A partnership between Pennington Borough and the Hopewell Valley Regional School District will result in a new botanical section in the community.
The area, which has been dubbed as an arboretum, is where trees, shrubs and plants are planted or cultivated for scientific and educational purposes. Howe’s Habitat, the 3.4 acre plot of land next to Toll Gate Elementary, will be where the arboretum resides.
The Pennington Borough Council voted unanimously to authorized the purchase of the lot during its council meeting on the evening of Sept. 3.
“There is some work yet to be done to create the new lot from the existing school property, including a boundary survey and minor subdivision application,” said Pennington Borough Administrator Eileen Heinzel. “The closing on the new lot is tentatively scheduled for December.”
Heinzel explained that the future arboretum is based on a plan that was developed in April 2018 by Michael Van Clef, stewardship director of the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, a nonprofit that preserves land and protects natural resources.
“The arboretum is a three-year project that is estimated to cost $51,675. The project will not begin until early next year,” Heinzel reported.
The borough is set use open space funds, as well as New Jersey Green Acres and Mercer County At Play grants to acquire the property, remove dead and diseased trees, remove invasive species and improve pathways through the property.
“I think this is really important to have this. It is really a nice piece of forest in the middle of town,” Van Clef said. “A lot of people have access to it, including the children at the school. I think this could be a really good example of a good destination within the borough. People will have an example of what a healthy forest looks like. This is just a great opportunity.”
From 2017 through 2018, Van Clef developed a preliminary design for an arboretum with the help of members of several of the borough’s committees, such as the environmental, open space, shade tree, and parks and recreation committees.
The plan includes the planting of native shrubs, wildflowers and native trees, which totals around 1,100 native plants planned to be installed at the arboretum. Included in the total number of native plants are 100 large native tree species. The trees will be planted along trails in the arboretum.
“The whole idea was to have the native plants that have been wiped out in the forest due to deer, and fence them off and have diversity with the native plants,” he said.
There will also be two deer exclosures created on either end of the trail system in the arboretum.
“This is the best case scenario for our school district and our community.” said Alyce Murray, Hopewell Valley board of education president. “The space was underutilized by the district and will be transformed into an educational space that will be used by our community and the students at Toll Gate [Elementary].”
Murray said she is appreciative of the collaboration between Pennington Borough, the district administration and the board of education.
“My hope is that our willingness to work through a plan to transform this space for the mutual benefit of all residents will serve as an example to address the future challenges of our community,” she said.