By Nicholas Voltaggio
A dragon bug lands on a leaf petal. Herons and egrets perch, majestically, amongst the reeds.
An exotic wilderness from the latest edition of National Geographic Magazine?
Actually, the images appear in the Kirby Gallery of the Morristown & Township Library–and they depict a diverse and fascinating ecosystem in our own backyard.
Small Pond, Big Heart tells the story of Foote’s Pond. The exhibition opened last week with a celebration by the library’s North Jersey History & Genealogy Center and the Friends of Foote’s Pond Wood, a Morristown group dedicated to preserving the wooded area adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School on James Street.
Slideshow photos by Nicholas Voltaggio and Kevin Coughlin:
The pond has been shrinking since 1904, filling with silt, and its wildlife continues to face threats from pollution.
These threats hit close to home for Chris Cioffi, a Frelinghuysen Middle School 6th grader who got to know Foote’s Pond pretty well during his days at Thomas Jefferson.
When visiting the pond one day, he noticed litter and a shopping cart. So he assisted in a recent cleanup day lead by the Friends group.
“When you want to experience nature” here in our own town, he said, “just visit Foote’s Pond!”
While the library exhibit focuses on natural beauty, it also sends a warning: Without proper attention, Foote’s Pond could vanish.
The 2.9-acre pond was gifted to Morristown in 1939 by the Robert Foote Estate for passive recreational use.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Alison Deeb is among the pond’s champions. She has spent a big chunk of her 11 years in office advocating for preservation of the pond and its ecosystem.
She emphasized it’s a team effort, which she has seen “organically grow.”
At the suggestion of the town Environmental Commission, Morristown’s council last year designated $30,000 for a hydrology study to help determine whether to dredge the pond, a complex and costly undertaking.
The Morris County Freeholders also approved a grant of nearly $133,000 to the town to construct and upgrade trails around the pond.
And last month, Morristown moved forward with plans to acquire more than 10 acres next to the pond from the nonprofit Loyola House of Retreats.
The $2.1 million purchase, enabled by county- and state grants and municipal funds, will prevent more residential development from encroaching on the pond.
Deeb is hopeful this also will inspire efforts to enlarge and expand the pond, providing a lusher habitat for wildlife. Those working alongside her “have gone a long way, and we have a long way to go,” she said.
Small Pond, Big Heart is on the second floor of the library, at One Miller Road in Morristown. Admission is free, seven days a week.
Morristown Green correspondent Nicholas Voltaggio is a rising sophomore at Morristown High School. Editor Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.