Group presents plan to protect, manage Antietam Lake Park

Conservation, recreation, education included

LOWER ALSACE TWP., Pa. - A preliminary study for an Antietam Lake Park forestry management plan was presented to the public at the Lower Alsace Township building Wednesday evening. The public was invited to provide comments and recommendations for care and improvements to the park's forests, recreation and environmental education.

The study, completed by Natural Lands, a nonprofit organization from Media, Delaware County, surveyed more than 600 acres of the park, which is owned by Berks County.

Kelsey Boyd, Natural Lands' landscape project manager, presented findings from the multi-faceted study and also provided forestry management recommendations.

Nine separate recommendation categories were found in the study, and the public gave input into each one. Scorecards were given to the attendees, for the organization and Berks County to keep a record of public input. The nine categories: forests, wetlands, water resources, wildlife, passive recreation, Angora Fruit Farm, events and environmental education, historic features and volunteers.

Park site visits by Natural Lands were imperative for providing natural resource improvement recommendations.

"We looked at what vegetation species were present, quality of habitat, safety hazards, trail conditions — and kept an open mind to improve what's already there," Boyd said.

Boyd said the park's two biggest issues are deer and invasive plants. Boyd said deer prefer to feed on native vegetation, allowing the invasive plant species to thrive.

"Their populations are too high to sustain a healthy forest, in most cases," she said.

Boyd added that an ideal deer ratio is one deer for every 64 acres. Brendan Lederer, the Berks County Parks and Recreation Department's resource manager, said deer management would require a definite count.

She added that invasive plants and vines are very aggressive and will out-compete native plants. Another concern is when vines grow into the canopy, leaving native tree and plants species susceptible to damage from winter weather elements.

Boyd said it's also important that native plants replace any dead plants and that managing deer and controlling invasive plant species is critical to maintain native plants, upon which many insect animals feed and dwell.

One resident questioned the spotted lanternfly's invasiveness and rapid spread. The insect, native to eastern Asia, feeds primarily on the tree of heaven, another invasive species, but will also feed on and eventually destroy smooth-bark plants, including orchard trees and grapevines, potentially devastating the state’s agriculture.

Boyd suggested ways to get rid the pest.

"You can do egg mass scrapings, scraping the eggs off the bark after they've lain. Another option, if you have the tree of heaven, you can cut out the majority of the population, but leave a few larger trees and treat those with an insecticide, so the insect feeds on the tree and, hopefully, dies."

She moved on to discuss wetlands, which she described as "in good shape."

Water resource recommendations included improving existing riparian buffers — vegetated areas that protect and shade a stream — as well as addressing storm water erosion and monitoring waterways, all while simplifying the park's trail system, in conjunction with the areas of the mountain owned by the city of Reading, which would keep forested areas intact.

The presentation noted the county is also looking for volunteers to do whatever they can to help and will host volunteer days in the spring to encourage environmental education and awareness.

The next steps in the process are for Berks County and Natural Lands to confer with the steering committee, finalize recommendations outlined in the presentation and provided by attendees, and finalize the plan by spring.

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