Whippany, NJ, is a Naturalist’s Paradise

The 10.8-square-mile township of Hanover is a suburban melange anchored by the shopping and dining of Whippany and Cedar Knolls. The rest of the area is a nature lovers’ paradise, and a reminder that New Jersey was once a wild frontier.

The sylvan banks of the eponymous river, for example, are a naturalist’s candy store. They’re populated by swamp white oaks, red and black gums, and sweetgums, plus the oddities like northern water lily and swamp rose. The river, beset by pollution and development, still lives. Just a few steps south of Route 24 and west of Corey Lane in Mendham Township, the Whippany River emerges from under a roadbed, bubbling along a small lake labeled simply Lake on the Hagstrom map.

It passes through a park and the borough’s 89-acre Bee Meadow Park, where a municipal pool offers free summer memberships for residents (nonresidents pay higher rates). The hamlet is also home to the renowned Morris Museum of Art, which has an extensive collection of paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from around the world.

Other attractions include the Whippany Railway Museum, which hosts a number of family-friendly events in addition to operating a historic train ride called the Polar Express in winter. The township is home to such large corporations as Bayer, Masda Corporation and PCF Corp., as well as the highly regarded regional high school, Whippany Park High School. Its students score above the state average on the SAT exam, and it was ranked 46th out of all public schools in New Jersey in 2014 by New Jersey Monthly magazine.

Commuters to New York City can use the nearby Livingston Mall Park and Ride or the bus service at South Mountain Arena in West Orange. For those who want to take a spin in the saddle, New Jersey Transit offers a commuter rail line connecting the hamlet with Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan.

Ryan and Lauren Vanderhoef live in an old 1950s split-level less than a mile from Ms. Vanderhoef’s teaching job and within walking distance of Progressive Gardens, their garden center and landscaping business in the hamlet of Cedar Knolls. It’s also less than a half-mile from her husband’s job at the nearby township office and within walking distance of Whippany Park High School, where their daughter attends in ninth grade. She takes one of the school’s 26 Advanced Placement courses each year. The township’s low property tax rate is another lure. Despite all that, the real estate market has been challenging in recent years. The average listing price is $325,000, and a three-bedroom home costs about $600,000 to $750,000. The median income is $106,300, a bit below the state average of $110,400. For those looking for a smaller footprint, there are townhomes and condominiums available in the borough. These range in size from 1,500 square feet to about 4,000 square feet. They’re generally priced at the lower end of the local market, with the more spacious units selling for a premium.