The De Los Reyes Family walks to collect garbage in Canterbury Park. KATE ALBRIGHT/ FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By GRACE WILLIAMS
for Montclair Local

This past weekend, April 24 and 25, over 400 Montclair residents came out to 15 parks and green spaces across all four wards to celebrate Montclair Earth Day Parks Appreciation Weekend. 

Coordinated by the Montclair Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee led by Alliah Agostini Livingstone, this town-wide effort also capped off Northeast Earth Coalition’s Earth Day Celebration Week led by Jose German-Gomez. 

Courtney Fitzgibbons and Michael King pause in their work at Yantacaw Brook Park. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

With an estimated 175 acres of parkland and preserves in the township, there was plenty of ground to cover.




Over the course of the weekend, volunteers of all ages (2 to over 72) collected over 350 bags of green debris and trash from the parks, wooded areas and waterways. At the Nishuane Park cleanup, a tribute planting of a dogwood tree was also held, to honor Montclair resident Jordan Tassy, a local hero who recently succumbed to complications from COVID-19, Livingstone said. 

Cleanups

Most of the town’s park groups and nature advocates opened up the spring season by getting to work through community volunteer cleanups. At Glenfield Park, Robert Crook of the Glenfield Park Conservancy said, over 50 people participated in the cleanup, many of them school-age children. The park is a 19-acre space on the line between Montclair and Glen Ridge.  

As an avid advocate for the park, Crook encourages interested parties to look beyond some of its more prominent amenities, including its newly renovated playground and ball fields. “Walk through the glen,” he says, about a portion of the park in the southeast corner formed by Toney’s Brook and home to natural stream-side vegetation. 

The conservancy, Crood adds, is always looking for volunteers and board members to help spearhead preservation and cleanup efforts. 

To the north, on the border between Montclair and Clifton, lies the Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve. At 19.8 acres with the Third River running through it, the preserve presents visitors with hiking and running trails and an array of bird species, according to Jonathan Grupper, a co-founder of the Friends of the Bonsal Preserve. 

Zoe and Erica Ling pick up trash in the Canterbury Park stream. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

In 2020 the group could not hold its annual spring cleanup for the first time in nearly two decades. But they more than made up for it this year when about 40 people came out and gathered 30 bags of trash. “We had a smaller turnout this year [compared to two years ago]. Probably because of the virus, but it was substantial enough to get a reboot of the preserve,” Grupper says.

Thanks to his group’s partnerships with the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the township, Grupper says over a ton of construction debris will also be removed from the preserve as part of this year’s cleanup. Grupper, who has been an active member of the Friends of the Bonsal Preserve for 20 years, has helped to convert the preserve over time from “half industrial space and half junkyard” to something that “really feels like a preserve and a place to get away and where you’re part of nature.”

Tuers Park, which lies between the Bonsal Preserve and Yantacaw Brook Park, received a significant facelift this past year, including new playground equipment installed over the summer. Tonja Isola, president of the Friends of Tuers Park and a member of the Montclair Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, says 51 volunteers arrived on a sunny Saturday to get to work and ready the park for guests and visitors. 

Isola, who works as a teacher at Watchung School, says that getting students involved is one of her favorite aspects of the projects. 

“If kids take ownership of planting flowers and helping to clean up, if they see someone throw a bottle or wrapper, they’re more inclined to say, ‘I just cleaned that up and you’re littering. Can you please take that to the trash can,’” Isola says. “We give them some agency where to them it’s OK to say, ‘Hey, there’s a garbage can over there.’”

Kimberly Cummings and Anita Mack work at Nishuae Park. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Remembering pollinators

From April 17 to 24, the Northeast Earth Coalition held a weeklong Earth Day Celebration with the theme “Restoring our planet.” Combining virtual and small in-person events, the celebration utilized local community gardens, parks and the internet to educate people about the virtues of composting and gardening from a bird’s perspective, among other things. In-person activities included the weekend parks and open spaces cleanups. 

For the past four years, NEEC, in partnership with May in Montclair, has organized hundreds of volunteers to plant tulips, says NEEC founder German-Gomez. The organization, which is passionate about native plants and pollinators, has worked in community gardens, green spaces and at Crane Park, a triangle-shaped green space at Glenridge and Greenwood avenues and Lackawanna Plaza that serves as one of the crown jewels the coalition has polished over time. 

“The park has 90 different species of native plants of the northeastern U.S.,” German-Gomez says. “Most of them host plants for butterflies.” 

He says that with pollinators in decline, it is essential to note that “native bees only pollinate native plants. European bees are not pollinating them. If we lose the population of native bees, that will be an ecological disaster. All the plants that rely on pollination from native bees will be extinct.” 

To combat this looming threat, the NEEC has worked to make the community part of a national pollinator pathway stretching from Maine to Virginia. 

“We started connecting parks many years ago in Montclair,” German-Gomez says. “From the Bonsal Preserve to Yantacaw Brook Park to Brookdale Park, and we continued connecting through schools and residents’ households. Pollinator gardens connect to Crane Park.” 

From left, Kemi Adeyeye, Natalie Chu, Claire and Care Washington at Nishuane Park. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

The next plan, which COVID-19 derailed, will be to continue working with business owners and storefronts to encourage them to plant native plants out front.

Local involvement

Some of the parks beautification efforts are formally organized, while others are impromptu. Last year when Brookdale Park reopened, Helen Paxton, a fan of the rose garden there, noticed that it had become overgrown during the pandemic. The garden, which Essex master gardeners usually maintain, became overgrown because the group was on a pandemic-related hiatus. Together with Don McLoughlin, Paxton and several volunteers have stepped up to bridge the gap until the group reconvenes.  

“It has been so satisfying to see the change,” Paxton says. 

Several gems, including Brookdale’s rose garden and Van Vleck House & Gardens, as well as Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, serve as stand-alone attractions for locals and visitors to enjoy. In the past, parks such as Nishuane have provided the venue for events like the Jazz Festival, families and friends have gathered for free concerts and fireworks at Brookdale Park, and, in the fall, many locals have turned out at the pond in Edgemont Park for the Duck Derby, a fundraiser to benefit the Montclair Ambulance Unit. 

Steven Singer removes twigs at Nishuane Park. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

While it is still somewhat unclear what events might safely return for the coming outdoor season and what they might look like, what is clear is the dedication of community members and organizations to continue to ensure that all can enjoy the parks. 

Councilman Peter Yacobellis said this year a handful of local parks and green spaces, including Essex, Nishuane and Canterbury parks, will receive some much-needed improvements. 

Florence Eva and Kaya Haggerty work together at Essex Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Edward and Jackie Imperatore pick up trash at Essex Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Sarah Ford and Quinn DeMilner work together at Essex Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Kathie Zeleszko works at Essex Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Greg Pason at Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
From left, Charla Price, Era Locket and Phoenix Herring pick up garbage at the Walnut train station , April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Ashley Dunnemann picks up garbage at Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Ashley and Stacey Dunnemann clean Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Renee Baskerville rakes at Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Avni Bakarania collects sticks at Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Matthew and Gavin Saadat work together at Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Maura Toomey cleans up Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Ben Rich picks up glass in Erie Park, April 25, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Ellie picks flowers by the stream in Yantacaw Brook Park with her dad, Gabe Elsner, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Anais Trent rakes at Yantacaw Brook Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Brothers Ben, Sammy, and Matthew take a break from working, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Tage Strom reminisces about growing up in Finland where he said a social phenomenon called talca brings neighbors together to work on projects such as painting a house. The host provides food and drink, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
The Loncar Family cleans by the stream in Yantacaw Brook Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Charlotte King carries a fallen branch in Yantacaw Brook Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Kit Turner, who grew up near Canterbury Park but now lives elsewhere, returns to help clean the park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Familes work to clean the stream at Canterbury Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Beckett De Los Reyes collects a fallen branch at Canterbury Park as his brother trails behind, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Tom Purtell, the township’s arborist, prepares to plant a kousa dogwood. The tree was chosen by Norma Tassey, in memory of her son, Jordan, age 22, who passed away from COVID-19 in March. April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Two attendees head to clean up the palyground at Nishuane Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Levi , Soukaina and Samira Barnes at Nishuane Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Ifeoluwa Joseph carries of sticks collected in Nishuane Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Maayan Lerner and Ifeoluwa Joseph collect garbage at Nishuane Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Kimberly Cummings and Anita Mack work at Nishuae Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
From left, Kemi Adeyeye, Natalie Chu, Claire and Care Washington at Nishuane Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Children work on cleaning a section of Nishuane Park, April 24, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL