5-acre Forest

Prisoner’s Pond is a small 1/2-acre water body located in the southern tip of the Hilltop Reservation.  It is the only year-round water source in the park and provides valuable habitat for small fish, frogs, turtles, ducks and other wildlife.

However, due to a combination of past agricultural use and recent tree disease, the woods surrounding the pond are in very poor shape.  There are almost no healthy canopy trees — only dead / dying white ash, Norway maple and Chinese tree-of-heaven.  Over time the ground level filled with invasive bush honeysuckle, which now is so thick that nothing new can grow underneath (see left-hand photo below).  Without human intervention, the forest here will not recover.

The good news is, we are restoring ecological balance to this area by doing what the Conservancy calls “patching the roof”.  Meaning, first clear the invasives in order to remove competition for sunlight and nutrients, then plant native tree saplings that will mature over time and re-establish the forest canopy.  The newly-planted areas are being monitored to ensure bush honeysuckle does not re-invade, but once the canopy starts to close (see illustrative right-hand photo below), additional native understory species will be added to complete the forest restoration.

Prisoner’s Pond Forest Canopy – Current State (note dead / dying white ash) (Credit:  Theresa Trapp)
Prisoner’s Pond Forest Canopy – Future State (~10 years after re-planting) (Credit:  Mike Bellaus, Duke Farms)

See progress, next steps and gallery of implementation photos below.

Progress to Date —

  • 2017:  Scoped and budgeted project; obtained funding commitment from Essex County; identified and pre-ordered native canopy tree saplings
  • 2018:  Worked with Boy Scout Troops 6 & 9, Verona DPW, Sustainable Verona team and other local volunteers to clear bush honeysuckle, cut and clear dead / dying white ash and invasive Norway maple trees in first 1-acre area
  • 2019:  Worked with local volunteers (scout, high school, Master Gardener and others) to plant and mulch 80+ native trees / shrubs, install trunk guards / cages and address invasives re-growth in first 1-acre area; began cutting and clearing second 1-acre area
  • 2020:  Worked with Caldwell / North Caldwell / West Caldwell scouts and volunteers to finish clearing second 1-acre area; worked with County contractor and volunteers to plant, mulch and protect 100+ native trees / shrubs
  • 2021-2022:  Worked with Cedar Grove scout to clear third 1-acre area; finished Japanese knotweed control and dead tree-clearing in low-lying wetland area; planted, mulched and protected ~130 native trees and shrubs
  • 2023:  Begin clearing bush honeysuckle, other invasives and dead trees from remaining 2 acres

Next Steps 

To view this gallery click here.