Hackensack’s Borg’s Woods “A Living Museum”
BORG’S WOODS – A LIVING MUSEUM
Borg’s Woods is an old growth remnant deciduous forest whose location is in both Hackensack and Maywood New Jersey. The forest purchase was funded by Green Acres and is a part of the Bergen County park system. The preserve features old growth trees whose average age was documented in 1979 in the City of Hackensack’s Environmental Resource Inventory as 200 plus years. Borg’s Woods is completely surrounded by residential development but is buffered by Fairmount Ave to the north, Coles Brook to the west, and the Summit Hill ridge to the east.
14.2 acres of Borg’s Woods were originally owned by Macromedia, Inc. which had plans to develop the forest. Malcolm Borg, owner of Macromedia, Inc. proposed a condominium development in the mid-1980’s. The Borg’s Woods Preservation Coalition (active from 1986 to 1995) defeated a 68 unit townhouse project in 1988. Appeals went on for years, and the Green Acres application wasn’t made until 1991. State Senator Pat Schuber made a personal commitment to preserve the forest during his successful election campaign for Bergen County Executive. The efforts of Borg’s Woods Preservation Coalition and Schuber paid off. Bergen County purchased the 14.2 acres in 1994 to set aside as parkland after a 9 year battle. An acre of the Summit Hill Ridge was purchased from two homeowners by the County in 1995.
1.9 acres of the Summit Hill Ridge adjacent to the County’s holdings are privately owned by mansions on Summit Avenue. A privately owned 3.7 acre wooded panhandle extends along the Summit Hill Ridge south of the core area of Borg’s Woods. An additional acre of forested wetlands near Coles Brook is within the Borough of Maywood. This strip is owned the borough of Maywood and private landowners, but is not considered developable. The total landmass of the forest is estimated to be 21.7 acres. The rolling landscape of Borg’s Woods gives the impression that the preserve is much larger.
Borg’s Woods features several trails. The Main Trail, a length of roughly .19 of a mile, leads from Fairmount Avenue to Byrne Street. The Main trail is a remnant of a larger trail system which existed before Route 4 and is rumored to be of Native American origin. Following the main trail south from Fairmount Avenue will lead to a few glacially deposited boulders and a huge leaning Sycamore. Visitors from Lafayette, Washington and Woodland Avenue in Maywood can access the woods via stepping stones in Coles Brook. 2/3 of a mile Woodland Loop Nature Trail is accessible from the Main Trail and showcases many specimen trees such as Mockernut Hickory and American Beech. The Woodland Loop Nature trail is not officially recognized by the Bergen County Parks Department.
Borg’s Woods features a large diversity of trees. Many of the trees measure over 10 feet in circumference and are between 100 and 120 feet tall. A few of the trees have a circumference of over 12 feet. There are 34 native tree species, which is a large number for only 21.7 acres. American elm, common in Borg’s Woods, are beginning to show the effects of Elm blight. The last two American chestnut, both sprouts reaching maturity, died in the 1990’s. As of 2010, only one Flowering Dogwood remains, and in poor health.
The dominant native trees are Beech, Red Oak, and Red Maple. Other common native trees include:
- Sweet Birch
- Mockernut Hickory
- White Ash
- Black Oak
- Swamp White Oak
- Sugar Maple
The dominant forest understory species are Witch Hazel and Spicebush, each dominating several acres. Also present are Northern Arrowwood, Maple-leafed Viburnum, Pinkster, Black Raspberry, and others.
Ø Wildflowers and Ferns
The most common herbaceous plant is skunk cabbage, which forms dense beds in a ring around the central vernal pool, and can also be found in the forested wetlands along Coles Brook. There is at least 5 acres of skunk cabbage present. Trout lily and Spring Beauty bloom by the hundreds of thousands, carpeting at least 10 acres of the woods every April. Other woodland plants include Dwarf Ginseng, Wild Geranium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, False Nettle, Wild Sarsaparilla, Soloman’s Seal, False Soloman’s Seal, Squaw root, Beech Drops, and about 50 other species. There are at least 5 species of ferns.
Coyote, deer, eastern gray squirrel, wild turkey, red tail hawk, muskrat, raccoon, opossum, skunk, box turtle, and red fox have been spotted in Borg’s Woods. Red fox have been actively hunting the muskrat colony that exists in Borg’s Swamp.
10 Acres of trees and shrubs have recently been clear cut to the north of Borg’s Woods near the Bergen Towne Mall. The clear cut has forced deer south via Coles Brook to Borg’s Woods. The deer are a relatively new phenomenon threatening the current healthy understory. Deer are seriously impacting yellow loosestrife, jewelweed and the invasive multiflora rose.
Ø Vernal Pools
A unique feature of Borg’s Woods is a 700 foot long vernal pond known as “Borg’s Swamp” which dominates the center of the preserve. It is one of the largest vernal pools in northern New Jersey. Borg’s Swamp measures between 60-120 feet in width and contains water between the months of November thru June and sporadically during other months. It is natural for water to well up in this area, and then drain out via an outflow stream which flows from the swamp to a smaller vernal pond near Coles Brook to the west, and then discharges directly into Coles Brook itself. Borg’s Swamp serves as habitat for muskrats and wetland vegetation. The swamp is listed on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) registry of vernal pools. The NJ DEP requires that significant vernal ponds such as Borg’s Swamp be protected as amphibian habitats.
Arrow Arum, Beggar ticks, Smartweed, Jewelweed, and various grasses and sedges dominate the central vernal pool. Rose Mallow, Dodder, and Virginia Bugleweed are also present. Silky Dogwood is the most common shrub species in the vernal pool. Common Elderberry, Pussy Willow, Northern Arrowood, and Spicebush surround the vernal pool, along with American Elm, White Ash, and Pin Oak.
The ground level vegetation of the vernal pool provides both food and habitat for deer and many birds, and it is the epicenter of wildlife activity in the entire woods.
Ø Issues Facing Borg’s Woods
- Seasonal draining of Borg’s Swamp by Bergen County Mosquito Authority
Man has been consistently altering Borg’s Swamp for many years. Mosquito control programs and the preservation of vernal pools are at cross-purposes. The Bergen County Mosquito Commission has been visiting this site for generations, possibly since its inception. They steadfastly maintain that there should be no standing water except within 3 days of a major rain event.
Sometime around 1900, both Coles Brook and the outflow stream from Borg’s Swamp were channelized and deepened to reduce wetlands and lower the water level. In 1945 a concrete dam was erected at the vernal pool by the Borg family to control the water level. In 1950 construction of the Brook Street development began on land directly south of Borg’s Woods. This construction covered a naturally-occuring brook which previously had flowed north into the vernal pond with dirt fill several feet deep, causing the water table to rise in the new development. By the 1960’s the concrete dam fell into disrepair or was broken, and the water level of Borg’s Swamp fell, speeding up the process of ecological succession. In 1987, due to development plans, the pond’s outlet was significantly dredged to the point where Borg’s Swamp no longer held much water. Activists responded by throwing rocks at the point of drainage to mitigate the damage and restore the water level. In the mid to late nineties the Bergen County Mosquito Control Commission increased its work due to complaints about mosquitos. In 2000, the last Spring Peeper was heard and the population became locally extinct.
The debate over what constitutes the natural water level in Borg’s Swamp continues to this day. Ecologists consider the inner edge of the skunk cabbage beds to be the outer edge of the vernal pool, although the skunk cabbage areas are expected to flood after a heavy storm event. Since skunk cabbage reproduces slowly and lives for decades, this is considered definitive. Ecologists believe that the best way to control mosquitoes is by reintroducing the endangered blue-spotted salamander, which is a voracious predator of mosquito larvae. The species was seen onsite as recently as 1987.
- Invasive Plants
As with most natural areas in the US, Borg’s Woods is under attack from non native invasive plants. Three species of evergreen ivy covers portions of the forest floor and prevents native plants from growing.
Winter creeper (euonymus fortune) is a major problem around the edges of the forest. The ivy originates from China and is used by homeowners as an ornamental groundcover. Wintercreeper has entered Borg’s woods through cuttings thrown into the woods from the former Borg estate The vine has the ability to choke and kill trees.
English Ivy is an evergreen climbing vine that attaches to the forest floor and tress by root like structures. The vine spreads by seeds distributed by birds, and has spread from adjacent backyards of many houses. English ivy threatens native vegetation in both forested and open areas and grows into the tree canopy. The leaves form a thick canopy that prevents sunlight from reaching other plants. Pachysandra has also spread from adjacent yards and thrown cuttings. The vine does not climb trees and outcompetes English Ivy on the ground.
Multiflora rose is a thorny perennial shrub which bears white to pink flowers during May. The plant can produce an estimated one million seeds a year. Multiflora Rose grows in dense thickets which prohibits the growth of native shrubs. Japanese Knotweed has taken hold along portions of Coles Brook north of Lafayette Ave, and directly along Fairmount Avenue, and has proven impossible to remove.
Norway maple saplings frequently appear in Borg’s Woods. Norway maple causes forest to lose diversity of native plants due to the dense shade cast by its leaves. The tree reproduces via seed which grows even in dense shade. Norway maple saplings and seedlings have been killed by the hundreds. Volunteers ringed 2 non-native Ailanthus in 1987 and pulled up the sprouts over a 2 year period, completely eradicating this species from the preserve. Barberry and Burning Bush are under control, but continually seed into the woods from nearby landscaped properties.
- Threat of redevelopment of Summit Avenue
A proposal has been made by Bergen Passaic Long Term Acute Care Hospital LLC to obtain site-plan approval for an adult day care and dialysis center which would include a 5-story underground parking garage. This facility, proposed to be 20 stories will be ½ mile south of Borg’s Woods on Summit Avenue. If approved, this project could compromise the zoning of Summit Avenue bordering the eastern side of Borg’s Woods. Adjacent homes on acre lots or greater could be redeveloped for more urban uses directly adjacent to the nature preserve.
Special Thanks to Eric M. who helped edit this document