To the untrained eye, the nature area at Fair Haven Fields looks as otherwordly as it ever has. A compact little wetland forest at the edge of a suburban bedroom community, “it’s sort of our micro-wilderness,” says neighbor Dick Fuller.
But it is not the same place it was just a year ago. That’s when Fuller and other members of Fair Haven Fields Advisory Committee noticed something amiss.
Large swaths of the forest and meadow areas were in a chokehold. An invasive plant known as the Asian Bittersweet vine, or Oriental Bittersweet, had begun enveloping trees throughout the 40-acre refuge, blocking out sunlight and killing the underlying plant life.
Today, there are estimates are that the vine has overrrun 15 percent of the area.
“Some areas look like they were hit by a nuclear bomb,” says committee member and former borough councilman Rich Magovern.
The vine, which sometimes grows to four inches in diameter, is tenacious. Cut it, and the vine “treats that almost as a haircut,” says Fuller, the committee’s chairman. Rip it out of the ground, and it may still come back, the kudzu of the northeast.
“This has to be stopped right now, and it’s beyond the capacity of 12 people to stop it,” Magovern says, referring to the size of the committee.
To eliminate the vine, cutting and root-ripping have to be accompanied by an herbicide application. That’s work that has to be handled by professionals, and the committee is working toward a solution, Fuller and Magovern say.
Meantime, the nature area has other maintenance needs. Within a 50-foot margin of the trails is “a lot of clutter” in the form of downed trees and branches, some of it caused by the Feb. 14 ice storm.
Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, the committee is hoping to attract volunteers to help clear the understory. Of particular focus are dead trees that pose a hazard to passersby, but there are lots of debris piles of downed branches and previously yanked-out Asian Bittersweet that need to be hauled to the trails’ edge so that it can be removed from the park.
The cleanup runs from 8:45 to 11a. Workgloves and shoes are required. Volunteers who can handle saws or loppers are asked to bring those tools as well. For more information, call 732-741-0874.