Denville’s Own Grassroots Movement Provides a Nature Respite

By: Pamela Macek

Denville’s own local grassroots, not-for-profit land trust and conservation organization, Protect Our Wetlands, Water and Woods, (POWWW) has created a haven of solitude within nature for anyone looking to slow down and escape the busyness of life. Founded in 1988, this all volunteer group is led by President, Jim Florance. Known for his unswerving and contagious commitment, Florance can usually be found either overseeing scheduled POWWW events, educating the public or working with local and state agencies to raise awareness as well as financial donations for the ongoing development of these 600 plus acres of parks, trails and incredible beauty.

Florance shared a little bit of trivia history on the surrounding area. “For over three decades, the Denville area has continued to grow. The flora and fauna are pretty incredible, and Jonathan’s Woods is the largest park in Denville.” The organization’s website states, “POWWW’s Mission is to protect wetlands, woodlands and potable water supplies throughout the Beaver Brook watershed in Denville, Rockaway and Boonton Townships. POWWW identifies and supports land acquisition and provides site stewardship and public education programs.”

Raising awareness about this natural landmark is paramount, and Florance looks for opportunities to bring greater exposure to more and more people. The organization relies on various social media outlets to communicate with its members and any other individuals looking to find ways to get involved. Florance understands that utilizing these media venues for ongoing public exposure and engagement is a vital component to how POWWW will effectively reach the community on both a short-term and long-term basis.

Jonathan’s Woods is probably the most popular part of the acreage used by the public. Within this untainted, wooded area is the home for three Denville Township lakes: Rock Ridge Lake, Cedar Lake and Cook’s Pond. For the locals, they can easily find respite through fishing, boating and hunting right here. Florance has ensured that information concerning hunting regulations are provided through the POWWW website and legitimate sources found on links posted on the website.

The area is also rich in history, going back as far as the American Revolution. It is said that the place known as Bald Hill was recognized as a lookout for locals and George Washington’s infantry. History buffs also claim that the last Indian believed to have lived in the area was named Jonathan. Hence, the name Jonathan’s Woods. There is even an unmarked grave on the property, which supports the historians’ belief, and adds to the fascination with and commitment to take care of this beautiful park.

The responsibilities to acquire, maintain and steward the land and water areas in Morristown are ever-growing. Throughout the year, volunteers have ample opportunities to create projects and be as pro-active as possible. Like Florance, committed staff members are dedicated and volunteer their time out of both duty and love for this area of land. Their hard work is appreciated, and they are oftentimes recognized through the presentation of awards. For individuals seeking to become a part of the organization, there is a $20.00 annual donation accepted as “membership dues.” This enables all members to be placed on the list to receive email invitations to any POWWW events.  Florance readily says that, “Suggestions from members and the public are always welcome.”

POWWW has a website which provides a host of information, including upcoming events, photos, details of past events, links to media contacts, legislation updates and additional local, state and county sites. The not-for-profit also provides open access to their newsletters as well as annual and financial reports. Their Facebook account posts many stunning photos of nature and wild life taken on the Denville trails and parks by POWWW’s active members. Updates to ongoing events, which include coordinated bird watching and wild flower hikes are also posted, as is any fund-raising events that are being held. Members are free to post any questions and are also keen on sharing information regarding topics covering recycling, conservation, wild life and the newest updated legislation surrounding environmental issues being addressed for not only the Morristown area, but generally other local areas as well.

Despite tepid or chilling weather, large numbers of nature enthusiasts faithfully come out to attend the variety of planned outdoor group activities. Starting right at the beginning of the new year, on January 1st, POWWW held its second annual “First Day Hike.” Fifty-one eager hikers came together and made their way starting from Old Beach Glen Road and ending at Hog Pen in Jonathan’s Woods. The happy participants came from places beyond Morris County’s Denville, including Bergen and Hunterdon Counties.

The winter wonderland that canvases the trees, streams and trails also provides plenty of recreational fun for those willing to brave the frosty temperatures. Wildlife tracking at Jonathan’s Woods draws those individuals curious to locate and compare the size and shapes of paw pads and tracks made by dogs, foxes and coyotes. Photos taken on these hikes are then shared and commented on by virtual peers on POWWW’s Facebook account.

February held an indoor activity that drew an equally as enthusiastic crowd. The event – a movie screening, was held on the 21st, by the Denville Public Library, located on Diamond Spring Road, at the Cedar Lake Clubhouse. The Environmental Film Festival’s showing, “Saving the Great Swamp: Battle to Defeat the Jetport,” was presented by the award-winning filmmaker Scott Morris. The one-hour documentary is an expose that covers the struggle that took place between people and politics to preserve a rural area of New Jersey between 1959 and 1968. There was no charge to attend and it was open to the public.

As the weather continues to warm up, nature lovers can look forward to additional upcoming events planned by POWWW. April will bring conscientious members, “Rid Litter Day,” while in May, eager members and visitors can look forward to experiencing the beautiful sights and smells as they enjoy participating in the “Wildflower Walk,” “Spring Birding Hike,” and “Bit Sit.” Then, as the summer months come along, July will bring, “Moth Night.” Florance shared how, “This was a popular event which brought 44 people out to participate last year.” Another fun event being considered is called the, “Pub Crawl/Hike.” After members enjoy their group hike, they would all be invited back to a particular pub where a portion of the proceeds generated there would go back to POWWW.

Preliminary information is already being shared on POWWW’s Facebook account regarding the upcoming 2019 NJ Highlands Juried Art Exhibit. The Morris Museum has provided their largest gallery for all 2D art work, which includes genres such as photography, paintings, watercolors and drawings. Consideration will be given as long as flora, fauna, natural, cultural and historical resources of the Highlands regions are depicted from the NY, NJ, PA and CT areas. The exhibit will take place August, September and October of 2019, with a reception planned in September. Additional details and requirements for all participants to review and past photos from the previous 2018 NJ Highlands Juried Art Exhibit are posted on websites listed on POWWW’s Facebook account.

Over the years, there have been a variety of fun, wholesome activities that have allowed people of all ages to enjoy everything the Morristown Highlands has to offer. Some programs are dependent upon the weather and others are not. When asked about some of the top favorite events, Florance said, “Geocaching, photo contests and concerts.” It is easy to see how people from all types of backgrounds can come together, develop new friendships and create a lasting camaraderie centered around a stretch of land that offers so much pleasurable, relaxing and organically inspiring experiences.  

The ability to work alongside other entities is also valuable to the ongoing sustainability of Jonathan’s Woods and the surrounding area. “Within the town of Denville, there is a committee called, Greener by Design. They work to develop trail programs for the hikers. Our partnership helps to connect the town together.”

Florance went on to tell about additional projects that were created and accomplished through the collaboration of POWWW and the Eagle Scouts. “There were two Eagle Scout projects. One, was a bridge that was built. It was 24 feet long. Another was a trail that the Scouts designed, built and marked.” These activities provide opportunities to help build a sense of purpose and responsibility within the youth towards nature and the land they live on.

POWWW is very pro-active with their involvement on local and state levels. “Recently a meeting was held with the Morris County Park Commission. As a result, the Commission is taking a more active interest in the trails at Jonathan’s Woods. There is 10-15 miles of trails and ongoing maintenance and improvements are required. They heard us, and we have now seen this happen. Trails in need of repairs with drainage are now temporarily closed, some trails are now colored to make maps more consistent and safer. Also, the trail key kiosk is brand new.”

It takes ongoing financial resources to keep things going. Fundraising is an integral part of how POWWW operates. Every year, the organization observes, “Giving Tuesday.” This is where people join together on Facebook to donate monies and match funds while showing support for POWWW. Florance and his team also seek financial support through federal, state, city and local grants.

Preserving our wetlands, waters and woods is everyone’s responsibility. Sustaining a healthy eco-system for our wild life as well as protecting our parks and trails for personal enjoyment can be done and must be done. It is apparent that the people of Denville and her surrounding areas are willing and demonstratively able to champion this cause. Through ongoing education and posted events, Florance hopes that POWWW will continue to, “preserve and expand the land area, growing forward for future generations.”

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