New pollinator meadow in Watchung Reservation

UNION COUNTY, NJ — A pollinator meadow will be located in Union County’s Watchung Reservation, thanks to a service project by Girl Scout Maeve Casey. The creation served as her Gold Award project as she applied for a grant to buy milkweed seedlings that were recently planted.

“This project arose out of my involvement with Trailside Nature and Science Center as I worked on my Silver Award project there in 2014, installing a Butterfly Garden right outside the museum entrance with Emma Rogers, from my Girl Scout Troop 40020,” Maeve Casey of Mountainside told LocalSource in an interview. “During that project I received feedback from Trailside Nature and Science Center’s Naturalist Ruth Yablonsky about a possible additional site there that could be used for expanded educational purposes. In researching my Silver Award project, I came across a group called Monarch Watch that is a nonprofit education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas.

I then found out they were offering grants of milkweed for large-scale restoration projects and It seemed like a good fit, so I applied. I then coordinated closely with Betty Ann Kelly, Environmental Specialist for the Union County Parks Department, all the details and specifics required to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.”

Kelly discussed the necessary wildlife that will help sustain the pollinator population in the meadow.

“Three different species of milkweed were planted, as well as a native plant called vervain,” Environmental Specialist Betty Ann Kelly told LocalSource. “The monarch butterfly caterpillars will only eat milkweed. The adult butterflies drink the nectar. The girls planted swamp, butterfly and common milkweed plants. The monarch butterfly is almost an endangered species because of the lack of food and habitat available.”

The seeds and plants were provided by a grant given through the Trailside Museum Association, a volunteer organization that supports Trailside with donations of volunteer time and financial assistance. Mountainside also played a role in assisting with the pollinator meadow.

“The Mountainside Fire Department brought their hose to water the ground for the girls,” Kelly told LocalSource. “There is no access to water in the middle of the meadow, so this was a huge help.”

The goal of the pollinator meadow is to attract other pollinators as well, including bees and insects. This will likely turn into a biodiverse environment.

“The pollinators will attract other species of animals, such as birds to feed on the insects,” Kelly told LocalSource. “The goal is to create a biodiverse environment. Trailside hopes to teach classes in the meadow, and people will be able to visit a beautiful environment. There will be a mode path through the middle.”

The meadow was previously full of invasive plants that were treated with herbicide and replaced with the flower and grass seed provided by the grant. The next step involved is a hard frost seeding which will take place after the first frost.

“We are hoping for cold temperatures so we can spread the seeds when the ground is frozen,” Kelly told LocalSource. “The seed are then covered with clean straw. When the ground cracks open due to the frost, the seeds will get a jump start for spring. We are doing our part and we hope the weather cooperates.”

Casey is also anticipating the future of her project and is optimistic about new growth this spring.

“I am excited to see it all really coming together and can’t wait to see the first signs of spring so we can look for growth,” Casey told LocalSource in an interview.
The need for pollinators is extremely crucial, as there are not enough native plants in yards to support their survival. Without them, the food supply for humans is in a lot of danger.

“Pollinators are responsible for about a third of our country’s food supply,” Kelly told LocalSource over the phone. “We need them to pollinate our fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately there aren’t enough native plants in backyards to feed them.”

Native wildflowers and grasses that attract pollinators include coreopsis, Joe Pye Weed, wild bergamot, tall white beardtongue, New England aster, switchgrass, little bluestem, Indian grass, big leaf mountain mint and New York Ironweed.
“Maeve’s butterfly project is the perfect extension of her studies of sustainable science,” Project Advisor Gina Ruggiero told LocalSource in an interview. “We are so proud of her efforts in helping maintain local biodiversity.”