GSWA is overjoyed to announce the opening of a new trail at its Conservation Management Area (CMA), the Horizon Trail.
The approximately mile long path meanders past vernal pools bursting with frogs and salamanders in the spring, the occasional shagbark hickory — a favorite roosting location for little brown bats and the federally endangered Indiana bat, and old oaks checkered with pileated woodpecker holes.
Since the official trail opening ceremony on September 22nd, 2015, the property has been abuzz with activity, acting as a hub for schools, garden clubs, camps, and other groups to study water quality, ecology, and environmental stewardship.
Over the course of three days in September, students from Chatham High School AP Environmental Science classes explored the CMA, completing ecological surveys and learning real-life field skills. They compared soil samples to different species of trees they identified on the property to determine the tree’s soil preferences. Through this exercise, the students learned how many species rely on specific conditions to thrive, and that once these conditions are tampered with — by human interference or otherwise — the species dependent upon them can begin to disappear.
In October, students from Bloomfield College took a guided tour of the property. The students, some having never been to a swamp before, learned what a swamp is and how it plays an essential role in water filtration and flood storage. They learned how human activities can have both direct and indirect consequences for their watershed, such as increased deer browse, invasive plants, pollution, and pervious surface. After completing their tour, the students felt compelled to become better stewards of the land.
The property, located about halfway down Tiger Lily Lane in Harding Township on a 16-acre patch of wetland and deciduous upland forest (not at the end of the cul-de-sac, like the fenced in portions of the CMA), has been owned and stewarded by GSWA since the late 1990s. It wasn’t until earlier this year, however, that GSWA received major financial support from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, the Garden Club of America/New Jersey Chapter with support of the Garden Club of Madison, and New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker small grants program, making the execution of a full restoration and trail creation plan possible.
Once the plan was set, GSWA’s director of education and outreach, Hazel England, and her group of dedicated volunteers and board members set forth to flag a potential trail, concentrating on maximizing mileage while incorporating interesting natural features. She then enlisted volunteers through community and corporate work days, including help from the Northern New Jersey Geocachers, Goldman Sachs, Verizon Wireless, New Jersey American Water, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and the Student Conservation Association.
Along with trail formation, bench installation, and bridge and boardwalk creation, enhancements were made on the property to encourage wildlife usage. Berms were created along vernal pools to hold water longer in the spring — a valuable time for developing tadpoles. More than 750 native trees and shrubs were planted throughout the property, promoting regrowth from deer browse as well as creating a food source for birds and mammals that rely on their seeds and berries. Two dozen bird boxes, created for waterfowl, owls, and other smaller cavity nesting birds were erected along the property. Fallen tree limbs leftover from Hurricane Sandy were moved into brush piles, a favorite hiding spot for small mammals and reptiles. Once the enhancements were complete, the trail was made official by a beautiful trail head kiosk built by GSWA volunteers Federico Nealon and Wes Boyce.
It is GSWA’s belief that real-life field experience is an invaluable teaching tool to inspire people to take ownership of their surroundings. Through our SWaMP (School Water Monitoring on the Passaic) program, watershed education, and now the Horizon Trail, we aim to change the community by motivating future leaders to become better stewards of their environment. But whether you’re an aspiring leader, or just a person looking for a place to walk your dog, we encourage you to take a walk through the Horizon Trail this fall, to reignite your passion for the environment through golden beech leaves and the peaceful song of the white throated sparrow.