Volunteers nurture trees for Earth Day

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents ventured to Mount Pleasant Avenue on Sunday, April 22, to check on the status of trees planted last year at the “Rock,” open land that is maintained by the township and residents. To celebrate Earth Day, members of the Open Space and Recreation Commission invited anyone with gardening tools to visit the Rock, see how well the trees planted last Earth Day had withstood the winter, and then replant, mulch, and clean up litter at the site.

“We planted about 400 trees,” Joe McCartney, chairman of the Open Space and Recreation Commission, told the West Orange Chronicle in an interview at the event. “We’re going to remulch and restake and do some litter cleanup.”

Planting trees and consistently cleaning the site is part of a long-term plan to turn the Rock into a more functional community space, according to McCartney. There are plans to build an outdoor classroom, an orchard and gardens. For the plans to eventually come to fruition, the commission has applied for grants.

“We want to have an orchard and bees and we’ll donate the fruit and honey,” McCartney said. “We also want to get the schools involved. I like the idea of people coming up to see this; we want to keep it a passive recreation activity.”

Former Councilman Sal Anderton and his son, Justin, were a few of the residents who picked up rakes and headed to the Rock to participate.

“It’s a little way to help out on Earth Day,” Anderton told the Chronicle at the event. “And it’s a nice day, so we thought we’d come out. We do like to be outside camping and hiking, so we thought it would be fun to come and help out.”

Councilman Joe Krakoviak, who is the council liaison to the Open Space and Recreation Commission, was surprised to see how well many of the trees that were planted last year held up over the winter. Only a few seedlings didn’t make it through the cold weather and snow and needed to be removed and replaced.

“I think they’re doing well,” Krakoviak said to the Chronicle in an interview at the event. “Some of them have stayed in pots for a year but I was amazed to see that some of these were just seedlings last year.”

Krakoviak said the maintenance is ongoing at the Rock, with members of the commission cleaning up and cultivating the land every few days.

“We’re getting people here and pruning and remulching,” he said. “The entrance has gotten the most work. There have been other plans for it, even though it is built on top of a rock. But once you get stuff growing, it creates its own topsoil.”

Council President Susan McCartney said that as the weather gets warmer, the Environmental Commission, to which she is council liaison, will start working with the Open Space and Recreation Commission on maintaining the trees at the Rock and around West Orange. When and if they receive grants, she said, residents will also be able to have a say in how the space is used.

“We want to have eight different gardens and the town can vote on what they want here,” Susan McCartney said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “Planting 400 or 500 trees (last year) was pretty aggressive, and a lot of the pots still look good.”

For Heidi Cohen, a former vice chairwoman of the Open Space and Recreation Committee, this event underscores how the town supports the environment.

“You always have to have the expectation that several are going to die,” Cohen told the Chronicle in an interview at the event. “But it’s an ongoing effort to restore (this space) by the town. It’s always great when you have the community come help. It’s good to see that this is something the town is making the effort to bring back to its healthy state.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic