The South Mountain Conservancy (SMC), an organization which advocates for preservation of the South Mountain Reservation, is reacting to the construction which started this month on the South Orange Avenue 'S-Curves'. The 'S-Curves' travel through the center of the park in Maplewood and Millburn Townships. Dennis Percher, the chair of the board of trustees at the SMC tells South Orange Maplewood Place that despite several concerns he has regarding the project, Essex County officials have been doing a "very good job" and is "very amenable" to the concerns of the SMC.
"I was quite impressed with the effort the County engineers and consultants plan to plant approximately 6,300 trees and bushes to compensate for the trees that will be removed", said Percher. "These are trees that are 3 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter".
According to Percher, trees will be planted along South Orange Avenue and in other areas throughout the reservation. The SMC is working with Essex County to decide where the trees will be placed. The SMC wants the county to plant dogwood trees on Dogwood Hillside, which is located along Brookside Drive. "One time, (it) had numerous (dogwood) trees planted by the Olmsted Brothers", said Percher, "now it will live up to that name". The Olmsted Brothers designed South Mountain Reservation, along with several other parks, including Central Park in Manhattan, Memorial Park in Maplewood, and Grover Cleveland Park in Caldwell.
However, Percher expressed concern over the possible ongoing watering the new trees. "If they plant (the trees) in the spring, then there is usually enough moisture to have trees establish themselves". Percher went on to say that the SMC "does not want a significant portion of trees dying in the first year or two".
Another part of the project is that a new bridge will be built at the eastern end of the 'S-Curves'. The new bridge will eventually connect the Longwood Trail to other trails west of South Orange Avenue. Percher said that the original plan for the bridge called for "hikers (being) forced right into the Girl Scout camp", which is located off of South Orange Avenue. Percher said that he spoke out against this plan at a public hearing in 2011, and the county agreed to move the location of the new bridge so that it would not force hikers to walk through the Girl Scout camping area. Percher said that the SMC will build 100 feet of trail to allow hikers to easily access the Longwood Trail from the bridge. The Longwood Trail goes from behind the Girl Scout camping area to Turtle Back Rock picnic area in West Orange.
The project also calls for the current Lenape Trail bridge over South Orange Avenue to be replaced with another bridge. Percher said that the SMC "does not know the timing" of when the bridge will be replaced, but expressed concern that the replacement could interfere with the annual Mayapple Run and SMC guided hikes.
Percher summed the project up by saying that "it is unfortunate and a concern that we are losing land, but this is a project they've (Essex County) been working on since the initial scoping 10 years ago. There were accidents, and they are trying to make South Orange Avenue safer".