Nearly ten years ago, Union County workers and volunteers began planting native wildflowers around the lake at Warinanco Park in Roselle. Today, what was once a tattered, goose-infested lawn has become a colorful wildflower meadow and a thriving nature habitat.

“Warinanco Park has always been a popular spot, now more so than ever – with wildlife as well as people,” said Freeholder Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh.

The wildflower meadow provides nectar, seeds and fruits that nourish birds, butterflies, moths, bees and other valuable pollinators.  The meadow and nearby trees also provide nesting habitat and shelter for birds, along with cooling shade that helps to keep the lake healthy for fish.

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The plantings are designed to transition through the growing season by color, from white daisies and golden yellow “sneezeweed” in the spring to orange butterfly weed, blue vervain, pink Joe-pye weed, purple New York ironweed, and pink and white rose mallow throughout the summer. The parade of colors continues in the fall, with pink asters.

On recent visits, butterflies spotted in the wildflower meadow included the Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Least Skipper, Pearl Crescent, Silver Spotted Skipper and Buckeye. Possible sightings of Comma and Skipper butterflies were also noted.

The wildflower meadow is part of a broader shoreline restoration project completed in 2006. The project, partly funded by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, was designed to prevent algae blooms and improve water quality in the lake.

“Though one might think a wildflower meadow is self-sustaining, it does require a degree of tending. Our Adopt-a-Park volunteers deserve the credit for nurturing the meadow through the years, and making sure that the native wildflowers have room to grow,” said Jalloh.

Volunteer groups work regularly in the meadow to remove invasive plants such as mugwort, spotted knapweed and bindweed. Volunteers also repair and replace fencing, and remove litter and debris. They have also planted thousands of trees, shrubs, and aquatic plants along the shoreline to control erosion and to help filter out pollutants such as goose and dog waste.

“Each year, a score of different organizations and hundreds of volunteers help to conserve valuable habitat and make sure that our parks are beautiful and welcoming to all,” said Freeholder Sergio Granados, who is the Freeholder Board’s liaison to the Parks and Recreation Department.

Among the many Adopt-a-Park groups working at Warinanco Park are the Green Team from Groundwork Elizabeth, the Haitian Flag Day Committee, Jersey Cares, and CIT. Morgan Stanley and Phillips 66 also provided funding for wildflower seeds and new fencing, in addition to organizing employee volunteers.

County work crews also mow the Warinanco wildflower meadow one to two times yearly. The carefully timed mowings are designed to reduce woody vegetation and discourage the spread of invasive species.

“As one of the original County parks designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm, Warinanco continues to fulfill its promise of open space preservation and nature conservation, with abundant opportunities for organized sports and passive recreation,” said Granados.

County residents and businesses are encouraged to introduce native species on their property, to help promote habitats for valuable pollinators while reducing or eliminating the cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Because native species are drought hardy, they also save money on water bills and lawn care.

In addition to supporting the improved habitat in Warinanco, the Freeholder Board has also worked to upgrade the park’s popular recreation facilities.

“Every summer Warinanco Park has a full slate of team sports and free outdoor movies, along with families enjoying the picnic groves and pathways,” said Jalloh. “We have a paddle boat concession and a new sprayground, and this year marks the first season for our new Warinanco track and field facility, which hosted the National Disability Championships earlier this month.”

Plans are also under way for an expanded new Warinanco Ice Skating Center in the park, making it available for different activities throughout the year.

For more information on planting native species, download the free Union County “Plant This, Not That!” guide from the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, a Girl Scout Gold Award project of Union County resident Natalie Salinardo.

Union County residents can join Adopt-a-Park on an individual basis, or as part of a business, school or community group. For more information, visit Adopt-a-Park online at ucnj.org or call the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, 908-789-3683.

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