Memorial Forest Comes Closer To Reality

TALKING TREES – Tara Kenyon, the township’s open space consultant, told the Open Space Committee what steps needed to be taken to bring about the Memorial Forest.

A plan that’s been talked about for two decades may be getting a little closer to reality.

The Open Space Advisory Committee on April 18 endorsed a plan to develop a site plan for the long-awaited Memorial Forest, targeted for a tract at the confluence of Amwell Road and Cedar Grove Lane.

The plan for the forest is to allow residents to purchase trees in memory of loved ones. Memorial plaques will be placed next to the trees.

The forest’s plan will also include a connector trail that will traverse more than 3,600 feet, from Amwell Road to Elizabeth Avenue.

The first tree to be planted is scheduled to be purchased by Mayor Phil Kramer, who will dedicate it to his late mother, according to Committee members.

The Committee also endorsed a plan to plant Kramer’s tree near the tract’s Amwell Road entrance.

Tara Kenyon, the township’s open space consultant, said some work needs to be done in the area before large-scale planting can start.

The initial tract chosen for the forest is located more than 600 feet from Amwell Road, and the driveway leading to it needs to be remediated, she said.

Kenyon said the driveway has ruts in it, and there are a number of dead and dying trees that need to be cleared.

She said at least one small parking lot also needs to be created near the tract for people who may not be able to easily walk the long distance they would if the parking lot was placed near Amwell Road.

“These improvements have to be done,” she said. “Nobody can get there safely and efficiently.”

The other obstacle is that about 47 acres of the nearly 76-acre tract is currently leased to a farmer, and that lease doesn’t expire until 2025, Kenyon said.

She said the farmer also has one more extension left on his contract, which could push it to 2031.

“We could potentially have some discussions with the farmer to see if he’s interested in maybe amending the lease, or what his intentions are going forward,” she said.

“It was a farm; it continues to be a farm,” Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said. “I don’t know that anyone ever envisioned this becoming a completely wooded 80 acres.”

“If there’s some decision down the road that says the first area that’s been carved off is no longer sufficient in size … then you expand it,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of room to grow here.”

“In fairness to the existing leaseholder, we are not making a tremendous amount of money off these leases,” he said. “It’s perpetuating the agricultural aspects of these properties in our town, and property maintenance.”

Vornlocker said the farmer pays $8 an acre for the lease.

Vornlocker said the forest can be populated two ways: people buy individual trees, or the township plants trees ahead of time and residents could then pay a fee for the tree and the plaque.

“We can go out and plant 20 trees next week and they’re there, and when someone decides they want to dedicate a tree to a family member, they can tell us they want to do it and purchase a plaque … that’s one way to do it,” he said.

Vornlocker said the advantage of that plan is that it acts as a hedge against trees dying, as some do.

“If you plant them ahead of time … we can allow them to take root, and if we see one has floundered … that’s where you don’t have someone dedicate a tree to someone as a memorial and it dies,” he said.

Kenyon said the next step in bringing the memorial forest to fruition is to have the township’s civil engineer draw up a site plan, and to start having conversation with the farmer.

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