MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Maplewood residents John James, Risa Olinsky, and Dennis Percher are this year's recipients of the town’s prestigious Maple Leaf Awards in recognition of their volunteer work.
The award, now in its 46th year, recognizes charitable, uncompensated volunteer work performed by individuals who live or work in Maplewood.
“These volunteers are exceptional individuals whose dedication and service have made Maplewood a better place to live,” Mary Devon O’Brien, chairwoman of the Maple Leaf Awards, said in a release.
One of this year's beneficiaries is 30-year resident Dennis Percher, who became involved with preserving the South Mountain Reservation in 2002, when he came across some volunteers working on the trails. Soon he was a volunteer himself, helping with developing and marketing a mission statement for the South Mountain Conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing the South Mountain Reservation.
"We’re enormously lucky to have the South Mountain Reservation at our doorstep," Percher said. "Having the chance to become part of an organization that was focused on maintaining it and working with the Parks Department was quite exciting."
The South Mountain Conservancy is a volunteer, non-profit organization. Percher became chairman of the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees in early 2007.
South Mountain Reservation covers 2,110 acres in the central section of Essex County, extending through the municipalities of West Orange, Maplewood, and Millburn, bordering South Orange, between the first and second ridges of the Watchung Mountain Range. The presence of the early Lenape Indians lingers in the name given to the Watchung — the "high hills."
Volunteers are important to the organization, especially after a large storm like Sandy in 2012. More than 50 miles of trails had to be cleared of felled trees and debris.
"Hundreds of hours were spent by volunteers clearing all the trees that came down," Percher said.
But it’s not all work. The Conservancy also sponsors a large number of hikes led by knowledgeable and experienced guides. These range in difficulty from leisurely to strenuous.
The 46th annual Maple Leaf Award ceremony and brunch will be held at L’Affaire on Route 22 in Mountainside, beginning promptly at 1:30 p.m. In order to purchase a ticket, call 973-763-4135. Attendees must register and give payment in advance.
Interested in volunteer programs to help care for the South Mountain Reservation or in learning more about hikes and activities? Find out more at www.somocon.org.