b'Preserving the ReserveOverseers and protectors of the gift of our forebearsBY TIA SWANSONGolden Hour by Sandi Chung, for the Conservancys fall photo contest.depends on a small group of dedicated volunteers to keep it open, thriving, and well-used. Salmon is one of them. An Irvington resident and hiking enthusiast who got her start several years ago on the periodic free hikes offered by the South Moun-tain Conservancy and who has since conquered trails near and far, Salmon leads hikes in the reservation as a thank you to the conservancy for getting her started.She was joined that morning by Maplewood resident Dennis Percher, who has chaired the conservancy for 15 years and who has a similar story. I was just jogging in the reservation (in late 2001) and I see clods of dirt on the trail and then I see these two guys . (with shovels). I said, What are you doing? and they said, Were volunteers with the South Mountain Conservancy.It turns out the two men were not stealing plantsa problem for many years when the reservation was first foundedbut clearing out the swale, the small ditch that runs alongside a trail and allows for proper water run-off. And Percher quickly joined them. He now devotes between 25 and 35 hours a week to keep-ing the conservancy going.Although the reservation has been part of the county park system since it was cobbled together in the late 1890s, it has suffered through the vicissitudes of county funding and attention for nearly all of that time. It has had a conservancy overseeing it only since the turn of this century.Theconservancyowes itsexistencetoCountyEx-ecutiveJosephDiVincenzo. Hemaynotbeuniversally admiredbyreservationen-thusiastssomeofwhom complainheistoobenton I t was before 8 on a Saturday morning in December when Sharon Salmondeveloping the parkbut he alsoistheonewhofigured out that a conservancy could getthecountymoneyfrom emerged from her car at Tulip Springs, a favorite gathering spot in thethestate.Insteadofbeing South Mountain Reservation. The day was bright but frigidnot thethesingleentity(theEssex most conducive for a six-mile hike, but Salmon and her comrades wereCounty Park system) to apply undeterred. And they were not the only ones who braved the hour andfor a Green Acres grant, each the cold to find a moment of peace on the hilltops of this beloved Essexof the separate conservancies County Park. A group of runners was also readying to hit the trails. It wascan do so, Percher explained. just another day in the woods. That strategy has paid off as The reservations 2110 mostly-forested acres, just miles from the countrysthisconservancyandthose largest city, are so central to the identity of the old suburban towns that encircleoverseeingtheotherlarge The Conservancy holds an annual family campout them that they almost run the danger of being taken for granted. For an oasis ofcounty parks, have been suc- in an effort to get young families to interact with tranquility, however, the reservation has had a fraught history, and, to this day,cessful in getting quite a lot ofnature and begin to become its stewards. 12/ matters magazine / winter 2023'