The second major habitat restoration project undertaken by the Conservancy focused on a 3-acre open area just south of the Hilltop’s 15-acre grassland site, which used to contain the power plant, laundry and equipment garage of the former Essex Mountain Sanatorium. Like the grassland project site, the sanatorium buildings had been demolished but a lot of rubble, debris and pedestrian hazards remained. In addition, almost 20% of the site was covered by old asphalt driveways and concrete foundations, with the remaining 2.5 acres infested by mugwort and common reed.
In 2011, after the infamous “October snowstorm”, the Conservancy began working with Verona Township to take their ground-up yard waste collections and create topsoil for the bare portions of the site (2012’s Superstorm Sandy and 2013’s subsequent clean-up provided even more organic material). We broke up the impermeable surfaces to improve drainage, covered them with several feet of mulch and clean fill, smoothed everything out and then waited for nature to finish the decomposition process. In 2017 the new topsoil was ready and we brought in the Fish & Wildlife Service to seed native grasses and wildflowers — see before and after photos below.
This upland site will require another few years of monitoring, invasives control and additional seeding by the Conservancy before we can declare the restoration healthy and stable. But what a change from what it used to be!
See progress, next steps and a gallery of implementation photos below.
Progress to Date —
- 2011-2014: Worked with Grove Landscaping and Verona Township to clear site of obstructions and create topsoil out of town leaf collections and clean fill; worked with volunteers to plant native trees and shrubs in enclosures along western edge
- Creating rather than purchasing topsoil saved almost $200k in disposal and trucking fees
- 2015-2016: Mowed weeds flat to keep site clear while leaf mulch and wood chips decomposed into topsoil
- 2017: Controlled mugwort and phragmites infestations; seeded native grasses and wildflowers with FWS
- 2018: Seeded more native grass and wildflower species
Next Steps —
- 2019: Eradicate remaining mugwort, phragmites and Japanese hops; transplant more native wildflower plugs; install 4 nestboxes; put fresh layer of wood chips on footpath around eastern and southern edges
- 2020: Obtain commitment from Essex County to have NJ Forest Service conduct prescribed burn approximately every 3 years to control weeds and rejuvenate native grasses and wildflowers
- 2021: Remove fencing / enclosures on western edge (once trees and shrubs have grown tall enough to be out of deer browse reach)
To view this gallery click here.