In late June, the Mercer County Planning Office and the Park Commission released a Draft Baldpate Mountain Park Master Plan for review by the co-owners of the mountain. The plan was prepared by design consultant T&M Associates under the direction of the county. The co-owners along with Mercer County are Hopewell Township, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, and the State of New Jersey. The document incorporates all the plan's elements that have been developed over the last two years. Some changes have been made to the original plan based on suggestions from the Friends and others.
This draft was presented to Hopewell Township officials and representatives of the Friends at a meeting of the Park commission held at the Hopewell Township municipal building on July 25. Some members of the public, as well as representatives from WCAS, Delaware Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club also attended. Following presentation of the plan, comments from the audience were heard.
All of the plans for the park come under the broad category of passive recreation. However, there remians concern among environmentalists that the plan for the park is overly ambitious at the expense of wilderness and conservation values. Baldpate Mountain holds the largest remaining contiguous forest in Mercer County and has been documented as important breeding habitat for several species of forest interior dwelling neotropical migratory songbirds. Overall, it is unusually rich in bird life and also harbors some rare and endangered plant species. The challenge is to balance accessibility for public enjoyment with the need for conservation. WCAS has gone on record as an advocate for giving top priority to preserving habitat and limiting enhancements to only those which do not conflict with the needs of wildlife.
Friends President Ted Stiles, who is an expert in forest ecology, is drafting some suggested revisions to the plan, including rewriting the proposed forest management plan. It appears that both Mercer County and T&M Associates are open to suggestions for modifying the plan. However, they seem to be wedded to certain aspects of the plan.
What you can do: Keep an eye out for announcement of a public meeting on the plan, possibly this fall. We will do our best to keep our members informed. But notice may be short and we suggest you watch the newspaper for an announcement. Meanwhile, consider writing to the county planners telling them that you support making habitat conservation the top priority for Baldpate Mountain. Remind them that they, and the other owners of the mountain, are stewards of a real ecological treasure-one that is rare in our state, and totally unique in Mercer County. Point out that intensive improvements are not needed in order for the public to enjoy the park.
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