AVALON - It seems everyone wants to save Armacost Park.

But just how to accomplish the continued preservation of the 11-acre maritime forest - which experts say has been deteriorating for decades because of invasive vines and other non-native plant species - may be debatable.

So a handful of residents, who say they want nothing done to change the park, carried handmade signs and held a news conference Friday afternoon in the rain and biting wind to make their point.

"If the environment of the park is destroyed, the migrant birds won't be able to use it for nourishment and a stopover point," said Terry Master, an ornithology expert and professor of biological sciences at East Stroudsburg University, who was brought in by the residents to investigate the issue and speak to the media.

But Avalon Borough officials said the Cape May County town has spent five years and about $130,000 to study how it should manage the municipally owned property that once contained a thriving forest of oak, cherry, and cedar trees. The park, between 71st and 74th Streets, contains no public access points but can be viewed from behind a split rail wooden fence. It once supported a vast heron and egret population and attracted hundreds of other migrating bird species annually.

Over time, invasive species such as greenbrier, Japanese honeysuckle, grape, and English Ivy, have overrun the native plants and trees and destroyed the environmental integrity of the site, according to Scott Wahl, Avalon's borough administrator.

"The vines have become so overgrown, it's created a very inhospitable environment for bird habitat and other wildlife, which is why so many species have left," Wahl said.

Wahl and other officials contend that left unchecked, further deterioration of the site will occur and could ultimately create a safety issue and pose a fire threat and other health and safety issues. There are no plans to open up access to the park with trails or boardwalks, he said.

So, under the guidance of experts, including environmental consultants, the borough implemented a plan to manage the forest, beginning with a pilot operation to cut back some of the invasive vines in a small section.

It is now planning for about 300 saplings of native species trees to be planted next month on a small interior section of the park to test plant resiliency.

"Then we're going to sit back and do nothing and see how it works," Wahl said. "We're going to see if the environment in the park will begin to restore over time."

Wahl said the "do nothing approach" that is being proffered by some local residents would likely ultimately kill all the vegetation in the park.

"If we leave the park alone, all the natural vegetation in this maritime forest would die," Wahl said.

Experts hired by the town concur.

"The vine-control program is necessary to . . . ensure biodiversity and structural integrity of the Armacost Park flora and associated fauna," said Joseph L. Lomax, executive vice president of Lomax Consulting Group, a consulting service based in Cape May Court House that specializes in maritime environments.

And some residents who live near the park agree.

"I want to see it managed and cleaned up," said Steve Malyszka, who has lived across the street from the park for 35 years. "There used to be a pond in there and a healthy woodland environment. Now it's just dead."

But others say altering the environment in the park would be a mistake.

"It's a unique piece of land that shouldn't be changed in any way," said Martha Wright, who lives nearby and led the charge Friday against the borough's management plan of the forest.

jurgo@phillynews.com

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@JacquelineUrgo www.philly.com/downashore