Thursday, November 12, 2015

Looking for the Forest in the Trees

A healthy mixed-oak forest.
Have you ever made the observation while walking park trails that the character of the forest around you is distinctly different from place to place and park to park? Ecologists tell us that these variations are a result of the environmental preference; the ‘niche’ or ‘habitat’ of the forest species.

Monmouth County has particularly diverse parks because it overlaps multiple geographical regions—the Inner and Outer Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, and the Pine Barrens. This provides a unique mosaic of forest types not typically assembled elsewhere. Observing and understanding this forest variety has been an important and ongoing project for the Park System.

Ongoing Studies Track Forest Health
As the third largest landowner in the county, the Park System is responsible for protecting all the natural resources on this land, including the flora and fauna (plants, animals, and insects). A first step in this process is to understand what needs to be protected, its condition, when a habitat has been compromised, and to what condition it should be restored.

Several ongoing studies evaluate our forest resources to determine their composition, quality, and disturbance. The results help focus our management efforts, financial resources and manpower. The Park System manages approximately 10,000 acres of protected forest. Nearly 250 species of native forest plants and another 50 introduced (or non-native) species, have been catalogued.

This effort has also identified many populations of rare or endangered plant species, and we can now provide a comprehensive list of what plants occur at which parks. This alone is valuable because it lets us know the particular species protected by the parks.

Surveys Determine Forest Value and Composition
Different forest types require different management techniques to protect their resources, and we are now surveying the distribution of plant species in our parks to determine what types of forests we have within our county. At the same time the State of New Jersey is developing a vegetation classification system, and when it is complete, we can use it to assess our own data and see if we have protected a representative of each forest type. We can also use this information to evaluate future park acquisitions to preserve the most valuable remaining forests.

What’s the Score? Floristic Index Evaluates Species
There is also an established ‘scoring’ system for evaluating plant communities, which began with Swink and Wilhelm’s 1979 Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI). The principal concept of FQAI is that the quality of a natural community can be objectively evaluated by examining the degree of ecological conservatism of the plants species within that community. Each plant is given a value based on its fidelity or faithfulness to a particular habitat; it’s degree of conservatism.

For our region, the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania worked with many New Jersey botanists to develop an index for statewide use. More conservative species, those found only in specialized habitats and vulnerable to disturbance, are scored higher than generalists. A formula that combines all the scores helps determine diversity and health of the community. The higher the overall score, the higher the uniqueness and quality of the community.

Mapping it All Out
The Park System also evaluates forest plots by overlaying them onto orthophotography (detailed aerial photos) of the park. The forest can then be evaluated in the context of park boundaries; topography; trails; streams; historic, current, and neighboring uses; and many other factors that may affect quality.

One valuable application of this process is that we can determine what components within the plot are the detractors or negative contributors to the value, such as impacts from invasive species. Visualizing the plots in context allows for better management of the park as a whole.

Historic Analysis Yields Interesting Results
When a forest plot was laid over aerial photographs from the 1930s, it becomes apparent that today’s high quality plots are consistently found in areas that were forest back at that time (and remained forest in the interim). One surprising find was that the remnant of an old growth forest at Thompson Park has retained relative high quality over time, despite being fragmented by surrounding farms and creation of the Swimming River Reservoir.

The trend holds true in other parks, such as Crosswicks Creek Greenway and Clayton Park, where continuously forested areas yield high quality values today. Extending this analysis may point us to other areas where rare or endangered species exist, and these areas may serve as models for forest restoration efforts, providing a rare glimpse of remnant communities not disturbed by agriculture or development.

For further reading on forest communities in the parks, please see the Healthy Habitats link under Natural Resources on our website:

This article was published in the 2009 fall edition of the Green Heritage Newsletter (click on the link to view it in full color with photos). If you would like to start receiving our newsletter by mail, click here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Winter will be Bustling in the Parks!

Autumn colors are giving our visitors a gorgeous display as they enter the parks, and the leaves are beginning to fall as the temperatures cool. As we enter November, it's time to start planning for the excitement and fun of the winter months that lie ahead. In the Park System, we spend months preparing for programs and events that our visitors can experience and enjoy. Just take a look at our recently released Winter Program Directory, filled with more than 250 programs for you and your family to delight in this December, January and February.

Don't hide away in the house all winter long, avoiding the shorter days and cooler temperatures. Head to the parks where you can learn a brand new hobby, improve on a current one, or experience something exciting. Check out some brand new programs that are sure to warm up your winter months:
  • Pottery Night Out is a terrific opportunity to get out with a friend and make a beautiful pottery piece out of a lump of clay. 
  • Texas Hold 'em for First Timers is perfect for those who've wanted to try out poker's hottest game. Our professional teachers will offer instruction on all the basics as well as some insider tips and tricks to get you started on the right foot.
  • Full Wolf Moon Walk takes you outdoors for an evening walk along Sandy Hook Bay with a Park System Naturalist this January during the first full moon of the year. 
  • Science in Nature offers children ages 8-11 a chance to discover science and engineering concepts as they relate to the natural world. 
  • Intro to Kung Fu for children ages 8-12 will introduce this style of martial arts while improving their self-esteem, coordination, focus, and physical fitness.
  • Family Skate Date gets the entire family together as we turn the Fort Monmouth Recreation Center gymnasium into an old-fashioned roller rink!
And if you're looking for something for your kids to do during their December winter break, be sure to take a look at Bricks 4 Kidz Winter Break Camp, Mad Science Winter Break Camp, Park-A-Day Winter, and Wintertime Fun at the Fort. These winter camps are sure to keep your child busy and having an excellent week off from school!

Lastly, mark your calendars for returning special events like the Seashore Open House at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park on Sunday, January 24, and WinterFest at Thompson Park on Saturday, January 30.

For full details on these programs and many more, check us out online or have a copy of the Winter Program Directory mailed to your home by calling 732-842-4000, ext. 4312. Add some fun to your family this winter with the Monmouth County Park System! You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Autumn and Halloween Combine in the Parks

The weather is getting cooler as we settle into October and families begin getting ready for the fun of Halloween. Here at the parks, we want to help make the beginning of fall and the Halloween season even more fun for everyone in your family. Here are a few things you won't want to miss out on in the coming weeks:
Costume Swap
  • Eek-O-Fabulous Costume Swap - This annual event is going on this week and gives you the opportunity to get terrific costumes for the entire family (even your four-legged friends) without spending tons of money. Gently used costumes can be dropped off at one of five Park System locations now through Saturday, October 10. For each costume you bring you will receive one token. Then, on Sunday, October 11, families can head to the Thompson Park Visitor Center, Lincroft to pick out new-to-you costumes. For full details, visit our Costume Swap page.
  • Creatures of the Night - There's no better way to celebrate autumn and Halloween than an evening hayride. Our Creatures of the Night hayrides are fun for the whole family and offer a glimpse into the lives of nocturnal animals. This year, head through the hills of Huber Woods Park, Middletown as you help solve "The Mystery of the Missing Pumpkins". Rides are available on Friday and Saturday evenings from October 9-24. Pre-registration and fee are required. Click here for full details.
  • Critters and Jitters - Geared to our younger visitors, these daytime hayrides through Huber Woods Park, Middletown also offer pumpkin picking and a craft. Pre-registration and fee are required. For details, click here
  • Pumpkin Carving & Painting Stations - Decorate your home with a beautifully carved pumpkin this harvest season! We'll provide the pumpkins and the tools, you provide the creativity. Plus, we take care of the mess! Carving will take place on Saturday, October 10 at the Fort Monmouth Recreation Center, Tinton Falls and at Holmdel Park, Holmdel on Sunday, October 11. Pre-registration and fee are required. For full details, click here
  • Thompson Park Day -
    Thompson Park Day
    This annual family fun event is the perfect way to kick off the autumn season! Held on Sunday, October 18 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., activities include pumpkin painting, a corn maze, rides, wagon rides, arts & crafts, kids' races, contests, entertainment, canoeing, archery, and so much more! Contests include a Scarecrow Contest and the annual Strut Your Mutt Doggie Costume Contest (sponsored by the Friends of the Parks). Admission and parking are free; some activities require tickets ($1 per ticket). For full details, check out our flier.
  • Great Pumpkin Barn Dance - Carve pumpkins and kick up your heels during this family-friendly program at Thompson Park, Lincroft on Saturday, October 24. We'll start by using templates to carve beautiful pumpkins. Then, head to the dance floor for an old-fashioned barn dance! Light refreshments are provided. Pre-registration and fee are required. Click here for more information. 
  • All Hallows Eve Gala - Don your best costume and get ready for this dance party for all ages at the Fort Monmouth Recreation Center, Tinton Falls on Friday, October 30. You'll have a fantastic time dancing under the lights of our disco ball. You can also decorate your own Jack-O-Lantern and enjoy some tasty treats. Pre-registration and fee are required. Click here for more information.
 Looking for more ideas for fun in the parks this autumn? Check out our Fall Activities page for more ideas.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Spotlight: Special People United to Ride

There's something amazing about how a bond with an animal can offer therapeutic benefits to those who need it. Special People United to Ride (SPUR) offers this through horsemanship for people with a variety of disabilities including: ADD, ADHD, Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Blindness, Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, Cystic Fibrosis, Developmental Delays, Down Syndrome, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Scoliosis, Spinal Cord Injuries, and Tourette’s Syndrome. 

Each person who comes to SPUR is unique with his or her own special needs. SPUR, a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, provides these individuals the opportunity to achieve personal goals through therapeutic horsemanship. A dedicated group of individuals work together to staff the equestrian center year round. Instructors are certified by PATH International, the governing body of therapeutic horsemanship. In addition to the staff, over 100 volunteers help with programs serving more than 200 students with disabilities annually. Sunnyside’s professional team and trained volunteers help students work to improve self-esteem, social skills, balance, muscle tone and posture, and to process sensory messages sent to the brain. Riding a horse provides a variety of physical, emotional, and psychological stimuli. 

Current Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies include: 
  • Individual Therapeutic Horseback Riding Lessons
  • ARIES Group Therapeutic Horseback Riding Lessons
  • SPUR's Equine Environment for Learning Program
  • Equine Facilitated Wellness Programs
  • Wounded Warrior Veterans Program and SPUR sponsored Horses for Heroes Veterans Program
The Monmouth County Park System's Sunnyside Recreation Area in Middletown provides a safe environment for SPUR's participants within its beautiful Equestrian Center. With an 18 stall stable, an outdoor instructional ring, and an 80’ x 200’ indoor instructional arena, SPUR has the ability to offer therapeutic riding year-round.

Donations to SPUR make it possible to invite all ages with a range of disabilities to participate regardless of their economic status. Donations can be made to SPUR by clicking here

** And don't miss another valuable chance to help SPUR during 5% Day at Whole Foods Market of Middletown and Marlboro on Wednesday, September 16. Five percent of the net sales on this special Community Giving Day will be donated to provide Therapeutic Equestrian Riding Scholarships for students and veterans with disabilities. **

For more information on SPUR, visit

Monday, August 31, 2015

Autumn is Approaching

As children prepare to head back to school, signs of autumn are just around the corner. This is the perfect time to start planning for fantastic fall activities for you and your family. With over 500 programs available this fall, the Park System is the perfect place to experience nature, get active, and discover a new hobby or fine tune one you already enjoy.

Check out just a few of our upcoming autumn activities:
  • Still have a little one home with you and looking for something new and exciting to do? Check out Fine Arts for 4 & 5 year olds or our Toddler Hiking Series.
  • Give the entire family a treat after school! Our After School Ice Cream Boat Tours take you on an exploration the Manasquan Reservoir and the nature that surrounds it. Afterwards, we'll return to shore and enjoy a tasty ice cream sundae.
  • If your child (age 4-9) loves horses, you won't want to miss Fun with Horses. Participants learn about horse grooming and go for a short ride.
  • Looking to get fit this fall? Aerostep will help you burn calories and build muscle through a combination of cardiovascular and strength training. 
  • Delve into your artistic side. Upcoming adult arts & crafts classes include Evening Watercolor Workshop and Sculpture Class.
  • Autumn is the perfect season to learn a new sport! The Park System's golf courses offer lessons for a wide variety of ages and abilities. Check them out here.  
And you certainly won't want to miss our upcoming family-friendly special events!
  • The Wind & Sea Festival on Saturday, September 19 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. celebrates the wonderful bayside shore of Monmouth County. Held at Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth, visitors of all ages will love the free activities that include arts & crafts, kayaking, crabbing, fishing, story time, seining, kite flying and much more! You'll also have the opportunity to meet representatives from organizations like Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, NY-NJ Baykeeper, Clean Ocean Action, Navesink Maritime Heritage Museum, and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary out of Sandy Hook. Please note that parking for this event will be at the Belford Ferry Terminal; shuttle buses will transport your family to the event. For full details, click here.
  • Step back in time with the Harvest Home Festival at Historic Longstreet Farm, Holmdel on Sunday, September 27 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. This fair reminiscent of the 1890s offers your family the experience of fun the old-fashioned way. With games, wagon rides, live entertainment, demonstrations and contests, there's something for everyone to enjoy! For full details, click here
  • Thompson Park Day returns on Sunday, October 18 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. as your number one celebration of autumn family fun! Held at Thompson Park, Lincroft, activities include wagon rides, kids' races, ceramics, pottery demonstrations, cross-country skiing, rides, entertainment, contests, food and so much more. Some activities require the purchase of tickets. For full details, click here
There's always something to do in your Monmouth County parks! For more information on all the parks have to offer and to check out our current Program Directory, visit