ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Building tepees in the woods from natural sticks can be an exciting team-building activity filled with imaginative play. Unfortunately, when these structures are built in protected areas, such as South Mountain Reservation, there are unforeseen negative consequences, the South Mountain Conservancy warns.
Tepees are generally built off-trail from fallen limbs. Removing the limbs removes valuable wildlife habitat and tramples vegetation. Their presence encourages others to go off-trail, increasing foot traffic to these areas and furthering damage to the forest floor. The presence of tepees also provide a model for others looking for outdoor adventures, and, in the case of SMR, has led to tepee proliferation and off-trail habitat degradation. It can take years to reverse these negative impacts and restoration efforts can be costly.
The conservancy has formed a committee to remove tepees throughout the 2,100 acres. The conservancy encourages all park users to stay on the trails, familiarize themselves with leave-no-trace outdoor ethics, and to follow the posted regulations to allow for the regeneration and improvement of the plant and wildlife habitat.
SMC has been working with the county in an ongoing 20-year forest regeneration effort to restore the understory of SMR, which has been damaged by overbrowsing by deer. These efforts include combating invasive species, replanting, deer exclosure sites, and professional evaluations and planning. For more information on forest regeneration in the reservation, visit https://www.somocon.org/volunteer/forest-regeneration/.
Park visitors can help preserve the forest by practicing a responsible and sustainable approach to enjoying natural spaces that leaves no trace; getting involved and volunteering with the SMC; learning more about regulations protecting the reservation at https://ecode360.com/12502745; and, if they see park rules being broken, calling the sheriff patrol at 973-621-4111 and/or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos Courtesy of South Mountain Conservancy