Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The End Has Come (Goodbye at last, Kirkbride)

October 16, 2015 (Margo D. Beller)
It was not long after MH and I moved to our home that I was curious enough to walk up Central Avenue to the front door of what had been the administration building of the Greystone Park pyschiatric hospital.

That Second Empire-style building where the road led was grand and imposing but, because it had been abandoned years before, it had a haunted look. So did the stone hulks of the old wards and the "cottages" for the patients who were considered getting better and so were removed from the general population to halfway houses.

I have been writing about Greystone and that administration building, known as Kirkbride, for some time since then, both on this blog and elsewhere. It has been an interesting time since the hospital was closed, the much-reduced patient base moved to a more modern and smaller building on property still owned by New Jersey and the 600-plus leftover acres sold to the county transformed into a park known as the Central Park of Morris County.

There were battles to keep Kirkbride standing, to turn it into, variously, housing, a mental health museum, office space, shops and all of the above. But the state of New Jersey, which allowed the buildings on its land to fall into ruin, finally decided it would cost too much to keep them up and so slowly but surely they have been demolished.

The last to go has been the central tower. MH and I had wondered if there was a deal being worked out to keep just this central portion - which would need significant renovation as well as new walls once the extensive wing system was removed. However, the head of Preserve Greystone finally said there was no use fighting anymore because the destruction was too far along.

And so the picture at the top shows what is left of the old tower. What it looked like is below.

Kirkbride before the wrecking ball. (Margo D. Beller)

I have mixed feelings about the whole business. As I've written many times, including this year, every plan put forth by developers - those sought by the state at first and then those brought in by the preservationists - included housing - apartments or condos - to pay for the cost of all the work that would be needed to make the place livable. Kirkbride was a sizable building, at one point with the largest continuous foundation in the world. It could've held hundreds of people, all of whom would need a place to park their cars, schools to send their children and roads for driving to jobs.

The effect on my little town, literally down the road, would've been catastrophic. Traffic on streets that have never seen a stop light would back up as it already does on the main drag, Route 202. Even the township where Greystone is located, Parsippany, NJ, came out against any residential plan because of the increased costs it would face in providing services, including schools.

I had said back in 2012 it would be better to tear the hulk down because the only things that could live in it were birds and ghosts. Now that it is almost down I am wondering what happens next once the debris is removed and the fences come down. Walking trails? Yet more ball fields? Untouched and left to overgrow?

In 2012, woods where I had seen several types of flycatchers, bluebirds and hawks were ripped up for soccer/lacrosse fields. When I step out my door in the evenings now I can hear the shouting from competitions. If there are low clouds or fog I can see the bright lights reflecting off them, adding more light pollution.

I can do without more soccer/lacrosse fields but this is a minority viewpoint. Most taxpayers will pay for a park only if they can use it for what they want -- so that means dog parks, soccer and lacrosse fields or a cross-country track. This park has all three, as well as a disc golf course.

What it doesn't have is a lot of quiet, open land for old-fashioned things like taking a walk.

By contrast there was another battle going on in Somerset County between the Duke Farms Foundation, which had been running the property since the death of heiress Doris Duke, and about 100 people who didn't want to see the mansion where she had lived be torn down. They said it had historic significance. The foundation said it had been added to so often over the years any historical features were long gone. It had sat empty since Duke's death in 1993 at age 80.

What I could see of the Duke mansion from a trail. (Margo D. Beller)
The Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission agreed with the foundation and the mansion will be razed.

This is another case where I side with those who want to tear the building down. Right now, it is in a remote corner of a huge piece of property that is already used for hiking, biking and quiet contemplation of an astonishing number of birds, including nesting bald eagles. The foundation plans to open the area up to visitors and join it to the rest of the park.

This is a good use of land. But that is a private foundation that has an environmental plan running things. I have no idea what New Jersey or Morris County have in mind for the land once the Kirkbride debris is cleared beyond "open space," whatever that means.

I fear the worst.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bearing With More Trouble

On Sept. 27, six months to the day after the last incident, I was making supper. It was a Sunday early evening, people were enjoying their backyards with their children or taking a late afternoon walk in the sunshine.

I turned around to see if any cardinals were at the house feeder. I planned to take it in by 6:30 pm ET, 30 minutes from that moment, as I have been ever since a bear came into my yard overnight and destroyed one of my feeder poles trying to get to the sunflower seed.

Well, there was no feeder. I cursed, ran out into the backyard and on the next street, ambling northward, was a black bear, about as big as the one MH and I saw from our car on Old Mine Road in the ridges and forests of Sussex County, NJ.

Old Mine Road bear (RE Berg-Andersson)
This time, the bruin had ignored the sock and the cage-enclosed feeder that were filled with thistle put out for what had become a huge flock of goldfinches. It went for the old house feeder. In pulling it the bear had taken off the wrought-iron arm, too, and MH thinks when it fell it spooked the bear off. The house feeder, which hadn't had that much seed in it at the time, was on the ground but unscathed.

After the last attack, I had taken in the feeders for a while and then it was summer and I put a hanging basket on the remaining pole. Eventually, I had gotten a new feeder pole to replace the broken one. Around Labor Day I had started putting out seed. The dry weather conditions made it hard for birds to find food unless they found my feeder, which many of them did.

So did the bear.

Rosebreasted grosbeak on house feeder,
when the pole still had two arms (RE Berg-Andersson)
I have no idea if this was the same one because I didn't see the bear six months before. That attack was overnight. This one was during daylight, when there were lots of people outside, as I said. While I called 911 to alert the police, my neighbor was atop his grandchildren's playground setup, watching. He gave me a thumb's up. His son told me he had seen the bear rip off the feeder arm and then lope off through my backyard, my backyard neighbor's yard and then to the street. A squad SUV drove up that street after the bear but whether it was confronted or just followed into the next town, I do not know.

My brother-in-law the naturalist in rural NH told me he always waits until the snow falls and the bears go into their dens before he hangs feeders - even if that's in December. His feeders are always inside by April 1.

But he is in rural NH. The migrants have long left there. I was feeding a lot of cardinals, goldfinches and chickadees (along with more annoying house sparrows) because seeding plants were dying and there were no bugs because of the drought. Where I live, it might not snow until February. And my last attack had been before April 1.

What to do?

Predators have always been a problem. Accipiters -- Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks -- and redtailed hawks often haunt the yard. Lately, a cat has been loitering. (It is not feral because it is neat and has a flea collar, but it is not from my street and I have seen it run off through yards across the street and over to another side street, where its owner may live. It doesn't let me get close enough to see any ID tag. I do not understand the old adage about putting out the cat. You don't do that for dogs.)

Cooper's hawk atop feeder (Margo D. Beller)
But I can go outside and chase off a hawk or a cat. When I ran out and saw the bear I realized that had I turned around and run out sooner we'd have been face to face. What would I have done? Would I have been as stupid as the time I went out to chase off a buck in my yard and then quickly backed way when it put its head down intending to charge? In my anger, perhaps.

There are people who love bears so much they would like nothing better than for my neighbors and me to tear down our houses and let the bears roam free, unhunted. That isn't going to happen. Yes, there are houses in areas where they never should've been built, but people are in there now and bears are dangerous. I favor a bear hunt, as I do the annual deer hunt for the same reason - restoring something of a balance.

After a day or so inside, I put the house feeder on the remaining pole arm and put the thistle sock on the other pole. Not having seed outside plus a strong northerly wind seems to have decreased the number of sparrows and goldfinches dramatically to more manageable numbers, thus allowing more of the birds I like to get to the feeders. (We've also had a significant rainfall.)

Is putting out feeders foolishness or an act of faith? I want to feed birds. But I must now be extremely vigilant, at least until a hard winter cold comes. Fool me twice, shame on me. It may not be six months until the next bear encounter.