Land Stewardship

Programs & Projects

Meadow Management

Meadows are open habitats or fields with grasses and other herbaceous plants forming the primary vegetative community. They provide critical habitat to a wide variety of plant, insect and wildlife species. The MCPC actively manages over 500 acres of meadow habitat throughout the Park System. Management activities include annual or biennial mowing, or the use of prescribed fire, to prevent these areas from converting to forests through woody plant succession. These areas are also managed to prevent invasive plants from establishing and forming monocultures to the detriment of the native species that rely on these areas to thrive. Common meadow invaders that the MCPC works regularly to control include autumn olive, mugwort and Chinese lespedeza.

Invasive Species Program

An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area and causes ecological or economic harm in its new environment. These species generally adapt to new environments easily, reproduce quickly, and lack natural controls such as predators and other pests that would keep their numbers in check. Invasive plants can spread quickly, displacing native plants and result in monocultures of little value to the insects and wildlife that depend on our natural areas. Invasive species are among the largest threats to global biodiversity and have played a primary role in the listing of over 40% of the species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition to active programs focused on managing invasive insects such as emerald ash borer and spotted lanternfly, the MCPC has a comprehensive invasive plant management program. Areas are prioritized for management based on several criteria including those with emerging invasive species, i.e. those species which have not yet become widely spread in the State; intact or high-quality habitats that require invasive species management to preserve their ecological integrity; and areas that have been identified for restoration. The MCPC works closely with partner agencies and organizations on invasive species initiatives including the NJ Invasive Species Strike Team and NJ Department of Agriculture.

The MCPC utilizes a number of methods in its invasive species control programs including biological controls, manual and mechanical removal and selective applications of herbicides. When herbicides are required, low concentration solutions are applied as spot treatments to selectively target specific species and not as the broadcast solutions that are typicallyused in conventional agriculture. The MCPC complies with all NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) rules and regulations regarding herbicide use as and takes proper precautions to protect the health and safety of park visitors, employees/contractors and the environment.

Land Stewardship Projects

The Morris County Park Commission’s Natural Resources Department is working on a number of projects to restore or rehabilitate natural areas of the park system. These types of projects require a great deal of planning, resources, coordination and follow-up maintenance to be successful. Click below to read about some of these exciting projects!

Roots for Rivers


In 2019 the MCPC was awarded a $12,406.50 Roots for Rivers Grant to reforest a flood plain along a tributary of the North Branch of the Whippany River at Central Park of MorrisCounty in Parsippany. The grant funded the purchase of 1,471 native trees and shrubs as well as tubes and support stakes to protect the plantings from deer. The Roots for RiversReforestation Grant was funded by The Nature Conservancy and The Watershed Institute and worked towards a goal to plant 100,000 trees in New Jersey floodplains by 2020.

The project site sits on the former Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital property which is now managed by the MCPC for passive recreational uses and conservation purposes. The 4-acre reforestation area is abandoned pastureland that had become deteriorated by non-native, invasive plant species. Reforestation of the floodplain with native trees and shrubs will help filter water to improve water quality, absorb floodwaters, cool the stream for fish and provide quality habitat for insects and wildlife.

 

Natural Resources staff, with the assistance of many volunteers, planted the native trees and shrubs in the spring of 2019. Since then, staff and volunteers have maintained and monitored the plantings and tracked survivorship.

Frelinghuysen Meadow Restoration


Learn more about our active meadow and stream restoration project taking place at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum.

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Native Plantings


Native plants in Morris County are uncultivated plants that were found in this area before European settlement. They are important because they are adapted to the local conditions and climate and have evolved with other native organisms as part of the ecosystem. As such they provide greater benefits for wildlife and native pollinators than non-native plants including higher quality shelter and food such as pollen, nectar, seeds, and fruits. Having evolved in this area, native plants generally need less watering and nutrients to thrive. With the goal of creating and maintaining healthy ecosystems throughout the park system, the MCPC works to promote and protect native plants whenever possible.

The MCPC Natural Resources staff regularly works to establish and maintain native plant restoration sites throughout the park system. Since 2012, staff and volunteers have planted over 11,850 native plants in 14 parks (as of December 2022). These include a wide variety of trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses and sedges. Due to the overabundance of white-tailed deer (Odoceoleus virginianus), most native plantings require deer protection. This protection can come in the form of fencing or tree tubes which guard plants from deer browse and antler rub until they are large enough to withstand that pressure and out of the immediate browse line of deer.

          

Jonathan’s Wood Forest Restoration


The Park Commission has been working to restore 18 acres of former pine forest, known as the Cathedral Pines, at Jonathan’s Woods since 2013. For many years, Jonathan’s Woods was owned by Jersey City as part of its watershed system. The MCPC acquired the property in 2001. Prior to the 1930s, the former Cathedral Pines site consisted of agricultural fields. At some point during the 1930s, the site was planted as a softwood plantation, mostly with eastern white pine but also with some red pine and Norway spruce. The trees were planted very densely assuming the stand would be periodically thinned after 30 years. However, no thinning or forest management ever occurred. Due to the nature of the planting and the lack of management, the stand did not self-thin as a normal white pine forest would have and the even-aged trees had the effect of casting abnormally shady conditions below the canopy preventing the development of a healthy understory.

The trees in un-thinned pine stands are known for having major structural problems, namely in that the root structure of the trees towards the inside of the stand don’t grow to a sufficient degree to support the height of the trees making them prone to wind-throw. Given that the trees in the forest were all around the height, they protected each other from the wind.

In October 2012, the sustained 70 mph winds of Hurricane Sandy likely uprooted several trees. Those trees became lodged within neighboring trees. The combined weight of the trees and the wind force caused those trees to uproot or their trunks to snap. This produced a domino effect of trees becoming uprooted from the high winds which were now able to get into the gaps produced by the fallen trees. The majority of the site was blown down in the storm with the exception of a few isolated spindly trees that remained scattered throughout the site. Fallen trunks were piled 15 ft high in some places.

In April 2013, the MCPC hired Gracie & Harrigan Consulting Foresters to prepare a plan that presented the MCPC with several alternatives for managing the blowdown area. There was little to no economic value to gain from salvaging the fallen trees.

One of the management alternatives was to take no further action and let nature take its course. Forest regeneration would have been patchy and it would have been impossible for staff to conduct any management of invasive species. The unmanaged blowdown also would have carried a substantial risk of fire.

The management alternative that was selected by the MCPC was to remove the debris and most of the standing white pine from the site. This approach removed the fire risk, left white pine standing along the edge of the site for nesting pine warblers and allowed staff access to the site in order to manage invasive species which would have prevented regeneration from occurring. In early 2014, the MCPC contracted with Downes Tree Service to clean up the site. The fallen trees were chipped and the chips were removed from the site. Stumps were placed back in the ground per the forester’s recommendations.

Gracie & Harrigan Consulting Foresters were retained to assess the site for natural regeneration in the fall of 2014 and prepare recommendations for planting. It was determined that natural regeneration was very limited after the first year and that planting the site with seedlings would be beneficial to speed up the recovery process. It was recommended that we plant most of the site with white pine seedlings and plant the small wetland area with wetland hardwood species. The MCPC contracted with Bevan Forestry Inc. to plant 2,000 seedlings on the site in 2015. Since white pine is not preferred by deer, the seedlings were not protected with fencing. POWWW also raised funds for additional native plant material which were planted at the site by their volunteers.

Since the clearing of the downed trees Natural Resources staff and contractors have spent many hours working to manage the invasive species on site, some of which were present prior to the blowdown. The most problematic species are Japanese stiltgrass, mile-a-minute vine, Japanese aralia, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, winged euonymus, and oriental bittersweet. Management has primarily consisted of applying selective herbicides to these species. Due to this approach and natural succession the site has continued to progress towards a healthy and diverse young forest. Management challenges will continue but this area is well on its way to becoming the most resilient and healthy forest it has been in over a century.

               

American Chestnut Breeding Program


The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once a dominant canopy tree in the eastern United States. Chestnut trees grew fast and tall and their nuts were a critical food source for wildlife. Chestnut wood was prized for building and woodworking, and the nuts were a much-loved and valuable food.

In 1904, the invasive chestnut blight (Cyrphonectria parasitica) was accidentally introduced to the United States from Asian chestnut trees planted in New York City. In the coming decades, this fungal blight spread throughout the chestnut’s range and decimated this once common tree. While the blight does not necessarily kill the tree, it reduces its growth to a shrubby understory plant which cannot reproduce. While you may still find chestnut trees in Morris County, you will no longer find large trees or their nuts.

Since 2004, the Morris County Park Commission has partnered with the PA/NJ Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to plant and maintain two research breeding orchards at Schooley’s Mountain County Park and Mount Paul Memorial County Park. These orchards are working towards TACF’s goal of developing a blight resistant American chestnut tree via the backcross breeding method to one day restore this species to eastern forests. This program is administered and managed by local TACF volunteers with some assistance and maintenance by the MCPC. This is a long-term scientific research project but the MCPC looks forward to one day replanting American chestnut trees in our parks.

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