Come and see what’s cooking at The Rock in West Orange

Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Cumming
From left are architect Heidi Cohen, Councilwoman Tammy Williams, Councilwoman and West Orange Environmental Commission liaison Susan McCartney, Open Space Commission Chairperson Joe McCartney, Open Space Commissioner Patti Nathan, Liberty Middle School science teacher and WOEC Commissioner Christina Faust, residents Brian Tubman and Michele Szlachtanchyn, Open Space Commissioner Bill Sullivan, and John Faust.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — A pollinator garden? An apiary? A soon-to-be orchard, learning space and more? Welcome to The Rock, located on Mt. Pleasant Avenue directly across from Summit Street and right past the West Orange Recycling Center. Not too many people know about The Rock, as it’s fondly called, but they should. 

West Orange acquired the 6.4 acres of land at 577 Mt. Pleasant Ave. through the township’s Open Space Trust Fund and the New Jersey Green Acres program as open space in 2011. Open Space Commission Chairperson Joe McCartney initiated the purchase of the land and, along with forester John Linson and now-retired DPW head Nick Salese, wrote grants to fund each step of development. McCartney also researched plants and flowers for the pollinator garden and studied to become a beekeeper. 

Architects Ben Heller and Heidi Cohen created a plan that could be developed in stages, and offers interactive learning experiences and a place of reflection.

Salese handled the initial land preparation work and the township planted 500 saplings in 2017 from the NJ Tree Foundation. Working closely with West Orange schools, students from environmental clubs at Liberty Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School and West Orange High School became invested in the project, as did Open Space and Environmental commissioners. 

In 2019, volunteers began planting the pollinator garden at The Rock with a grant from the 2019 Sustainable Jersey program funded by PSE&G. Milkweed, coneflower and other plants that attract bees and other pollinators have grown over the past two years and the garden is in full bloom this summer. LMS science teacher Christina Faust designed an interactive program with QR-codes for visitors to scan and participate in activities. A fairy garden activity is especially engaging for the 5-and-under crowd. The bytes are 30 to 45 seconds in length and will also inform families about the pollination cycle. 

In April 2021, the newest addition arrived at The Rock: the township’s first apiary, featuring 10,000 Saskatraz bees. The hive was funded with a $1,500 grant from the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions and the bees are bred to be disease-resistant and cold-weather tolerant. They are non-aggressive and good honey producers, with the possibility of producing up to 60 pounds of honey starting in 2022. 

Open Space and Environmental commissioners hope to plant an orchard in the fall. Apple, cherry, peach and other weather-resistant fruit trees will be planted and watered through a drip-irrigation system. 

While in its early stages, The Rock is worth a trip to see the Pollinator Garden and Apiary, though visitors should stay away from the electric fence, set up around its perimeter to ward off unwanted visitors. Like other West Orange parks, visitors can stop by from dawn to dusk.