Hunterdon County, NJ | Department of Planning and Land Use | Tom Sheppard, Chief Park Naturalist

Come Explore and Enjoy Hunterdon County Parks with Tom

My name is Tom Sheppard and I am your Chief Park Naturalist at the Hunterdon County Division of Parks & Recreation.  I am a lifelong resident of Hunterdon County with family roots back to the founding of the County.  I have had the pleasure to work for the County Parks for the past 18 years with half of that time being the Chief Park Naturalist.  My love of nature and the outdoors was well established in my as a youth thanks to my involvement with the Boy Scouts and the places that I have traveled youth with my family.  I have continued both of these practices into my adulthood. 

One the great joys of my position is that I get to conduct the Birding Excursions, which are available through the Parks Division.  An all day excursion occurs every month of the year.  Participants meet at the Arboretum and transportation is provide by a county van for the trip.  Over the years, these trips have explored the four corners of the state from Sussex to Cape May and Hunterdon and the Delaware River to the Jersey Shore.  Upcoming Trips include the classic Waterfowl and Woodcock trip on March 17.  This is a local trip around the county investigating our ponds and waterway for duck species and more before heading out to attempt to view the American Woodcock in its nocturnal breeding flight behavior.  A twist on a classic trip will occur in June, instead of heading north toward Sussex, this trip will head for the Sussex/Passaic County Line and focus on birding through the Newark Pequannock Watershed for migrants and local breeding species.  This trip will occur on Saturday, June 9th.  

For those with wishing to explore the world of birding but not for a full day, we do offer free morning and afternoon walks in our County Parks.  Morning walks occur from 6:30 am to 8am on Thursdays beginning on April 5th at the Assiscong Marsh and the afternoon walks start at 5:30pm and to 7pm and start on May 1st at Deer Path Park.   Location for the Morning and Afternoon walks change each week.  We have binoculars that we can loan for the outings so all you need to do is show up.  Please check our websites or the Harbinger for a complete list of birding opportunities with the County as well as the times and any costs involved.

The highlight of my job is seeing the public’s reactions as they make and discover the connections between themselves and their natural surroundings. A close second for me is that I have the opportunity to share this experience every year when I hire the counselors and assistants for our Summer Nature Program.   Our Summer Nature Counselor candidates are college-aged individuals pursuing a career in one of the Environmental Sciences, Education or other related fields.  The Assistants are usually Junior/Senior High School students who have aged out of the program, have been volunteering with the program or can prove themselves to be “nature geeks.”   The joy here is that once the staff is assembled and training period occurs, I get to watch these individuals work with the youth of the our county and interact with them as they explore the wonders of the natural surroundings and the joys of being outside together.  Therefore, if you know any College or High School students that would be a natural fit, have them look at our job postings: and/or reach out to me at

For the public the Summer Nature Program lottery is open has already started.  The special applications and the specific details on the various levels of our Summer Nature Program can be found online at the following link:

In March of 2020 when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit New Jersey and County Parks were closed by executive order of the Governor, our staff had to rethink quickly how we provide information and services to the public. We developed many new fun things for our residents and others interested in Hunterdon County Parks. Our first outreach was to assist schools and home-schoolers with environmental science programs and thus we developed our DISTANCE LEARNING PORTAL where staff created workshops, activities and recorded videos of interest for children and adults alike.  We also started acting on a project we've been long wanted to do and that was to create a virtual video tour of our parkland, called RAMBLINGS OF A PARK NATURALIST. We had much fun with this, so please join on on taking a virtual video tour...

Remember our parks and programs are only as good as the public that uses them and we offer programs and activities year round.   Two of the activities that I am conducting and cannot wait for are the following: on May 11, I am offering a star gazing program late at night (10pm to 11:30pm) to view Jupiter and its moons.  Plus, the sky should be busy with meteors on this night from the Eta Aquarid Meteor Storm. The other event occurs on June 2nd, when the parks will host a river clean-up of the South Branch River.  We will provide equipment and the boats. We are looking for about 20 volunteers who are willing to get wet and help clean litter and debris out of the river for a few hours.  For more information about these events and all the other programs offered by my colleagues and myself, please check out our Harbinger or visit our website at and click on “Parks & Recreation.”  

While these offerings are meant for the individuals or family units, we also offer group programs by request.  Therefore, if you are part of an organized group or can organize a group, we have many programs, lectures and activities that can be requested. There are too many to list here, so please visit our website for our group program brochure for the full list and descriptions at  We may even be able to offer a parallel program of a special program that was created for the Harbinger. So call our office at (908)-782-1158 and ask to speak to a Park Naturalist or Recreation Leader.  We are at your service, even if it relates to an issue about wildlife in your backyard or something you have seen in the park, feel free to contact us.

I hope to see you out in our parks or enjoying one of our programs.




PHYSICAL ADDRESS: Hunterdon County Arboretum, 1020 Highway 31, Lebanon, NJ 08833       MAILING ADDRESS: P.O. Box 2900, Flemington, NJ 08822
PHONE: 908-782-1158       EMAIL:       OFFICE HOURS: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday to Friday

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