A Few Words About Stiles

Stiles Thomas is a pioneer who has had an indelible impact on so much of what Fyke does.

He started the Mount Peter Hawk Watch in Warwick, N.Y. — the first and longest-running all-volunteer hawk watch in the nation — back in the 1950s. He started the Hook Mountain Hawk Watch in Rockland County,

Stiles began his efforts to save the Celery Farm back in 1956 and, with his wife Lillian at his side, finally succeeded a quarter-century later. In 1981 with the help of Mayor FitzPatrick, Green Acres and the borough of Allendale, Stiles created the Celery Farm Natural Area and increased its size to its present-day 107 acres. The Celery Farm is believed to be the first municipally owned wetlands in the nation. Stiles then shaped the preserve into what it is today with the help of hundreds of volunteers over the years.

In the 1990s, Gordon Schultze, Charlie Mayhood and Stiles began the weekly Hour of the Tower at the Celery Farm to see how many birds they could see from one spot. They began it at the Warden's Watch. The hour proved so popular that after moving to the Pirie Platform, it was expanded to accommodate all the participants. (It was renamed the Pirie-Mayhood Tower to honor Charlie in addition to Rob Pirie, who built the original tower.) The tradition continues on Sunday mornings to this day.

Stiles also put up Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes and Barn Owl nesting boxes all over northern New Jersey and received national coverage, including Reader's Digest and Audubon Magazine. He was a pioneer in both efforts.

That sense of vision is reflected in the stand of pine trees behind his former home on Louise Court in Allendale, where Stiles, his wife Lillian and their family lived for decades. When Stiles moved in, it was a field. He thought to himself, I bet that if I plant pine trees back there, in a few decades I'll get Barred Owls. And he did....

But perhaps Stiles' greatest strength is to connect with people and help them to love nature and appreciate the environment. One local example is how he nurtured an appreciation for Red-shouldered Hawks — an endangered raptor that calls Allendale home.

Whether organizing Christmas Bird Counts or leading trips to the Central American nation of Belize to introduce hundreds of people to tropical birds, Stiles has always led the way.

The kiosk by the Franklin Turnpike entrance to the Celery Farm preserve is dedicated to Stiles. It reads: "This welcoming center was built to honor Stiles Thomas for his tireless efforts to save and maintain the Celery Farm and for his generosity in sharing his love of nature with so many people."

      — Jim Wright