Importance of Shade Trees in Mountain Lakes
The value of a full canopy of shade trees is immeasurable and the foresight of those who plant and care for them is admirable. Given that Mountain Lakes was a development constructed within a few years timeframe, practically all the trees were removed. The new residents recognized the need for new trees and in 1915 started the Committee on Tree Planting and Landscape of the Mountain Lakes Association . The Borough had large shade trees planted along all the roads. The Committee evolved into the present day Shade Tree Commission (STC) and it has been their job to watch over the shade tree canopy ever since. Their goal is to maintain the shade tree canopy entrusted to them by previous generations.
Due to their efforts, Mountain Lakes has obtained Approved Status under the NJ Shade Tree and Community Forestry Assistance Act as well as has been designated a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation. Each year the STC works with Wildwood Elementary to sponsor an Arbor Day celebration. Events include the display of tree-related artwork created by the students, the reading of poetry and the honoring a Borough individual who has contributed much to preserving trees in Mountain Lakes.
The trees that the STC oversees are those located on Borough right of ways (ROW), which is a corridor of between 2 to 15 feet on either side of the road, depending on the road, as well as those in residential setbacks. Protective ordinances have been passed that forbid residents from pruning or removing any trees within these areas without a written permit. Trees in ROWs must also be protected via a submitted plan during residential construction. Throughout the years, the STC has removed dangerous trees, cared for, and planted new trees within the right of ways. In 2009, for example, the Borough obtained a $25K grant to plant 50 new shade trees along the Boulevard and in other public areas. The grant from the NJ Community Stewardship Incentive Program (CSIP) required municipality matching in funds or in-kind services. The match was delivered in the form of countless volunteer hours on the part of the Commission who oversaw the planting and maintenance. As a result of these efforts, the Borough had essentially “maxed out” the number of shade trees that could be planted on public property (2011’s Hurricane Irene and the following Nor’easter on October 29, 2011may have changed this situation with numerous big trees (and power lines) lost in excessive weather conditions).
Given this reality, the STC has changed their focus to educating residents about the value of planting shade trees, versus ornamental, on their property. According to the STC’s website, a single healthy shade tree converts 26 pounds of CO2 into oxygen every year. Plus, having large trees on one’s property can result in a 25% reduction in winter and 50% reduction in summer home energy bills due to their insulating and shading properties. Under current ordinances, residents are permitted to remove as many as 3 trees on their property within a 12 month period. In the past, residents of Mountain Lakes prided themselves on keeping their lawns and landscaping on the “natural” side. Beginning in the 1980’s, however, with the arrival of the big houses came the arrival of more artificial and highly manicured lawns and landscaping. Many of these changes brought ornamental invasives and non-native plants. These gardens now require more of water and maintenance because of the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used.
Education Efforts Around Shade Trees and Native Plants
Two recent efforts to educate residents about the value of shade trees and native plants are those undertaken as part of the Borough’s Centennial celebration (1911 – 2011). The first was the restoration of the Mountain Lake Cove area between the water and Morris Avenue. Key components of the project were to replace nuisance and invasive species (including a 360-foot invasive Japanese barberry hedge located along the shore) with a native-plant buffer, to reduce erosion and to provide a riparian buffer to protect the lake from road pollutants. The project also provided educational opportunities for the community to learn how to properly maintain and enhance lakeside properties by landscaping with native plants.
The award-winning, environmentally-friendly design is an indigenous garden that will not require chemical maintenance, will restore biodiversity, and conserve water resources.
Pure species native plants used in the Cove design included:
- Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
- New Jersey Tea (Ceonothus americanus)
- Blue Dogbane (Amsonia tabernaemontana)
- Ninebark (Physocarpus orbiculatus)
- Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus)
- Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
- Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
- H.G. Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica Henry’s Garnet)
- Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrine)
- Hardhack (Spirea tomentosum)
- Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
- Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
- Wreath Goldenrod (Solidago caesia
- Burgundy Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
Secondly, the Mountain Lakes Shade Tree Commission promoted a “100 Trees for 100 Years” initiative, incenting residents to plant new shade trees on their property. With the goal of achieving 100 new trees, the STC allowed residents access to wholesale tree pricing and awarding a commerative certificate with each tree planted. Approximately 65 trees were planted in all; species that fell under this program included: Northern Spruce, Red Maple, Red Oak, Juneberry, Sugar Maple, Linden, Redbud, Pin Oak and Elm. Congratulations to the Shade Tree Commission for leading this effort that will help preserve for future generations the tree canopy that is so much a defining quality of Mountain Lakes.