to resemble the mountains and lakes of his native North Carolina.
Q: Adaptive reuse, renewable energy and sustainability are terms that Duke Farms preaches but also practices. Can you explain?
A: As showcased throughout the property and especially in the Orientation Center, Duke Farms practices what it preaches. The Farm Barn Orientation Center and Orchid Range Greenhouse have been renovated to exceptional LEED standards and Duke Farms through its massive Solar Array returns all the energy it uses back to the grid. Other practices include the 400 plot community garden and the carry-in/carry-out policy for trash, compostables and recyclables (which can be sorted at the Orientation Center.)
Q: Each season must bring something unique to the estate. Will the park be open to the public throughout the year?
A: The park will be open 6 day per week, throughout the year (closed Wednesdays) and will remain free to the public. The courses offered, and passive recreation available will certainly change based on the season (snow shoeing for example in the winter), and of course the foliage will change dramatically throughout the year!
Q: Are there programs and activities that cater to children?
A: There are programs at Duke Farms that will cater to the whole family, as will the passive recreation. Some of the trails are even paved to allow for bikes, strollers, etc. for the whole family to move throughout the property.
Q: Should visitors call ahead and schedule a visit?
A: No need to call ahead! Duke Farms is open every day except Wednesdays. For more information, please visit www.dukefarms.org.