Anyone who lives in our towns holds the South Mountain Reservation as a terrific asset — a place to run, walk, bike, take the dog, enjoy the views, commune with nature.
But as wild and free as the Reservation looks, keeping it in good repair takes a lot of work. The Reservation's many trails are slowly recovering from the ravages of the late October snowstorm — the worst damage to the forest canopy in decades. And for years, overpopulation by deer and the propagation of invasive species hurt the forest's undergrowth, a problem now being addressed by an extensive 20-year reforestation project.
Providing money and staffing for these projects and more is the South Mountain Conservancy.
The South Mountain Conservancy, a non-profit, volunteer organization, is the only group dedicated to constantly assessing the Reservation’s needs and working with Essex County to plan and execute improvement projects. These projects range from working with Eagle Scouts and the Student Conservation Association to helping oversee million-dollar Green Acres programs like the trail reconstruction and building scheduled for this spring. With the reduced County Parks budget and maintenance crew, the Conservancy says its efforts are needed more than ever.
During its winter hiatus, the Conservancy will continue monitoring trail problems, fixing forest regeneration site fencing damaged by fallen trees, and start planning for 2012. Activities start again with the annual public meeting the last week in March
You can help by joining, donating or volunteering.
You can donate on the website through PayPal by going to the Membership/ Donate tab and clicking the Donate button near the top of the page. Or you can mail a check to SMC, P.O. Box 273, South Orange, N.J. 07079. As a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation, your donation is tax deductible.
The basic annual membership is $25. Join at that level and you will receive a new map as a thank-you (see membership levels at www.somocon.org/membershipdonate/). As a volunteer organization, your entire donation goes to support the park and the Conservancy programs.
Visit the Conservancy web site at www.somocon.org, or follow them on Facebook, to learn how to join other supporters and build trails, plant native species, clean up picnic areas, join a hike, or buy a map to get out on your own. Send your ideas and concerns by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Work next year will include:
- Developing a trash management policy to present to the County
- Continuing planning and start installation of a comprehensive signage and way-finding system with user-friendly maps located at key locations throughout the Reservation funded by a DEP Recreational Trails Grant. These will include distances to certain landmarks and QR codes tied to our Web site.
- Overseeing — with the County — a Green Acres-Open Space Trust Fund project to: 1) Construct two miles of additional trails around Mayapple Hill, extending the Lenape Trail through the 63 acres acquired in 2009 and connecting up to the Lenape Trail near Route 10; 2) Repair woods/gravel roads throughout the Reservation, especially along the Reservoir Trail.
- Creating large maps and install them in the nine kiosks that reflect the new trails built in the spring.
- Continuing building a Chain Saw Gang to remove trees that have fallen across our trails.
- Holding a spring Trail Blitz to assess the needs of all trails and woods roads and set priorities for the coming year.
- Directing the Student Conservation Association and their work crew this summer to deal with trail erosion problems funded by a recently awarded $24,700 DEP Recreational Trails Grant.
- Expanding work with community groups as part of our Adopt-a-Site program for environmental stewardship.
- Sponsoring the third SMR Mayapple Ultras with challenging runs ranging from 62 to 10 miles.
- Improving the website to have an interactive map with directions to Reservation locations.
- Developing interpretive signs highlighting common plants and animals in the 14-acre Wildflower and Forest Preserve surrounding the dog park funded by a Recreational Trails grant.
- Establishing an SMC Community Partners Council.