The Looming New Jersey Disaster

At some point on most weekends, Cosmo and I can be found on the trails of South Mountain Reservation behind Old Shorts Hills Park. In early November of last year, less than a week after Hurricane Sandy laid waste to many parts of The Reservation, we made our usual trek in but getting around was quite a different story . The tree you see below is just one of many that were destroyed by the storm.

Cosmo in South Mountain Reservation, November 2012.

Cosmo in South Mountain Reservation, November 2012.

Sandy was just the latest in a series of natural disasters to strike NJ in a 14 months period:

  • August 23,  2011, an earthquake – nothing earth shattering but things certainly shook, rattled and rolled.
  • August 28, 2011 – Hurricane Irene barrels up the eastern seaboard. Widespread damage, no power for days, lots and lots of tree damage (now hold that thought as this is really the point of this whole thing).
  • October 29, 2011 – The Snowtober/Halloween White Weekend snowstorm occurs. Again, lots of damage, no electricity for several days, lots more tree damage.
  • October 28, 29th, etc., 2012 – Hurricane Sandy, the mother of all northeast storms crushes the northeast and I mean crushes. Total devastation to many areas, no power for days (even weeks in some places) and catastrophic damage to the environment, including the heavily wooded areas just a few hundred yards from our home.

More recently, we have had some very serious thunderstorms and last week a tornado touched down just a few miles from here (here being Short Hills). Every time we walk in the reservation, there is still new damage taking place on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s just a small branch or two but you can sense that the ecosystem in The Reservation has been severely weakened by the battering of the past couple of years.

Getting back to Sandy, the weekend after the storm, Cosmo and I went for our usual walk in a South Mountain Reservation but this walk turned out to be anything but a casual walk in the woods. For those of you not familiar with the area, South Mountain is a 2000+ acres park and preserve in Western Essex County. This area is popular for dog walking, hiking, illegal mountain bikers and as hang-out for local teenagers who go there to get drunk and stoned. This is some of what Cosmo and I found:

Lower Trail Blocked

Part of one of the hiking trails completely blocked off by several branches, big limbs and overturned trees.

A section of a trail where multiple trees had been toppled.

A section of a trail where multiple trees had been toppled.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, the whole family went for walk. Just to give you some perspective on what an upturned tree trunk looks like, take a look at this:

Zach underneath an overturned tree trunk.

Zach underneath an overturned tree trunk.

That’s actually one tree that had fallen on top of another. In some spots there was as many as 6 or 7 trees that had fallen one on top of the other, just like dominoes.

OK, so let’s try and tie some of this together. We have a suburban forest, 3 major weather events in 14 months, each one causing major damage, the last one exponentially worse than the first two combined, branches of all sizes ripped from their trees, trees themselves uprooted and now all of that timber is left for dead to dry out inside the reservation. Here’s the way thinks looked a few months ago, at beginning of April.

Looks like big pile of kindling to me.

Looks like big pile of kindling to me.

Inside the reservation are piles and piles and piles of debris just like the one pictured above. Branches, limbs, tree trunks and whole trees, covering and surrounded by dead leaves. A perfectly combustible pile.

I can’t help but look at all of this and think that Mother Nature is going to find some way to clean up this whole mess.  Despite all the rain we have had over the past few weeks, it was just 2 months ago when there were severe fire hazard warnings posted for much of the area. Imagine what will happen if things dry out again.

Will it be Mother Nature herself who causes the first flame or will it be the other folks who enjoy the occasional stroll in the woods.  I’m talking about the smokers who enjoy a cigarette in the woods; or maybe it’s going to be a cigar; and let’s not forgot the Narnians – those pot smoking teenagers I mentioned before. Whether by lightning or by match, every walk I take in the woods of South Mountain Reservation has me thinking that I’m staring at the next disaster to strike our area.


About IraSez

I am the owner of Monarch Communications, a graphic design/advertising/website design firm in Millburn, NJ. You can take a look at some of our work at I started IraSez at the urging of my wife, a couple of friends and several facebook friends who actually encouraged me to write a book. They think I'm funny but some of my latest blogs have covered some rather somber topics. In my spare time, I run the local SU alumni club. I'm in the 9th year of a 3 year term or as us SU grads called "fuzzy math." I'm SU '82, wife is SU '83, daughter is SU '11, son is SU '14, even my nephew goes to SU. So yes, we bleed Orange. I like to play golf, watch the same movies over and over, and take long walks with my dog on the trails in South Mountain Reservation behind Old Short Hills. If you see a guy wearing something with an SU logo chasing after a dog named Cosmo, that's me!
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