A group of Union County Adopt-a-Park volunteers went far, far beyond the call of duty last weekend, when they came together in freezing cold weather to work on a new butterfly meadow in the County’s Watchung Reservation.
The large, half-acre site is located near the grounds of the Trailside Nature and Science Center, at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside.
“Every year hundreds of volunteers work to improve wildlife habitats in our County parks, and this group certainly stands out for their willingness to get the job done even in the middle of a snow storm,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen.
The wintery work was undertaken to ensure that the meadow enjoys a successful first season this year.
For some plants, seeds that are sown on frost-hardened ground and exposed to below-freezing weather are better able to germinate properly. When the ground warms up the seeds fall into cracks that form in the soil, which also helps the meadow get off to an early start.
After spreading the seeds, the volunteers put down a layer of hay to prevent birds from eating the seeds, and to reduce erosion.
“Pollinators play an invaluable role in the environment and in agriculture. The Freeholder Board is very proud that our Union County community is playing a part in creating and preserving our pollinator population, one meadow at a time,” said Bergen.
The new Watchung Reservation butterfly meadow will also become part of the educational programming at Trailside.
Other recent pollinator projects undertaken by Union County include a large meadow along the shores of the lake in Warinanco Park in Roselle, and provisions for pollinator-attracting plants in local community gardens that received grants from Chairman Bergen’s 2016 Community Garden Grants initiative.
The Trailside seeding is the latest step in a long term project organized by a local Girl Scout, Maeve Casey, who had previously worked on installing a butterfly garden at the entrance to the Trailside Nature and Science Center in 2014.
Ms. Casey enlisted fellow Girl Scouts to help begin the new project last fall, when they planted more than 400 milkweed seedlings with County personnel and other volunteers. The Mountainside Fire Department also provided key assistance by trucking water to the site. The seedlings were provided by Monsanto through a grant obtained by Ms. Casey.
Last weekend’s volunteer group included Ms. Casey and family members along with Adopt-a-Park and Adopt-a-Trail volunteers.
The seeds were purchased from Toadshade Wildflower Farm of Frenchtown with funds donated by the Trailside Museum Association, which provides volunteer and financial support for Trailside and its environs. Bartell Farm & Garden Supplies of Clark donated some of the hay.
Donations of additional hay are welcome by calling the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, 908-789-3683 (hay must be salt hay or clean straw to avoid weed seeds).
Individuals and groups are welcome to join Union County’s Adopt-a-Park and Adopt-a-Trail volunteer groups for additional work on the new meadow this spring, and other nature conservation projects throughout the year.
For more information about Union County environmental programs and volunteer opportunities visit The Green Connection, ucnj.org/green-connection.
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(All photos by Betty Ann Kelly, County of Union)