Rich recognized for her trailblazing environmental protection efforts

“The Little Woods on the Rancocas” is being renamed for Moorestown resident Barbara Rich.

Blink and you might miss it, but along Creek Road in Moorestown is an unassuming open space known as “The Little Woods on the Rancocas.” With shrubbery and trees lining the small path, the space might not look like much to those speeding by, but follow the path a ways and you’ll find an unexpected 11-acre open space that opens up to a priceless view of the Rancocas River.

Unassuming might also be a fitting a description for the open space’s new namesake. As of February, the space will be renamed “Barbara Rich’s Little Woods.” Small in stature and exceedingly modest, Rich doesn’t like to call attention to herself, but that hasn’t helped her escape notice from the Moorestown Council, which is honoring her for her stewardship of Moorestown’s open spaces.

Rich moved to Moorestown in 1970 and joined Save The Environment of Moorestown. At the time, STEM was touring the town to identify and map the community’s open spaces, and the more she learned about them, the more Rich began to feel a deep attachment to these untouched and treasured places.

Preserving the town’s open spaces became something of a passion project for Rich, who currently serves as STEM’s liaison to the Open Space Committee. She said while development can be positive, her priority has always been seeing to it that any development done in town protects the surrounding environment.

Councilman Michael Locatell said Rich has always led the charge for preserving Moorestown’s environment. He said when applications for development came before council or the zoning board, Rich has always been the first to ensure the applicants weren’t adversely affecting the township’s stormwater management and would hold the zoning board accountable for making sure the surrounding environment was protected.

Maura Dey, the chairperson for the Open Space Committee, said Rich played a pivotal role when the Moorestown Mall was built. Dey said Rich was methodical about how the land was placed to ensure the Pennsauken Watershed could still flow to the Delaware.

Dey said Rich has an intimate and unparalleled knowledge of Moorestown’s open spaces. She knows how the township came to acquire nearly each one and could give you a bit of history on each. Ask her about the “Little Woods,” and she can tell you about the underbrush of laurel and beech trees that were planted there, Dey said.

“She’s probably single-handedly done more for preservation than anyone else in Moorestown,” Dey said.

Councilwoman Victoria Napolitano said, over the years, she’s had numerous residents approach her about naming an open space after Rich.

“She just has such a knowledge of the history of open spaces in Moorestown, and she’s also very tuned into conservation efforts across the region,” Napolitano said. “She always has good information to share with us and bright insights.”

Rich was attending a Environmental Advisory Committee meeting when Napolitano told her the township was interested in naming an open space after her. She said she was in a state of shock, and true to form, she immediately said there were other people who were more deserving.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Rich said of the news. “When there are so many people who have done as much as I have — I just hope those people are also recognized in some way,” Rich said.

A sewage treatment plant was almost constructed on top of the “Little Woods” at one point, and Rich was one of the environmentally-minded residents who helped ensure the land remained untouched, so council thought it was only fitting to name the space after her.

“Moorestown wouldn’t have [the Little Woods] if it wasn’t for Barbara,” Locatell said.

Much like the natural resources she protects, Rich is a “town gem,” keeping the history of the town preserved for generations to come.

“She’s that dichotomy: small but mighty, yet watchdog and vigilant,” Dey said. “She is sort of the keeper of all the secrets. I always say that if you can just sit with her and talk, you’ll learn so much.”

Moorestown Township Council is scheduled to pass an ordinance renaming the woods “Barbara Rich Little Woods” at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

UPDATE: The vote scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11 been delayed. To find out what caused the delay, click here.