Since its inception as one of New Jersey’s first planned communities in the early 1900’s, Mountain Lakes has been well known for the many natural environmental features which contribute to an exceptional quality of life. The recreational lakes, an abundance of trees, and large tracts of undeveloped areas all contribute to a feeling of natural beauty and serenity which continues to enhance the lifestyle of Borough residents.
Over the years, the Borough has resisted the ever-present pressures to develop open spaces and subdivide large lots in the interest of maintaining those environmental characteristics which make Mountain Lakes a truly unique community. It is clear that the environmental and economic future of the Borough depends in large measure on the intelligent management of future growth and the continued preservation of our natural resources.
One of several tools required to properly manage municipal land use is an inventory of natural resources which identifies selected environmental characteristics and serves as the bench mark against which the future success (or failure) of conservation programs can be measured. For many years, interested residents have contributed to a growing body of information describing the natural resources which characterize the environment of the Borough. This accumulated knowledge plus substantial research form the basis for this Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI).
A comprehensive Master Plan has been prepared which will become the basis for the future management of our community’s growth and the preservation of our natural resources. This ERI will enable more specific objectives to be developed and implemented, thus increasing the effectiveness of the master planning process. In addition, the ERI will assist the Building Sub-Code Official and Planning Board in their reviews of future building applications. This will help to assure consistency with the master plan objectives in general and the conservation of our natural resources in particular.
Since residents of the Borough are continually accumulated data on our natural resources, it seems appropriate to structure this report in a modular form with free-standing sections. In this way, information on any topic can be added or modified as appropriate, while entire new sections may be added as information becomes available.
An Environmental Resources Inventory, if used properly, can result in harmonious blending of human desires and natural processes. This was stated most effectively in 1973 by the Environmental Commission’s original chairman. We share his hope.
A Green Legacy
Our capacity to alter the world of nature is truly awesome. Population pressures and the requirements of commercial expansion and urban growth are constantly at work enlarging the man-made portion of our environment and diminishing the natural.
Currently the man-made portion of the environment in the metropolitan New York-New Jersey region is replacing the natural at the rate of 2,000 acres per week. The best estimates of the regional land use planning agencies tell us that we will have to build as much between now and the turn of the century as we have built during the past 200 years of our history. Some of this will be rebuilding on the site of past development, but much of it will involve the development of what is now open space.
If we are to maintain a healthy human relationship to the land and preserve the necessary open space to make this relationship possible, it is plain that we must act now — when there is still open space to work with. We must insist that our developers be more conservation-minded, and we must broaden the role of resource planning in the management of our municipal estate.
Mountain Lakes has from the very first been hospitable to humankind. Its glory has always been the spaciousness and solitude provided by its green spaces — even before we were aware of the resulting environmental benefits such spaces provide a community. But this green legacy will remain green only if we act to keep it so.
While almost everyone will agree to the general principle that open space should be preserved rather than needlessly destroyed, the translation of this sentiment into official action is another matter. Sound ecological and economical arguments must replace emotions and sentiment as the basis for land use decisions. In the final analysis there are basically three open space benefits:
- The first is the establishment of outdoor recreational opportunity.
- The second is for the maintenance of attractive community design, a pleasant landscape, and the environment amenity this supplies.
- The third is for the maintenance of natural processes or, in a modern phraseology, ecosystem balance.
Each of these three basic approaches to open spaces have inherent ecological, social and economic benefits, and fortunately in many cases all these functions can be served by one piece of land (more accurately by one well planned system of open spaces).
Where do these three functions come together? Fortunately the answer to that question does not require elaborate inventories by scientists, technicians or sociologists. In most cases, empirical reasoning and a careful look at the landscape is enough.
The recreationists say that “water is the focal point”. Water and related land provide the greatest range of recreational opportunities. They also speak of trails, woodland paths, and large unbroken and isolated areas of open space for hiking and camping. The designer is concerned with either separating or unifying communities via predominant natural land forms, such as water courses, also ridge lines for visual amenity and large tracts of land to serve as buffers or “green belts”. The naturalist also finds wildlife in and associated with water. He is also concerned with the action of water on vegetation and soil; thus steep slopes require natural cover. Finally, he knows that some of the large tracts are necessary because an ecosystem, i.e., that integrated plant/animal community that makes up a self-sufficient biological inter-relationship, cannot exist with any integrity without preserving certain critical areas undisturbed by land uses or activities which tend to disrupt the ecological balance.
Recently, the acres per thousand approach has been replaced by an ecological one in which natural processes are the basis on which open space decisions are made, as well as general planning decisions reflecting prohibition against certain types of land uses. If natural processes are maintained in relative equilibrium, all kinds of benefits accrue. The most dynamic and thus major determinant of natural processes is, again, water. If the water system is kept in equilibrium, then the chances are that all natural processes will be in basic equilibrium. Thus, land-use limitations as well as sites for open space can be selected on the single basis of maintaining the integrity of the water regimen. When this is done, the defense of government policy need not rest exclusively on arguments such as natural beauty or as the provision of “X” amount of recreational space for “Y” amount of people. The defense can rest upon work actually performed by water in process: marshes and wetlands as reservoirs for flood water, aquifers as self-perpetuating water storage systems, unbuilt-upon flood plains to avoid economic and physical catastrophes, and protected surface water for use and recreation.
By placing restrictions on the use of water-related land, open space can be infused into development as amenity, and recreational sites provided. Therefore, the absolute amount of land that a municipality should preserve as open space is calculated by the water system, not by acres per thousand.
By Vernon “Dave” Dame
Environmental Commission Chairman 1973