Editor's Note: The following is a news release issued by the Mercer County administration.
Almost two years ago, more than 8 acres of meadow was replanted with trees at the top of the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain in Hopewell Township. Now, on the heels of their success at Baldpate, the Mercer County Park Commission and the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) are taking on a more ambitious project: the reforestation of Hollystone Preserve.
The Hollystone Preserve purchase in May 2010 was a significant step in protecting an environmentally sensitive area of the Baldpate Mountain ecosystem. The preservation permanently protects 121 acres of open fields, woods and stream corridor situated between the Baldpate Mountain preserve, the D&R Canal State Park and Washington Crossing State Park in Hopewell Township. This acquisition was designed to protect wildlife habitat and water resources as well as to increase recreational opportunities.
“Hollystone Preserve is truly a successful collaborative effort of the county government, not-for-profit organizations and volunteers,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “The pioneering stewardship work of reforestation and soil restoration will benefit the entire community with enhanced recreation and education opportunities as well as protection of the forest and water quality.”
The woodlands of Hollystone are at the edge of a 9,500-acre contiguous forest of the Sourlands region supporting rare and endangered species of plants and wildlife. However, in order for the land to live up to its ecological potential, the forest gap that now lies between Baldpate Mountain and Fiddler's Creek needs to be restored to its original woodland state.
Effective reforestation is a multi-step process. Hollystone was farmed for hundreds of years, completely changing the composition of the soil as compared to the adjacent forest. In order for native plants, shrubs and trees to flourish, it was essential that the soil be restored and invasive plant species be removed.
“I’ve seen many thousands of acres of abandoned farmland swallowed by invasive weeds and knew we had to try something different to support our restoration efforts,” said Mike Van Clef, FoHVOS stewardship director. “Thanks to our generous grantors, we were allowed to go the extra mile to improve soil health and foster native plants.”
The county and FoHVOS combined the revenues of their separate grant sources to complete the project. With funds provided by a grant from Conservation Resources Inc., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, work began last summer with a soil analysis to determine the requirements for creating optimum conditions for successful plantings. The 40-acre field was mowed and the compacted soil loosened using a new technique called “sub-soiling.” The soil pH was decreased and new wood chips were added to better mimic natural forest soils. Only after deer fencing was installed to protect the new plantings was the ground ready for the plant materials.
The Park Commission and FoHVOS staffs lacked the manpower to put more than 4,500 native wildflowers, shrubs and trees in the ground, including 8-foot-tall red oaks, silky dogwoods and persimmons. However, the call for volunteers was well received and more than 100 individuals from the community helped with the planting efforts over nine days in November. In addition to the dozens of individuals who turned out, local businesses Bloomberg and Withum, Smith and Brown as well as The Pennington School and Raritan Valley Community College provided groups of volunteers to help with the effort.
Alongside the reforestation project, trail work is being done to provide public access to Hollystone. Mercer County will construct a parking area and information kiosk at the Fiddlers Creek Road entrance to Hollystone similar to that which exists across the street at Baldpate Mountain. New Jersey Trails Association (NJTA), the same group that spearheaded the construction of a substantial hiking trail leading from the parking area at Baldpate to the top of the mountain, is now working on creating trails on Hollystone that connect to those that currently exist on Baldpate.
As a bird sanctuary, the land will serve as a rest stop for migrating birds passing through the area and breeding grounds for those who stay, as well as habitat for other native wildlife.
While Hollystone is not yet open to the public for recreational use, there is still an opportunity to help with reforestation. Courtesy of a grant from the Grainger Foundation, supplemental plantings of 450 native shrubs and flowers will be done in early May. Individuals or groups that would like to help are asked to contact firstname.lastname@example.org