October 2, 2019

An Acre of Hopewell Park Will Be a “Foraging Forest”

By Anne Levin

Before the beginning of an ongoing restoration project, a one-acre portion of Hopewell Borough Park was covered with invasive Japanese honeysuckle and autumn olive. These two varieties had been doing what they are known for: spreading quickly and overrunning any other plantings in their path.

Thanks to a partnership between the Sourland Conservancy, Mercer County Park Commission, and the D&R Greenway, this corner of the park is being transformed into a spot where native plantings — most of them edible — will thrive. The Foraging Forest project is a combination of habitat restoration and community engagement, designed to encourage members of the public to take what they learn and apply it to their own surroundings.

“An important part of creating a passion for the environment is to get people involved,” said Carolyn Klaube, Sourland Conservancy’s stewardship program coordinator. “That was part of the reasoning. We wanted to create a project where people could come in, learn, and implement that at home.”

Some 60 native plant species are being installed in the park. The public is invited to help with site preparation on October 16, 18, and 19 at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Klaube expects about half of the plants to be in the ground by the end of the weekend.

“Once the forest is going, we will still invite people to come out and experience it,” she said. “In the beginning it will be at specific times rather than round the clock, because it will take a while for things to establish. But being part of the project at any time is going to be a great experience, not just for people interested in ecology, but also for kids, too.”

The one-acre site is fenced in to keep away hungry deer. A serenity corner with a bench will be dedicated to Simcha Rudolph (the Simcha Rudolph Charitable Trust is listed as the funder).

Another important aspect of the project is to install plants that attract pollinators. The list includes not just bees but also flies, moths, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. “You can’t have food without insects,” said Klaube. “People will learn about native edible plants and the critical interactions between plants and pollinators, and also permaculture, which is another form of agriculture. When plants are staying there, it increases soil stabilization, reduces erosion, and you don’t need to fertilize them. When you’re not disturbing the soil every year, nutrients stay in the soil.”

The Foraging Forest project began with removal of the invasive species, in order to give native plants a chance to become established and then thrive. There will be continued intermittent treatments to remove invasive plants during the restoration project.

Next came mowing and fencing, and preparing the site. Following that, Klaube and Jared Rosenbaum of Wild Ridge Plants conducted a plant survey to see what species were coming up after the first phase of invasive removal. The final phase will be to maintain the forest until the plantings are established.

“Restoration projects are often thought of as being important only for plants and animals, but we don’t usually include humans as those who benefit from doing restoration projects,” notes the Sourland Conservancy website. “They are important for everyone. Areas that are restored are beneficial for all beings that live on this land, from pollinators, soil microbes, birds, and humans.”

The list of plants being installed in the forest includes wild garlic, nodding onion, wild leek, three varieties of serviceberry, and hog peanut. The Conservancy’s spring intern, Keana Welen, wrote a cookbook about cooking with native edible plants as her capstone project. “She researched recipes, spoke with foragers, and tested the recipes in order to create a true forest-to-fork cookbook,” according to the Conservancy website.

Klaube is hoping the Foraging Forest will inspire similar enthusiasm in others. “We want to encourage people to plant native plants, especially those that are edible,” she said. “This is a great project for people to learn and get involved.”