Friday Philosophy: Save the Trees

Disclaimer:  I am not a member of the Sierra Club.  I’m just a teacher at a small college and as part of the Women’s Studies Coordinating Committee attended a talk about a week and a half ago by Sally Malanga from that group.  After hearing her speak, I asked her to send me some information so that I could try to help her and her small group of committed volunteers fight City Hall.

People need help to save the ecology.  I figured this is what I could do best.  I’m hoping a few people out there are reading who can also lend a hand…in whatever way they can.

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only  thing that ever has.

–Margaret Mead
    For the Children

    The rising hills, the slopes,

    of statistics

    lie before us.

    the steep climb

    of everything, going up,

    up, as we all

    go down.

    In the next century

    or the one beyond that,

    they say,

    are valleys, pastures,

    we can meet there in peace

    if we make it.

    To climb these coming crests

    one word to you, to

    you and your children:

    stay together

    learn the flowers

    go light

    – Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island  

George Brinton McClellan is probably best known for organizing the Army of the Potomac and being the lead general in the Union Army until he was fired by Abraham Lincoln for being too timid.  He ran against Lincoln for president as the Democratic candidate in 1864…while opposing that party platform’s position on the war.  But later in his life he was Governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881.  He died in 1887.

Apparently Governor McClellan had a fondness for trees.  He imported and/or planted trees which were not native to the area on to surround his mansion, named Maywood, in West Orange, on what is now known as The Ridge, which is the crestline of the First Range of the Watchung Mountains (the ruins of Maywood are featured in the photo on the left).  At 610 feet high, that’s not much of a mountain, but the Ridge is the highest land between there and New York City.  The land contains…or at least did contain…thirty-three tree species…and perhaps more in the past.  Among the oldest trees are Red Oak, Swamp White Oak, American Beech, Tulip Tree, White Oak, Black Oak, and Red Maple.  Also included:

Japanese Cryptomeria, a 30-foot tall Japanese Yew, very large Euonymus trees, Red Pine, Northern Paper Birch, a Holly, a Magnolia, and a pinnate-leaved tree that is unusual enough that it still remains unidentified!

Two of the trees are large enough to have been added to New Jersey’s Big Tree List.

Making their homes in these trees are, of course, birds of many species, including great horned owls, red-tailed hawks and golden eagles.

And some of the trees on the property are about 250 years old.  The entire site, as well as functioning as a de facto arboretum, developed at some point into what is known as an old-growth forest.  The people who are trying to save it, who are members of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, have given it the name, McClellan Old Growth Forest (warning: pdf).

The Governor George Brinton McClellan Estate Old Growth Forest is the only unprotected – and endangered – Old Growth Forest site within New Jersey’s part of the Metropolitan Area.

The heroes need help.

The land on which the forest stands is now private land.  And the current owners want to develop it.  And they are a powerful, powerful force locally.  And regionally…and internationally, come to think of it.  

The land is owned by Seton Hall Prep.  So really, its owned by the Archdiocese of Newark.  So on a larger scale, it is owned by the Catholic Church.

The headmaster of Seton Hall Prep is Msgr. Michael E. Kelly (’57) and he and the others who decide such things have had plans to turn the forest into a sports complex for the school to honor a great Catholic:  Msgr. Michael E. Kelly.  Excuse me.  That’s catty of me:  the monsignour claims he is naming the fields after his parents.  They were no doubt good Catholics as well.

Clicking on the map to the right will get you a larger version of the planned complex.  The two largest trees would be located in the middle of where one of the baseball field was to be built.  Pay special note to the photos attached to the Seton Hall plans on the right.

The first round of development has already taken place.  Having previously used the site’s roads as running trails for the school’s cross country teams, in 1999 SHP clearcut 12 acres for 2 fields and a running track.

In March of 2006 Msgr Kelly approved the illegal cutting of 5 more acres of very old trees and the dumping of truckloads of dubious quality fill containing asphalt, to build yet another field.  This one illegal. There was no building permit applied for.

A judge has refused to rule on the case, leaving it up to the Zoning Board, which is pursuing passing retroactive approval.  Zoning Board hearings began in November, 2008.  Succumbing to some pressure, SHP revised the plans to save the Big Trees.

Look at the plans.  Consider the fact that this school has only 900 students.  Approval of the plan would destroy 22 acres of forest and 1400 trees, 50 of which are over 150 years old.  Six zoning variances are required to finish the project.  A five acre swath of the ridge line has already been clearcut and flattened, in violation of the law.

Four dozen or so of the trees will need to be cut down simply to provide drainage to relieve flooding concerns caused by the loss of the other trees.  

Here’s the most recent email from Sally:

Dear Tree Protectors,

Just a reminder to add to your calendar, Thursday Oct 29 and Thurs November 5 at 8pm. West Orange Town Hall. 66 Main Street.

We are in the final stretch of these hearings and it is the eco-activists turn to make our case to the Zoning Board to save this rare, irreplaceable forest from the bulldozers of the Seton Hall Prep School athletic Complex.

You need to do one thing. SHOW UP! You’ll be greeted by smiles and happy-to-see-you fellow eco-protectors.

Come support the people, the attorneys, and the Old Growth Forest Expert, Bob Leverett (Eastern Native Tree Society), who is coming from Massachusetts on behalf of the forest.

Sally Malanga


My wish:

I wish that Seton Hall Prep School would wake up to what they have.  They could have it all, a great sports complex and an Old Growth Forest, but they are blind to it.  In previous hearings they attacked their own forest, saying it is diseased!  Nothing is further from the truth.  It contains some of the largest, oldest, rarest trees in North Jersey.  Go see it!  It is on Prospect Ave between Northfield and Mt. Pleasant in West Orange.  Next to the Antioch Presbyterian Church (#616 Prospect) is a gated driveway.  Park and walk in.


A Forest Gone

A forest gone

will be forgotten

and the land

held bundled

in its roots

will sob

at its passing

The animals

who called it

their home

will depart

or die

unable to adapt

to 40 foot high bleachers

An ecosystem


from this planet

will serve

as a legacy

to the ignorance

of the destroyers

The world

robbed of wonder

and beauty

all too easily


a sadder

less benign place

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–October 16, 2009


Skip to comment form

    • Robyn on October 17, 2009 at 00:06

    Msgr. Michael Kelly, Headmaster, [email protected]

    John Henriksen, Environmental Studies, [email protected]

    Jason Makarow, Director of Advancement and Alumni, [email protected]

  1. Some of my best friends are trees!

    Have you cnosidered talking to Julia Butterfly Hill?

    • Robyn on October 17, 2009 at 01:04

    …so that it actually does go to the larger picture now.

  2. on a day when I just fucking gave up along came this. It seems the tree and nature are much more worth saving then us. What a sick joke that the people who claim to represent God want to tear this beautiful place down. Your poem and art are beautiful also. We do make a difference.    

    • Robyn on October 17, 2009 at 01:45

    …in Orange.

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