Hilltop Reservation’s Master Plan Revealed

Verona and Cedar Grove residents have their own ideas on how the Hilltop Reservation should be enhanced to suit both nature and its neighbors. Last week, they were able to voice their opinions on a decade-long plan to restore the passive land.

The reservation, comprised of 284 acres, is a subset of the entire Hilltop area. It is separate from development plans in North Caldwell or Cedar Grove, and it is not part of the area that will house Verona’s new recreational complex or the former Essex County Hospital property.

Although the land is used for recreation activities such as bird watching and trail hiking, it is still in need of some restoration, according to Theresa Trapp, treasurer for the Hilltop Conservancy.

10-year master plan

A plan was presented to the community June 18 by CME Associates, a consultant and municipal engineering firm stationed in New Jersey and known for its services ranging from civic to environmental engineering.

The plan, as presented by Project Leader Peter Van Den Kooy, will include changes to the reservation’s landscape, plant life and visitor accessibility. In addition to a Green Acres grant awarded in early 2000 to preserve the area, the proposal aims to use the “master plan as a tool to pursue federal, state and local funding and grants to continue the improvement of the reservation,” Kooy said.

The 10-year master plan will address issues with the land, the cost to fix it and an action plan to restore it. Some current issues in the area include the amount of structures and debris that still remain on Hilltop from the Essex Mountain Sanatorium and Jail Annex, which were either abandoned, decommissioned and demolished in early 2000. The new plan aims to prioritize cleanup of these areas, according to Kooy.

Also, the park’s main entrances — specifically the eastern entrance — and its parking lots and roads are in “poor condition due to potholes, erosion, weedy and overgrown [asphalt], and overall lack of care,” said Trapp. Moreover, the reservation boundaries are not clearly defined, giving way for neighboring households to use the land as dumping grounds, Kooy added.

Lastly, there will be a 10-year plan to restore seven ecological habitats that are currently being threatened due to foreign plants and species. This includes “reducing the population of [white-tailed] deer to allow the forest understory to recover from decades of over-browsing,” Trapp stated in an email to the Times.

Resident suggestions

After detailing the objectives for the reservation, Kooy opened the floor to comments from the community and a good few wanted a say in the new proposition.

Verona residents Janet Markman and David Hall asked that there to be a section in the plan where a catchment basin is installed along the edge of the Hilltop where water comes down the hills “near the condos on the south end. There, a shallow scumming collects,” Markman said.

Hall, adding to Markman’s comments, explained that “there’s a [ditch] there that is about six inches deep, and needs to be six feet deep.” The current method of cleaning it out consists of a large hose that transfers the sludge onto Hilltop trails.

Other recommendations included:

* Adding an exclosure for deer

* Limiting asphalt to the area’s parking lots

* Adding signage on trees to clarify trails

* Removing garbage cans and enforcing a carry-in, carry-out policy to minimize trash in the park.

Cedar Grove resident Linda Dye added that she would like the plan to include benches along the trail and a dog park, but that suggestion was met with disagreement from residents who wanted Hilltop to remain passive-use land only.

The hype of the night came during a visit from Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., who, despite “feeling under the weather” voiced how in the past, the community was not as involved in the works completed at Hilltop Reservation.

“Now, we want to make that a priority; to consider the public’s opinion,” DiVincenzo said.

Comments and suggestions can be made to CME Associates and Kooy directly through HilltopConservancy.org or by emailing pvandenkooy@cmeusa1.com through June 30. A draft master plan will be made available July 14.


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