The Mercer County Park Commission has approved a prescribed burn plan to be implemented by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) at Baldpate Mountain. The Forest Fire Service has worked in collaboration with the Park Commission’s Stewardship Department in recent months to develop the plan, which is tailored to improve the ecological condition of the Park Commission-managed natural area.
The primary goal of this prescribed burn is to perform large-scale invasive species management in forest blocks that have high ash tree composition. The Park Commission is planning to restore the forest areas affected by the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect. In some parts of the forest on Baldpate Mountain, ash is one-quarter of the forest’s canopy, and in small areas, up to 75 percent of the canopy. Prescribed fire will assist in the preparation of these sites for future reforestation efforts by controlling non-native invasive understory plants and promoting regeneration of native species. A prescribed burn is planned for approximately 126-acres of the park.
The fire will be lit, monitored and managed by the Forest Fire Service officials who have undergone rigorous training and are experienced in conducting safe and effective prescribed burns. All appropriate safety measures and precautions will be taken by those performing the burn. Specific conditions must be met to burn, including temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction. The NJFFS estimates one to two days prescribed during at Baldpate Mountain.
The burn will take place either prior to May 1, 2021 or after Oct. 1, 2021. Once the Section Warden determines conditions fall within safe range, the Park Commission, township and emergency response officials will be notified 48 hours before the burn. Baldpate will be closed to the public during and after the burn.
Closures will be posted at all entrances, crossings and trailheads, as well as on the Park Commission website and social media pages. The park will remain closed until the NJFFS determines the location safe to reopen.
Due to the high number of dead ash trees in the burn blocks, heavy smoldering and falling trees are anticipated for several days after the burn. It is normal for standing dead trees and downed logs to smolder and produce smoke after the prescribed burn. Upon reopening of the park to the public, park users are REQUIRED to remain on marked trails while visiting the park.
Fire encourages native seed germination, reduces invasive plant pressure, and cycles nutrients into the soil; these effects all aid in increasing habitat quality and diversity, while promoting forest regeneration and understory establishment. In recent years, land managers throughout the state have increasingly been using this management tool for its ecological benefits and to reduce the chance of forest fires.
For more information on the Baldpate Mountain prescribed burns, including frequently asked questions, maps and resources, please visit www.mercercountyparks.org.