Weston Mill Dam Removal Open for Public Comment

Final Approved Weston Mill Dam Removal/IFW Fish Passage Restoration Plan Open for Public Comment

Notice to Receive Interested Party Comments on Consent Decree for Natural
Resource Damage Regarding the American Cyanamid Superfund Site in Somerset
United States of America and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v.
Wyeth Holdings, LLC.

Take notice that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP)
hereby gives notice of a Consent Decree concerning injury to natural resources resulting from
discharges at the former American Cyanamid Company facility located in the Township of
Bridgewater and the Borough of Bound Brook, Somerset County, New Jersey (the Property).
NJDEP, and the United States of America, on behalf of the United States Department of
Commerce, acting by and through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the
United States Department of the Interior, acting by and through the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service (collectively, the “Trustees”), propose this Consent Decree with Wyeth
Holdings, LLC (the Settling Defendant), to resolve certain natural resource damage claims under
Section 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
(CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9607, and the Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10
23.11 et seq. (Spill Act). Settling Defendant’s contact for this matter is Russell Downey, Director
Environmental Engineering, c/o Pfizer Incorporated, 100 Route 206, North Peapack, New Jersey
Under the Consent Decree, the Settling Defendant has agreed to settle its alleged liability
to the Trustees for “In-River” natural resource injuries resulting from discharges at the Property
(a) Paying Past and Future Costs that have been or will be incurred by the Trustees.

(b) Performing a restoration project that includes the removal of a dam, known as the
Weston Mill Dam located on the Millstone River in Franklin Township and Manville Borough,
Somerset County, and providing funding for monitoring activities before and after the dam
removal to evaluate aquatic organisms and water quality.

(c) Performing a Trustee-approved analysis of fish passage alternatives, designing a fish
passage alternative, and developing a construction cost estimate to implement that design
alternative, for enhancing fish passage at the Island Farm Weir on the Raritan River.

The Consent Decree addresses Settling Defendant’s alleged liability for “In-River”
natural resource injury only, and does not address Settling Defendant’s alleged liability for any
other natural resources injuries resulting from discharges at the Property.
It is the intent of the Trustees and the Settling Defendant that this Consent Decree, when
entered, will constitute a judicially-approved settlement for “In-River” natural resource injury
within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f)(2) and N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11f.a(2)(b), for the purpose
of providing protection to Settling Defendant from claims for contribution regarding matters
addressed in this Consent Decree.

Copies of the proposed Consent Decree are available for inspection at the NJDEP’s main
office at 401 East State Street, in Trenton, New Jersey, and on the NJDEP’s website at
www.nj.gov/dep/nrr/settlements. A copy of the Department’s files concerning the Property is
available for review by contacting the Office of the Records Custodian, NJDEP, PO Box 442,
Trenton, NJ 08625-0442 or via e-mail at records.custodian@dep.state.nj.us .

Letters commenting on the implementation of the Restoration Plan are due to NJDEP by December 16, 2016 and should be addressed to:

John N. Sacco, Chief
NJDEP, Office of Natural Resource Restoration
501 East State Street, Mail Code 501-01
PO Box 420
Trenton, NJ 08625-0420

The Snowy November Woods

Article and photos by Joe Mish



The hiker skier and the fox

passed this way on a snowy walk

The same path was taken on that day

Though each saw things a different way


Dawn was hardly accomplished when the charcoal sky, stirred by a strong cold wind, began to hurl sharp ice crystals against the dry fallen leaves. The High velocity ice pellets struck the forest floor to reverberate against the dry leaves and create a mesmerizing steady hum.

The expansive old woods, now under siege by the late November weather, had a logging road cut through it sometime in the past that now resembled a linear scar threading through the trees. The thick canopy of branches blocked the sunlight to prevent the cut from healing and provided an unobstructed view and silent pathway, for at least a hundred yards. Any bird or animal travelling across the woodlot could be easily seen.

From my vantage point, where the road curved around a large boulder to the straightaway before me, I paused to take in the view. The falling ice began to accumulate; it was like watching an invisible hand weave a white rug on a rough umber tinted latticework. The ice would take turns with large snowflakes as this tandem team laid down white pavement on the road. The thick canopy of branches in the surrounding woods prevented much of the falling snow from reaching the ground. The white flakes and ice crystals that fell here resembled a light scattering of powdered sugar that stood in stark contrast to the near solid white woods road.

The woods are transformed with a light snow as hidden pathways and game trails show up as white lines and the thick woods instantly fitted with clear windows into the woodland depths. Any animal previously hidden by the labyrinth of branches in the one dimensional muted background of similar color, now are exposed as dark forms against white as they pass through these previously invisible portals. The slightest movement, even at a distance, now betrays an animal’s presence as sound becomes an irrelevant turncoat.

Feeling chilled, I was about to resume my walk when a quick movement in the woods caught my eye. Like watching a silent movie in black and white, a woodland drama was about to unfold.

Some small, fast animal was running along the ground in a straight line, on a course that would take it across the woody lane. In short order it appeared in the open and I was still questioning its identity. I could now see this was clearly a bird as it looked like a pigeon, though slightly larger. It was so odd to see a bird running instead of flying and given its speed, its health did not seem compromised. The fleet footed bird was a ruffed grouse! I recalled seeing grouse feeding in the predawn light on other occasions and thinking how they resembled pigeons.

In less than 15 seconds, another larger form appeared and was clearly running along the same track as the grouse. This was a red fox!

The fox had probably gotten a glimpse of the grouse, lost sight of the bird, then picked up its scent to begin the chase. The grouse felt confident enough it could escape on the ground as the fox was in steady but lagging pursuit.

The bird would take to the air if the fox came within striking distance and barring intervention from a hungry cooper’s hawk, the grouse would enjoy the rest of the day in peace. The fox was on a foolish pursuit chasing an alert grouse. Its hunger in full argument with its experience arrived at a compromise and the chase began in deference to hunger.

I waited another few minutes and couldn’t resist trying to call the fox in. Like magic the fox came running, sat at the edge of the lane in the white snow and stared in my direction for a good minute, stood up and trotted off.

As the fox disappeared in the distant woods I again began to walk down the canopied lane enjoying the snowy woods.

The old logging road weaving through the trees scattered with snow brought the lines from poet Robert Frost to life. From “A road not taken”:

“… and looked down one (road) as far as I could, to where it bent into the overgrowth”.

Then the line from Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening:

“…to watch his woods fill with snow”……

“The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.”

Unwrap the gift of a light November snow and enjoy sights and sounds that have inspired the verse of American Poets.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Species of the Watershed – American Bittern

By Maya Fenyk (age 12), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor


M. Fenyk - American Bittern drawing

American Bittern, by Maya Fenyk (age 12)

Hi! I am Botaurus Lentiginosis but you can call me Anthony, the American Bittern. I live in thick marshy areas that are dense with vegetation, such as wetlands or freshwater marshes. Unfortunately humans have destroyed and drained most of my natural habitat. This act alone almost diminished my population to 0 throughout the first half of the 20th century. Sadly my species faces even more threats to our survival, such as hunting. Even now in the 21st century where we have a lot of environmentalists looking out for us, there still aren’t enough protective measures in place to take us off the Endangered Species list. We are a shy bird, hard to research, and the amount of American Bitterns in New Jersey is still unknown. Scientists aren’t even sure if our population is increasing or decreasing!

Not much can be done by the ordinary citizen to help bring back our population. I would ask, though, that you don’t hunt my species, and if you see me report the sighting to an environmental agency pronto. I also have a favor to ask of the big development companies. Stop developing on wetlands and other habitats of animals! The act of developing on our homes alone severely destroys our species and others alike. But it’s not just for my sake I am saying this, wetlands are a natural barrier between water and other habitats (of animals and humans). And wetlands decrease flooding risk, which could potentially save lives.

If you saw my species regularly, which I doubt since our feathers camouflage us into the reeds of our marshy habitat, you would say we are kind of cute. We are a stocky medium-sized wading bird that is striped white and brown on our heads, neck and upper part of our body for the rest we are light brown. But watch out, even though we are shy and prefer the flight response instead of fight if we are corned we will use our yellow spear-like bill! At each stage of our life cycle we are pretty cute too. We hatch at about 24 days and stay in the nest for 2 weeks but even after we fledge we remain dependent on our mom for food and shelter for another two weeks.

Humans, don’t worry. Even though I have a spear-like bill I won’t eat you. But still, don’t approach me. My species eats small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and insects. And even though I am the Lower Raritan Watershed’s resident American Bittern, my species can be found from Canada to Mexico! Thank you for reading about me today – and please make a pledge that you won’t damage my habitat further, right? Now excuse me I hear a great horned owl – I must hide! Kok-Kok-Kok. (that’s the sound of my call).

Wing Tips and Curled Yellow Leaves – Along the South Branch October 2016

Article and photos by Joe Mish


A yellow, curled up autumn leaf or a Kevlar canoe, both are more than capable of transporting a traveler and their imagination through the autumn scenery along the South Branch of the Raritan and reveal a glimpse of the hidden, natural world.

The early morning October sun shown through the amber hull of my Kevlar canoe to resemble a bright yellow leaf with curled up edges that fell gently upon the water’s surface. It is easy to imagine sitting in that curled leaf, high and dry, while riding the river’s swirling currents. Witness the secret world of nature that shies away from sound and movement as you silently drift downstream. The leaf provides a cloak of near invisibility as you now become a spirit on a journey through the physical world.

I set my Kevlar leaf upon the water and settled in to the sliding bucket seat with my hips and knees braced against the gunnels and held in place by the foot brace. I was now an integral part of the canoe, my slightest movement instantly transmitted to the hull. A single paddle stroke turned the bow into the current which magically spun the boat and took it downstream. A draw stroke and a shift in weight against the hull and was enough to direct my yellow leaf on a journey thru the October scenery along the South Branch.

This morning, the brilliance of autumn foliage was muted by a fine mist rising from the river. Shafts of sunlight, however, gave a preview of the colors soon to be unveiled as the mist gave way to the bright, clear fall day.


I soon spotted a pair of wood ducks nervously swimming in circles in an eddy downstream of a fallen tree. To get as near as possible for a photo, I kept the paddle in the water opposite the side of the ducks and used a figure eight movement to propel and steer the boat into position for the best camera angle.


The boat drifted quite close before the pair of woodies flew off; when disturbed, they make an unmistakable, repetitive, two tone alarm call. The fast action framed by autumn color and blue sky, was over in seconds as the echo of their calls faded in the distance.

What remained was an indelible image of these little birds gaining flight so quickly and flying full speed between the drape of overhanging branches, covered with orange leaves, and the calm reflective water of the eddy.

Though a diminutive bird, the full range of motion of its wings barely cleared the passage between the trees and water. The tip of the longest flight feather, almost imperceptibly, left marble sized imperfections in the mirrored surface with each wingbeat as the birds disappeared in the distance around the curved riverbank.

The river then straightened out to provide a wide angle perspective spreading out before me. The trees on either bank were ablaze in yellow, orange, red and scarlet, the color intensified by the position of the sun and a near cloudless sky of the brightest sky blue you can imagine. A rare white fluffy cloud, low on the horizon, stood in stark contrast against the celestial blue concentrate. To behold such a bucolic scene while riding on a magic carpet suspended on a river of energy within a kaleidoscope of color, mind and body enjoy a brief respite from thought, time and place.

Several more miles downstream, my curled yellow leaf followed a deep channel along the high, red shale riverbank that gently curved to the left. The water, here, expressed deliberate intent as its energy flowed fast, allowing me to remain almost motionless. The hydraulic backwash on either side of the narrow channel kept the boat centered with minimal intervention from my paddle.



Ahead, a red fox walked along the steep bank at the water’s edge, apparently preoccupied with maintaining its footing. The angle of my approach and wind direction helped cover my scent and sound, allowing the fox to remain undisturbed. When I felt the fox’s field of vision was momentarily diverted, I would make a forceful paddle stroke to close the distance. Unbelievably, I was able to drift up behind and to the right of the distracted fox. After several photos the fox realized it was exposed and tried to escape up and over the vertical bank. In its haste, the fox slipped and almost fell into the river. Momentarily stunned by the unexpected action and the current’s demand for immediate attention, the fox’s embarrassing moment was safe from digital publication.

As a passenger on an imaginary floating autumn leaf, carried along by the energy of moving water, the next stop could be anywhere in the world where the sweet water of the South Branch flows. I chose, however, to get off in an overgrown pasture resplendent in autumn color, my yellow leaf turning back into a Kevlar canoe and a quarter mile uphill portage for which I had to supply the energy.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.


EPA Kicks Off Fifth Annual Campus RainWorks Challenge

EPA Kicks Off Fifth Annual Campus RainWorks Challenge
College students compete to design green infrastructure for their campus

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just launched its fifth annual Campus RainWorks Challenge, a competition for college and university students to design innovative solutions for our nation’s water infrastructure. Using their campuses as labs, teams develop green infrastructure systems to reduce stormwater pollution and build resilience to climate change. Since 2012, more than 420 student teams have participated in the challenge.

“Stormwater is one of the nation’s most significant water challenges, with increasing amounts of runoff polluting our nation’s streams, rivers and lakes,” said Joel Beauvais, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “Through the Campus RainWorks Challenge, EPA invites our country’s future planners, designers, and engineers to apply their classroom learning and help us solve stormwater management problems through innovative green infrastructure design and technology.”

Teams may register for the 2016 Challenge from September 1st to September 30th. The 2016 Challenge winners will be announced in spring 2017. Each first-place team will earn a student prize of $2,000 and a faculty prize of $3,000 to support green infrastructure research or training. Second-place teams will win $1,000 for student teams and $2,000 for faculty research.

Green infrastructure decreases pollution to local waterways by treating stormwater where it falls and keeping more polluted runoff out of sewer systems. Green infrastructure features include green roofs, permeable materials, green streets, rain gardens and rain harvesting systems. Communities are increasingly using green infrastructure to supplement their “gray” infrastructure such as pipes, filters and ponds.

Green infrastructure can create vibrant communities by increasing economic activity, neighborhood revitalization, job creation and open space. It also strengthens a community’s resiliency to the impacts of climate change by reducing the burden on local water infrastructure, managing local flooding, reducing urban heat islands and lowering energy demands.

We would love to see some of the schools in the Lower Raritan Watershed enter this competition!

More information is available at www.epa.gov/campusrainworks

The Timidity and Temerity of September

Article and photos by Joe Mish

mish - sept pic 1, 2016

The dawn of the first day of September turns a mundane view of Holland Brook into a scene of stunning beauty that vanishes in the light of day

September arrives with the gentleness of the March lamb, whose fleece is tinged with shades of orange, scarlet and yellow. This month is shepherded in by a genial sprite whose name is associated with autumn, even though 21 days out of 30, are owned by summer.

The dominant green of summer foliage and grass is now the canvas upon which colors begin to appear. The classic autumnal portraiture is prompted by the choreographed movement of the planets which direct changes of light and temperature on earth.

September imperceptibly, at first, applies a touch of persimmon to leaves of the black gum tree, found in moist upland areas of the upper Raritan watershed. That shade of orange stands out boldly against the mass of green. Its elongated leaf, larger at the base, tapering to a rounded tip, suggests a festive light, reminiscent of an old fashioned Christmas tree light bulb.

mish - sept pc 2, 2016

Perhaps using a fine squirrel tail paint brush, and confident from the first strokes of subdued orange, deep scarlet begins to appear on trees as the subtle necklaces of green Virginia creeper vines now glow a brilliant red. The necklace is the first adornment applied, before dressing in the full compliment of matching fall color later in October.

Happy with its brush stokes and color selection, September lingers in the red spectrum to color poison ivy at the base of trees to appear as a ground hugging extension of the soon to be, colorful tree tops. The poison ivy is also used to decorate unsightly stumps and dead limbs close to the ground to clean up the scene with a colorful red and orange cover cloth.

Imbued with the freedom of a bohemian artist, buoyed by success, the compound leaves and fruit of the staghorn sumac, is chosen as a progressively bold, next move. The deepest reds are mixed to produce a flat, dark maroon to saturate the trees large, upright velvety seed cones. Another blend of scarlet and bright red is mixed and applied to the long compound leafs which so easily wave in the slightest summer breeze and glow in the low sunlight when covered with early morning dew.

Taking a step back to view the perspective of its green canvas scattered with specks of color, September wants to jump ahead and fulfill October’s contract and apply full color to the landscape.

The planets and stars, however, have strict rules by which months must abide. Not to be discouraged, September discovered a way to express its soul in full color and still be true to the rules of nature.

While temperature, atmosphere and light invisibly impact the color of leaves, their physical nature allows these invisible conductors to be seen in full color in certain conditions. September would paint the atmosphere using temperature and light as its medium to transfer momentary color, making the entire landscape come alive!

The daily temperature difference that occurs during the summer to autumn seasonal transition produces heavy morning mists along waterways that is showcased in the arena of open meadows and flood plains.

Dawn along the South Branch in September can be very dramatic as the low morning sun shining thru clouds and dust particles produces constantly changing, breathtaking colors in the sky, water and lingering mists. The lighting and colors are so dramatic; the same scene is not recognizable in full daylight.

mish - sept pic 3, 2016

The ability to dabble in orange and red poison ivy and then produce an ever changing orange sky set upon a purple haze is nothing short of pure magic. Actually, it is all science, for the moment, however, magic best describes a September morning.

September was restrained from applying more color to static objects during its tenure but found a way to make God movie background scenes using the most brilliant colors of visible light, atmosphere and temperature.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

100 years since the jersey shore shark attacks

by Maya Fenyk (age 12), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor

In July 1916 New Jersey experienced a rash of five terrible shark attacks, three of these attacks taking place in Matawan Creek in the Monmouth Watershed (Watershed Management Area 12) adjacent to the Lower Raritan Watershed. Although an inland Creek, the brackish water of Matawan Creek made it possible for the Bull Shark or Baby Great White Shark (the species was never definitely identified) to survive for a few days out of the ocean. The attacks resulted in the death of an 11 and an 18 year-old and the hospitalization of a 14 year-old. Just a week before another shark had attacked a 22 year-old and 27 year-old in the crowded waters of a public beach. This was an important part of our state’s history because never since have there been more shark attacks in a year than there was in that fortnight in New Jersey one hundred years ago.

matawan creek august 2016
Earlier this week I joined the LRWP for their weekly pathogens monitoring along the Jersey Shore. Driving back we visited the site of the shark attack in Matawan Creek (picture above). While we couldn’t find any record of sharks in the Raritan River, there are many reports of Sand Tiger Sharks, Brown Sharks, Makos, Bull Sharks, Threshers and Great Whites swimming in Raritan Bay.

Brielle’s Pollinator Garden – A Girl Scout Silver Project

Article and photographs by Brielle Tiger. 

Brielle Tiger, an 8th grade Girl Scout Cadette, recently installed a pollinator garden in Middlesex County’s Johnson Park as part of her Girl Scout Silver Award. Brielle has been a Girl Scout for seven years. She lives in New Jersey with her parents, brother, two cats and one dog. She loves eating the vegetables from her small family garden.

As a Cadette Girl Scout, I have the opportunity to earn the Silver Award, the second highest award in Girl Scouts. To earn this award, the project I choose needs to benefit my community, take at least fifty hours to complete, be sustainable, and be something I care about. For the past several years, our family garden has not had as many vegetables as there used to be even though we had the same number of plants. On the news they show that bee colonies are dying and butterfly populations are decreasing. Could the decrease of these pollinators be affecting the growth in my garden? That is when I came up with the idea of planting a pollinator garden. I decided to start researching pollinator gardens and visited some local gardens to get ideas for this new project. I then contacted the Middlesex County Parks Department. I spoke with Eric and Scott, and they both loved the idea of a pollinator garden in Johnson Park.FullSizeRender brielle - johnson park map

After meeting several times, we decided to plant the garden in a swale area, just over the bridge from East Jersey Olde Town. This was very new to me, since a swale is very wet soil and the banks are dry soil. I contacted Michele, who works in the Environmental and Resource Management at Rutgers and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, for advice on getting plants for a pollinator garden in a swale. They gave me a lot of information on how to plant the garden, how to care for the plants, and what nurseries could provide plants for me.

Brielle - pollinator garden plan duplicate

I used the information Michele and Heather gave me to put together a diagram of the garden and contacted some nurseries to see if they would donate plants for my cause. Two of the nurseries, Pinelands Nursery and New Moon Nursery, both in New Jersey, were kind enough to supply enough plants for my entire garden.

With my garden being 10ft x 20ft , it was recommended that I plant two hundred plants in my garden to help with weed control. Some of the flowers were Fox Sage, Black Eyed Susan, Orange Coneflower, and New York Aster. Now that I knew what plants will be donated and planted in my garden, I needed to find a deer fence.  Johnson Park has many deer, so I wanted to make sure they did not eat my plants. This turned out harder than I thought. I asked several local hardware stores for donations, and none of them responded. So I decided to go online and find places that sold deer fence and were still close to New Jersey. This time when I asked, I asked for a discount on the items needed. Benner’s Garden in Pennsylvania responded and they said that they would give me a discount on the deer fence and donate other needed supplies.

Now it’s time to set planting day and find volunteers. Planting day was scheduled on May 22, and many family members, friends, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts came out to help. Thirty people came out to help plant my pollinator garden. We had to get the grass and dirt out of the swale, prepare the soil, put up the fence, plant the flowers, water the flowers, and enjoy some hot dogs for lunch! It took almost the whole day to complete, but the garden looked great and it was definitely worth all the work.

brielle - pollinator garden

A few days later, I came back to the garden to put down mulch and pull some weeds. I go back often to water it, and watch how the plants grow in size. I know in the fall, I will have to clean out the garden when all the plants die. In the spring I will have to probably put down more mulch, pull weeds and water again. Hopefully with the plants being close together and being bigger next year, there will be more weed control in my garden.  Also, the fact that it is located in a swale, my watering it could be less often, depending on the weather.

With the flowers blooming, it is awesome to see!  I’ve seen a few butterflies and tons of bees, which is a great sight. Doing this was a perfect project and something that other communities should also consider. I would suggest contacting the Middlesex County Parks Department and the Environmental and Resource Management at Rutgers.  They give great advice on planting native pollinator gardens.

At the time that I’m writing this, the tomato plants in my family garden has given us an extremely large amount of tomatoes! Hopefully our other plants will do the same next year because there will be more pollinators.

High Summer Drama – Along the South Branch, August 2016

Article and photos by Joe Mish

mish - doe and fawn 8.14.16

Doe and fawn kick up thie heels in the cool water of the South Branch of the Raritan.

Deer love to wade in the river, even at noon, on the hottest summer days

High Summer Drama

The low dam at Red Rock Lake turned the water of the South Branch inside out to create an unbroken white line along its length. Here, the living water falls upon itself in an act of resuscitation, no different from lifesaving CPR.

Below the dam, the freshly oxygenated water rushes to fill a deep cut in the river bed funneling its energy, impeded elsewhere by shallows and exposed tree roots.

At the start of each trip, below the lake, I do an upstream ferry across the fast water as a tribute to the river’s energy. I provide the proper angle and the river obliges with a free ride across the current with no downstream slip. Angle the bow into the opposing current and the boat spins into a downstream posture to start another river journey through the high summer season.

The water’s surface reflected the bright blue summer sky and lush greenery along the shoreline. The river banks falsely declaring a limit to the infinite reach of the sky.

August is indeed high summer, all plant life at full maturity vying for sunlight, slender and long, eager to dance in the gentle summer breeze.

Lush, light green grass hung over the river bank in one treeless stretch when I saw a painted water snake swimming to the opposite shore. Only the head of the snake, which created a small wake, betrayed its presence. As I neared, the snake slightly altered course. A few feet from the left shore it suddenly rose up, as if struggling. It would have had to press up against something to rise as high as it did and since the water was still quite deep, it begged investigation.

In an instant a snapping turtle’s head broke the surface of the water, draped in dark green grass and holding the snake near the end of its tail end. Such a non vital hold promised a long struggle and struggle the snake did. I began to record images of this fight for life, so inconsistent in such a peaceful setting.

mish - turtle and snake 8.14.16

The surprise reptilian clash held the colorful snake in close contrast to the turtle’s head. The turtle’s mouth was more of a razor edged compact beak, a creamy tan with fine vertical black lines. The round orb of its bulging eye and dark pupil were the only recognizable shapes against a pattern of dull and dark brown irregular patches that covered the turtle’s head. The black pupil was surrounded by three thick, dark brown streaks radiating out at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions, a pattern quite like a style of crosshair seen in some rifle scopes.

mish - turtle releases snake 8.14.16

The painted water snake, alias, northern water snake, by its nature, was a linear billboard showcasing a recurring pattern of a variety of shades of tan and orange, and black, the pattern getting tighter and more compact near the tail. The snake must a have just shed, as its colors gleamed to a high shine, enhanced by the water.

mish - painted northern water snake 8.14.16

This is a painted/northern watersnake; the colors are more brilliant just after it sheds its skin.

This snake recently dined on some other good sized aquatic critter, now seen as the large bulge in the snake’s stomach. 

The fight raged on for several minutes, coming to an abrupt end when my boat drifted closer to the combatants. The turtle became intimidated and released the snake, drama over, no evidence of what had just taken place except for some digital images. I imagine the education of both animals was advanced by their encounter.

A mile down river the scenery changed as the main current, hugging the up heaved, high, red shale cliff, was slowed by a gravelly shoal stretching across the river. Here, the high cliff disappeared back into the ground to give way to a woodsy landscape. The river narrowed and water became deeper. The tree tops reached across the river to give the impression of a leafy tunnel. This was a straight, short stretch that now opened up to allow the first river view of the Sourland Mountains. An island divided the river here, diverting more water to the right passage around a sharp bend, than to the left.

The island had a few small trees smothered in tall sun drenched, light colored grass that reached into the shallow water. Recent events had kept the water level far below normal and as a result, the delicate grass began to grow and prosper where it normally would not. The water level on this day was now raised and flooded the fine green grass.

Here, the river bed follows a deep, narrow cut, close to the right shore and obstructed with fallen trees. From the island to the cut, the river was impassably shallow. Coming around sharp bends on an intimate river usually holds the best surprises. Today was not a disappointment as a doe was standing in the water staring at me from 20 feet away.

There was little I could do keep still, as the narrow passage along the bank required some quick paddle strokes to avoid being grounded. That mandatory movement caused the doe to run off, seeming more annoyed than frightened. Behind her were two spotted fawns that splashed away through the shallow water and tender grass. The one fawn ran toward a second doe, keeping close to her heels. Alerted, the doe and fawn ran a few paces and stopped. They really were reluctant to end their mid day romp in the cool river. Water droplets flew in slow motion as the doe and fawn ran off two more times. The light green grass was finely detailed, while the same green scene reflected in the water, lost the detail, but kept the essence of the verdant color to make the foreground and background indistinguishable from each other. The two deer, resplendent in their red summer coats, the fawn, speckled white, complimented the green background.

mish - doe and fawn II 8.14.16

The water exploded from splashing hooves to energize the scene, as it stood in contrast to the reflective water. Raising her pure white tail, the doe provide an exclamation mark to the perfect image to represent high summer on the South Branch.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.


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