Under the searing heat of the mid-day sun a small group gathered at Eagle Rock Reservation today to hear Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo announce the Eagle Rock reforestation program.
Speaking about the importance of the project, Essex County Horticulturalist Kathy Salisbury pointed to the browse line about four feet from the ground where deer have grazed and left the forest floor barren. “That is a sign of an unhealthy forest,” Salisbury said.
Without the natural layers of undergrowth – ground cover, seedlings, small understory trees and canopy trees – native plants are prevented from growing and non-native trees are able to take root and flourish. This diminishes not only the biodiversity of indigenous vegetation but also animals that depend on native species to survive, Salisbury stated.
“These enclosures are acting like a Noah’s Ark,” Salisbury noted, “so eventually we’ll have a balance of wild flowers, plants and deer.”
Indeed, they will. Five enclosures covering from one to two acres each will be erected to protect the 13,535 newly planted native flora, and they will contain 50 to 60 different species indigenous to Essex County.
The eight-foot high, black wire enclosures are designed to last for 25 years and will prevent large animals like deer from foraging but allow small animals such as birds and rodents through. These animals will help to disburse the seeds throughout the 408-acre reservation, restoring the park, initially designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted in the late 1800’s, to its former, natural glory.
“Today we are going green in Eagle Rock Reservation,” said James Christiano, President of Eagle Rock Reservation Conservancy, which has taken part in the project and procured a NJ Green Acres grant for it. “We are pleased to work with the County to bring the reservation back to what it deserves to be.”
Additional funding came from a grant issued by the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board, which had State Assemblyman Thomas Giblin commending DiVincenzo. “There is no one in the State who is more committed to the environment than Joe DiVincenzo. The creation of the Environmental Center, improvements at the golf courses and projects like this to enhance our parks are examples of his dedication.”
The dedication to the beautification of the reservation goes beyond the reforestation. A decorative wrought iron fence along with landscaping will grace the most visible section of the reservation at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Eagle Rock Avenue, and a fence along the western border will prevent litter from blowing in from the shopping center across the street. Invasive plant species will also be removed. The project is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2011.
“What’s being done here will prepare the reservation so future generations can have the same opportunities to enjoy this open space that we have had,” Giblin said.
Freeholder Patricia Sebold agreed, pointing out the particular significance in this area. “Open space is important in a densely populated county like Essex, so projects such as this one are important to preserve important public space.”
While DiVincenzo acknowledge the park was already beautiful, he said, “We are going to make it even better.”
Photo by Phil Cantor, courtesy of the Eagle Rock Reservation Conservancy