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exploring south branch preserve south

  1. About this coded trail

The Land Conservancy has acquired a total of 188 acres in our South Branch Preserve South Section with headwater streams that flow into the South Branch of the Raritan River. The Raritan River supplies water to millions of people downstream. The Land Conservancy of NJ purchased the property on June 9, 2010. We hired Tom Salmon Construction Company to do the heavy construction work which consisted of filling in the two storm basin ponds, eliminating 2 culverts on the ponds outlets, removing one foundation, capping the one well, restoring the 7 stream crossing areas & filling in the old road. Tom spread the two soil piles into the two retention ponds and created 10 vernal pools for amphibians. They also graded the stream crossings to their original contours & filled in a road cut and the 2 main roads.

We also hired Paul W. Steinbeiser Inc. Landscape Design & Construction to restore the stream beds. They lined the streambeds with stones to make them look like the original stream beds. They also planted 1,287small trees, shrubs & herbaceous plants in and along the stream beds and in & around the vernal ponds. They also planted trees in & along the two roads.

We hired Bash Construction to surround the area with a deer exclosure. They built a 7.5 foot, 100 acre deer fence approximately 8,500 feet long with a main gate and a smaller gate. We hired Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve to conduct a total plant stewardship index of the property. In their study they said that the quality of diverse plant life on the property was unusually high, one of the highest they have seen in New Jersey. They found an estimated 266 species of trees, plants, ferns and grasses on the 134+ acres inside and outside of the fence.

In addition, we hired Michael Van Clef, owner of Ecological Solutions. He mapped all of the invasive plants that he found on the property.

  1. Reforestation

Since this preserve is surrounded by thick forest we decided to plant many native trees. In time these trees and the seeds from the surrounding forest trees will grow and the formally planned development will become forest.

  1. Pussy willow (salix discolor):

The Pussy Willow produces silver, velvety upright catkins on leafless stems late in winter that are reminiscent of tiny cat feet. Only male trees produce these catkins.The pussy willow grows to a height of 15–25' and a spread of 12–25' at maturity.

  1. Restored Stream #1:

There are many seeps and small streams in the area and this is one of the streams that flow through our preserve. This and all of the other streams in this preserve join together and flow into the South Branch of the Raritan River.

  1. Stream Restoration:

When we purchased this property we wanted to restore these streams to their natural condition so we placed rocks and logs along their paths. Eventually moss and other plant material will take root and it will look like it was never disturbed. By doing this it has eliminated the erosion that was caused by the construction from the previous owner.

  1. Double Stream:

When it rains there is a lot of water that flows through the preserve. These two main streams carry most of the water.

  1. Bluebird Houses:

Bluebirds will nest in bird boxes and old woodpecker holes. They eat many insects. We have placed several of these houses throughout the preserve.

  1. Vernal Ponds:

Vernal ponds are ponds that dry up during the dry months therefore fish will not breed in them. This makes it more probable that when amphibians lay their eggs they will be successful. We have created several of these ponds. Within a week of when they were created American toads laid eggs and they hatched within a week after that.

  1. Wetland Forest:

Because of the many seeps and springs the main interior of the forest is quite wet. Many species of wildflowers are growing in this forest.

  1. Fallen Tree:

When trees fall in the forest they create nesting spots for wild turkeys and other low nesting birds. As the tree slowly rots it adds humus to the soil. This humus enriches the soil so that more wildflowers will flourish. The rotting wood will also create homes for many species of insects. They will in turn be food for snakes, frogs and birds.

  1. Ferns and Wildflowers:

Because of the moisture and rich soil we have identified approximately374 species of flora of which 78% are native to NJ.

  1. Shagbark Hickory:

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)is a common hickoryin the Eastern United States. It is a large, deciduous tree, growing well over 100 feet tall, and can live more than 350 years. Mature shagbarks are easy to recognize because, as their name implies, they have shaggy bark. This characteristic is, however, only found on mature trees; young specimens have smooth bark. The shagbark hickory's nut is edible and has a very sweet taste.

  1. Chestnut Oak:

The acorns of the chestnut oak (quercus prinus) as well as other oak species are food formore than 100 U.S. vertebrate species. The acorn is the cheeseburger of the forest ecosystem. It is fairly easy to find and nicely packaged. They are one of the most valuable food resources available for wildlife.Scientists have noted that 534 species of  butterflies and moths are supported by native oaks. More than any other tree species.

  1. American Beech:

American beech (fagus grandifolia)It is a deciduoustree growing to 65–115 ft. tall, with smooth, silver-gray bark. The leaves are dark green, simple and sparsely-toothed with small teeth that terminate each vein. Beech buds are distinctly thin and long, resembling cigars; this characteristic makes beech trees relatively easy to identify. There are several very large American beech  trees in the preserve. You will see many young beech trees under and around the big tree. Scientists noted that mother trees suckle their children, they feed the young tree just enough sugars produced by its own photosynthesis to keep it from dying. Trees in a forest of the same species are connected by the roots, which grow together like a network. Their root tips have highly sensitive brain-like structures that can distinguish whether the root that it encounters in the soil is its own root, the root of another species, or the roots of its own species.

  1. Yellow Birch:

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)is a beautiful native species that has an incredible fall display of bright yellow and gold leaves. Its bark is a shiny yellow to gray-silver that splits into curly strips and becomes a reddish brown as it grow older. The stems of the Yellow Birch contain a wintergreen aroma. Yellow birch grows near wet areas and reaches 60'-75' high and wide.

  1. White Oak:

White Oak (quercus alba)The acorns produced by the white oak are a major source of food in the tree's ecosystem. These fruits are about 1 1/4 inches long, egg-shaped with a shallow cap and need but one season to grow to maturity. A wide array of birds, from turkeys and grouse to blue jays and crows, depend on them in the fall for nutrition. In addition, mammals as large as the black bear and the deer and as tiny as voles and mice will include the acorns in their diets. Populations of some species fluctuate in proportion to the amount of white oak acorns available each year.

  1. Trout Lillies:

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)does not flower for the first 4–7 years of its life.While the plant is too young to flower it will grow one leaf and once it has reached maturity may grow 2 paired leaves and a flower stalk. In any given trout lily colony 99% of the plants will be non-flowering and only have one leaf and 5% will have paired leaves and flowers. Trout lily blooms in early spring before the trees growing above it develop leaves, this allows it to have unobstructed access to sunlight and also allows it to grow when soil nutrient levels are high. The flowers close at night.

  1. Fallen Hickory Treet:

This fallen tree is making room for other smaller trees to reach for the light. You can see that as the tree grew it grew around the rocks and the finer roots use the rocks as anchors.

  1. Moss Covered Rocks:

Mosses belong to a group of plants known as the bryophytes. Bryophytes have no roots, but they do have thin root-like structures which serve for attachment and water absorption. These are known as rhizoids. Some species of mosses attach to the rocks by these rhizoids. Most mosses have very little resistance to drying out, and because most of the mosses are confined to areas which are damp and sheltered, certain kinds of rocks are suitable for them to live. Once the rock has the natural conditions for the moss to grow (water, acid or basic nutrients), the moss is going to attach to the rock by means of the rhizoids.

  1. Forest Health:

Forests are complex ecosystems with lives of their own, and every leaf counts. Even the smallest piece of the system, from a bird to a beetle to pond bacteria, is needed to support every other piece. All forest animals, in particular, need a clean, safe water supply, as well as specific foods for nourishment. Biodiversity represents the diversity of life in a thriving forest, which helps make it stronger and better able to withstand outside threats that can destroy it, like infestations and disease.

  1. Black Birch:

Black or Sweet Birch Betula lentaleafs out early in spring. Earlier than ferns. Black birch is one of the best tree species at growing though the dense fern layers that sometimes keep trees from regenerating. You can see many of them growing at the edge of this forest.

  1. Field Restoration Area:

You can see the field that we are in the process of restoring with trees, shrubs, native wildflowers and several vernal ponds. The forest will regenerate here but it will take several decades to fill in.

  1. Viburnum:

This is one of the many native shrubs that were planted onsite. A genus of more than 150 woody plants. Many are native to North America. They are admired for their foliage, flowers and their fruit. Most viburnums flower in spring. The sometimes-fragrant flowers range from white and cream to pink-flushed or wholly pink.  Many species bear ornamental fruits in late summer or fall. The fruits may be red, yellow, blue or black.

  1. Scenic View:

If you sit on the bench in the fall there is a beautiful view of the fall colors on the distant mountain in Mount Olive.

  1. Restored Area:

This area once held a huge pile of soil that was removed from the construction area. We spread out the soil and filled in the road to taper the contours to match the old terrain. Native grasses, perennials and bluebird houses have been planted and placed in this area.

  1. Arrowwood Viburnum:

Arrowwood Viburnum (viburnum dentatum) is a woody, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub that has a rounded shape and grows 5 to 9 feet tall and wide. It has toothed leaves and small, creamy white flowers in May to June that mature to bluish black spherical fruits.Foliage turns yellow to red in late fall. The fruits are a food source for songbirds.

  1. River Birch:

River Birch (betula nigra) is a deciduoustreegrowing to 80–100 ft with a trunk 20 to 60 inches in diameter. The base of the tree is often divided into multiple slender trunks. Once the River Birch ages past maturity, the scales become thicker towards the base of the trunk and are divided in deep furrows.

  1. American Witch Hazel(hamamelis virginiana):

American Witch Hazel is a native shrub or small tree with arching branches reaching a height of about 15 feet. The yellow flowers bloom very late in the fall from late October to December and have a pleasant spicy fragrance. The forked limbs were used as diving rods to find underground sources of water.

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South Branch Preserve Farm

In 2018 we partnered with City Green, a nonprofit that offers equitable access to healthy food while promoting environmental stewardship and ecologically sustainable
communities. City Green has been farming organically on 12 acres of our 29-acre farm at South Branch Preserve ever since. In 2020 they produced 44,000 pounds of tasty, nutrient-dense organic food for those who can use it most.
Coming soon in 2021 is a kid-friendly veggie trail along the perimeter of the farm.

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West Brook Stream Restoration

The West Brook is a major source of clean water for the Wanaque Reservoir, which 2 million New Jersey residents rely on for drinking. In 2020 we completed a major restoration that redirected the brook back into its original stream bed and reflooded the wetlands. Ultimately more water will flow into the reservoir during dry periods, erosion will be reduced, native plant species will flourish, and it will once again become a healthy habitat for the imperiled eastern brook trout.

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Reviving the American Chestnut

American chestnut trees were plentiful and useful to humans and wildlife alike, until a blight fungus killed them off more than a century ago. Today, TLCNJ is part of a multifaceted approach to bringing back the American chestnut--planting trees with Antinanco at South Branch, working with Rutgers to study mycological solutions using mature trees on our property in Mahwah, and making sure all of the chestnut trees in our care remain healthy.

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Blazing Trails

Our Stewardship Team has established trails through South Branch, South Branch South, and the Nancy Conger West Brook preserves. These routes lead visitors on a journey through the different environmental features and habitats in each landscape. You may find a stream, or a bird blind, or a grove of pawpaw trees. Some trails feature QR codes that teach you about the flora and fauna you encounter.

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Project Chew

We’ve teamed up with Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary to use goats and sheep as an anti-invasives team to control the mile-a-minute weed, bittersweet, and other shrubs that are taking over parts of the South Branch Preserve. The animals graze on one-acre sections of land within a solar electric fence that is moved once they have eaten all the invasive plants. The Chew Crew stays for the summer, and then in the fall we plant native grasses and wildflowers where the invasives used to be.

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Pollinator Meadow

In an effort to nourish dwindling native pollinator populations like bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, we have planted 8,000 trees and shrubs on 37 acres of former cornfields at South Branch Preserve, restoring these to native forest and providing a buffer for three-quarters of a mile of the South Branch of the Raritan River. The nearby butterfly meadow is sown every year with milkweed and wildflower seeds that we have saved in order to attract and support monarch butterflies, with the hope that in years to come the meadow will be self-sustaining.

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Scout Projects

We have been working with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for years. Many of the improvements on our properties are made by hard-working young people who want to do good in their communities. The QR codes on the nature trails, birdhouses, blueberry bushes, horseshoe pit, and land art at South Branch Preserve are all excellent examples. Our preserves are better because of them.

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