Creation of native meadows and fields of wildflowers for butterflies, birds, bees and the people of Moorestown
In 2001, the Township of Moorestown purchased 130 acres known as Benner Farm to protect it from the development boom that was transforming the rural landscape on both sides of Westfield Road.
Twenty years later, the nonprofit Save the Environment of Moorestown (STEM) is leading an effort to turn the Burlington County site, now called Swede Run Fields, into a destination for butterflies, birds, bees. , other pollinators and humans. These are all highly stressed species that need safe and nourishing places.
“When I started this I wasn’t sure it had a lot of chance to happen,” said STEM president Mark Pensiero, 65. Lockheed Martin’s retired business operations manager, who grew up in Moorestown, worked on Project Swede Run for almost two years.
“When the pandemic hit, I had a lot of free time,” said Pensiero, a father of three and a grandfather of two. He is also an avid ornithologist.
“It will be habitat that is no longer common in this part of New Jersey,” he said. “This plot of land is large enough to attract endangered bird species that come to nest here. The pieces of this project all came together and I couldn’t be happier.
Last In the spring, around 30 volunteers planted wild flowers such as butterfly grass in a demonstration garden on the east side of the fields. Designed by STEM member Karen Walker, the 4,500 square foot garden has flourished gloriously around a 19th century iron stone barn that is a much photographed reminder of the township’s agricultural past. The Moorestown Historical Society and volunteers helped save the beloved building from demolition ten years ago.
“There were tons of monarch butterflies here” in September, Pensiero said. “It was one of my favorite examples of how amazing nature is.”
Later that fall, with support from the Xerces Society and other conservation groups, as well as help from the federal and township governments, STEM arranged for 70 acres on the west side to be seeded with Bluestem and other native grasses to create habitat for ground-nesting birds like the Eurasian Sturnella and possibly even the Grasshopper Sparrow.
Plans also include upgrading two small patches of wetland on the west side into spring pools – shallow, seasonal water bodies – which will help attract migrating birds as they follow the Delaware River portion of the river. Atlantic flyway. The west side of Westfield Road will also feature an array of quarter-mile-long, 30-foot-wide wildflowers that pollinators love.
“It will be breathtaking. It will be a ‘wow’ factor when you are driving down the road, ”Pensiero said, noting that there will also be“ real beauty in the native grasslands in all seasons ”.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s partner program is providing approximately $ 18,000 to the project due to the site’s “exceptional ecological value”, said program coordinator and wildlife biologist Elizabeth Freiday.
“This would not happen without the commitment of the township and the people of STEM,” said Freiday, who works in the New Jersey service office in Galloway Township, Atlantic County. There are approximately 120 partnership agreements statewide; about half are in southern Jersey.
“Projects like this can’t get started without the right people,” Freiday said.
One of those volunteers is Colleen Mallow Lopresti, a member of the STEM steering committee who visited the pollinator garden on a weekday. “It’s great to have this place to get your hands dirty,” she said.
In 2001, Moorestown contributed 25%, or $ 1.8 million, of the $ 7.3 million purchase price of Benner Farm, with Burlington County receiving an additional 25%, with the remaining half being paid. by the NJ Green Acres program. In addition to active farming, which ended in 2017, the site has long offered two kilometers of hiking trails and, since 2016, a dog park.
Moorestown Mayor Nicole Gillespie said Swede Run Fields – named after the creek that runs through the east side of the property – “is the largest parcel of unforested open space” in suburban township, which has a just over 20,000 inhabitants.
“The council made the decision not to continue renting it out to farmers because some residents were concerned about the use of pesticides,” she said. “STEM came to us and said, ‘Here’s an idea,’ and we loved it – passive recreation, habitat, and bird watching is really a better way to use it. STEM brought the expertise and the passion and really took that forward.
The public-private collaboration allows the township to spend “a relatively small amount of money” – around $ 20,000 – to pay for mowing and other services, the mayor said. “It’s a good investment.”
So far, STEM has spent around $ 8,000 and is looking for ways to make the upkeep of native grass fields – where thatch buildup requires regular removal – economically sustainable. Pensiero said the group was talking to at least one south Jersey farmer who may be interested in harvesting and selling thatch to mushroom farms, which would reduce the cost of the labor.
“We want this thing to continue for many years to come,” he said.
The Swede Run Fields project is also helping to re-energize STEM, which will mark its 50th anniversary in 2022.
At 88, Barbara Rich is the sole survivor of the trio of women who helped get the organization off the ground in 1972: Katherine Kay Smith died in 2019 and Esther Yanai in 2003.
“You have no idea what influence these two women have had on me and the future of Moorestown,” said Rich, who, like Smith and Yanai, has a significant section of Moorestown’s open space. named in his honor.
“Swede Run Fields is a perfect example of what STEM’s mission was and is,” she said.
Pensiero said: “They led the way and they had a lot of foresight.”
The efforts of the founders, their contemporaries and current members of STEM “made the city a better place,” he said.
“And Swede Run Field is probably the thing I’m most proud of.”