Master plan nears final stages for 171-acre Slate Belt environmental preserve.
Plans are being finalized for a 200-acre tract purchased by Upper Mount Bethel Township 15 years ago.
The Upper Mount Bethel Preserve at the former Eastern Industries sand quarry consists of 171 acres of conservation easement and 62 acres for the township’s public works department.
A draft master plan for the preserve was developed by Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, with Environmental Consultation Services and Seiler and Drury Architecture.
The property is surrounded by Million Dollar Highway, Audubon Drive, and Jacoby Creek and Boulder roads.
The preserve has a mixture of meadows, woodlands, and wetlands that include nine ponds.
There are trails throughout the property. The plan identifies trails that could be upgraded for hikers and bikers and suggest improved access to some ponds.
The plan shows an access driveaway off Audubon Drive with a parking lot for visitors.
An environmental study conducted last year identified 140 botanical species in the preserve, 56 avian species heard or observed, 15 mammal species observed and 13 herpetological species observed.
Several environmentally sensitive areas were identified, including a red-cedar-mixed-shale woodland and vernal pools that serve as a salamander breeding habitat.
The plan also calls for a nature center for educational classes or meetings.
Other improvements include an osprey nest platform, wood duck nesting boxes, turtle basking platforms, bat boxes, and a songbird feeding and observation area.
The preserve falls withing a marshy area known as a fen but quarrying operations drastically altered the site ecology, according to the study.
“However, the potential to target key site areas to foster future habitat to support the Mount Bethel Fens Heritage Area exists,” the study states.
The study identified several invasive species, including common reed and autumn olive plants. The study recommends removing these plants.
All the proposed ideas come with a price. The plan estimates that preserve improvements without a nature center could cost $2.1 million. The price tag would double with construction of the nature center.
The plan indicates various state and county grants that could be sought to fund the project. It also recommends using money from the township’s open space fund.
A public meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for May 31. The township supervisors will eventually need to vote to approve the final draft.
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