Rediscovering Aldo Leopold’s Big Woods


  • Daniel L. Druckenbrod



While much of Aldo Leopold’s life is associated with Wisconsin, where he wrote A Sand County Almanac, his observations and letters as a high school student in Lawrenceville, New Jersey document his maturing insights into natural history and his eventual land ethic. This article frames Leopold’s experiences at the Lawrenceville School within the context of its surrounding environment in 1904-1905 by rediscovering the locations of forests he drew on a map in a letter to his mother. Notably, Leopold referred to the forest west of Rider University today as the Big Woods. Tree-ring data recently collected by Rider University students and other historical evidence (including an oral interview, photographs, 1899 state government report, and 1849 herbarium sample) confirm the location of this forest and reveal that it has been present since at least the mid-nineteenth century. Knowing the locations of these forests, like Leopold’s Big Woods, not only enables a greater appreciation for the landscape that he wrote extensively about in letters home, but also provides an opportunity to document the long-term environmental changes that have occurred over the past 110 years in central New Jersey.