BRADLEY BEACH — The expansion of the maritime forest located off the northern section of the boardwalk last Friday was an opportunity for the borough and its federal partners to reiterate a commitment to keeping the area a natural habitat for local wildlife and a barrier to help protect the borough from storm surge.

With the help of Kean University students, new plantings were installed in an area of the forest previously used as a parking lot for lifeguards and an area where the borough’s Department of Public Works crews used to wash their vehicles.

Created in 2013, the maritime forest enters its third phase as new plantings, natural pathways and more signage are added to improve the area. While some residents think that the forest is an overgrowth of weeds, it is far more important, councilman and liaison to the maritime forest Al Gubitosi said.

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“Some have called it a clump of weeds … but I want people to understand what we have here, it is very exciting,” he said. He noted that the estimated cost of phase three in materials and services is around $10,000, all of which came from public and private donors.

The plants were donated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Pinelands Nursery, both of which have partnered with the borough for the project. On Friday, students from Kean planted goldenrod, cedar, shadbush and other natural, salt-resistant species.

Volunteers from Kean University were on hand at Bradley Beach Maritime Forest at the northern section of the Bradley Beach boardwalk at the border with Ocean Grove to take part in planting a variety of coastal plants on Friday Oct 2, 2020.
(MARK R. SULLIVAN/THE COAST STAR)

After Superstorm Sandy, borough officials wanted to do something to protect not only homes in the area but also Fletcher Lake, in the event of another storm.

“When Sandy came through, this was all wiped out and we had jetty rocks pushed up here from the ocean,” Al Modjeski, the habitat restoration director at the American Littoral Society, said. He said that is when the mayor at the time and the environmental commission had the idea of, instead of creating something that “will just get knocked out, maybe we can turn this into something that is more resilient and that could catch the sand that is coming off the beach and doesn’t go in our lake.”

“We catch the sand here, keep building up the resiliency [of the area] and maybe this could be a model.”

Jim Shissas, of the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, is one of the original proponents of the maritime forest and helped to secure tens of thousands of dollars worth of grant funds to start the project. He said that the forest has the potential to be the prototype “for similar coastal lakes near the ocean up and down the Atlantic coast.”

“It’s like a Starbucks for migrating shorebirds,” he added. “They make a stop and find another one. It’s small but it works.”

Eric Schrading, a representative of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said the maritime forest was critical to migratory birds that travel thousands of miles to and from their wintering areas.

“These stopover areas are really critical for them to stop, refuel and rest,” he said. “Frankly, in coastal New Jersey, there are very few stopover areas. … While it’s small, it does provide a critical area for migratory birds.”

Mayor Gary Engelstad said that the forest also serves as a memorial to his predecessor, Julie Schreck, who has since died.

Remarking on a bench dedicated in her memory on the boardwalk, he said that “this is the memorial to her right here. This forest would not have taken place without her leadership, her vision. So every time that we enjoy it and walk through it, please think of the legacy she has kept and made in Bradley Beach.”

Speaking on Mr. Modjeski and the work he has put into making the forest a reality, the mayor said that the borough is “blessed to have you, your leadership and your vision.”

“Your impact on this town is tremendous,” he added.

For the environmental commission, the maritime forest is a point of pride for the borough.

Meredith DeMarco, chair of the commission, said that “it is very rare these days that municipalities are creating open spaces” and the committee is proud of the borough’s continued commitment to the project.

While this is the third stage in the project, there is still a long way to go in terms of maintaining the forest.

“We want to see all this vegetation grow into what is truly more of a forest with more canopy and more protection for wildlife,” Mr. Gubitosi said.

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