Author: Heather Fenyk

Meet LRWP Board Member Amy Braunstein

Interview by TaeHo Lee, LRWP Fall 2018 Raritan Scholar

On the coldest, windiest day of October 2018, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership Board Member Amy Braunstein and I met at Hidden Grounds on Easton Ave, a hidden café seven steps below street level, to talk about the LRWP’s new Streamkeeper Program. Amy is the Founder of Friends of Mile Run Brook, and is the LRWP’s first “Streamkeeper” – someone who has committed to stewardship of a local waterway in the Lower Raritan Watershed. Amy has served as Streamkeeper of New Brunswick’s Mile Run Brook for almost a year. Amy has a varied background. She did her undergrad at Rutgers, graduating in 2008 and she recently passed the bar after completing a law degree. She is now practicing law in Newark. While a student, she was an organizer involved in various political campaigns on campus including Tent State and Democrats for Change. She also worked with Food and Water Watch in New Brunswick. She has been an environmentalist since she was a Girl Scout when she had the chance to participate in community clean-ups, but Food and Water Watch reawakened her environmentalism as an adult.

TaeHo: Where are you from in Lower Raritan Watershed, and how did you get involved as Streamkeeper for Mile Run Brook?

Amy Braunstein, cleaning up Mile Run Brook (photo: John Keller)

Amy: During my senior year of college, I came upon Mile Run Brook while exploring with friends, and fell in love with the stream. I live right next to it now, on Woodbridge Street. We are right on the municipal border between New Brunswick and Franklin, but also the county line between Middlesex and Somerset. Mile Run and the Raritan are natural boundaries.

Living next to Mile Run, I got a pretty good view of a lot of the garbage that was either being dumped in there or washing in there. So I started reaching out among friends and online, just trying to organize some small cleanups on my own. After doing enough cleanups, I wanted to learn more about the actual water quality. And through that I met Heather Fenyk who was active on the New Jersey’s Waters and Save the Raritan River facebook group pages. I asked if anybody had water quality testing kits, and Heather found my Friends of Mile Run Brook facebook page and reached out to me and was like “would you want to help out on these [water quality monitoring] projects?” and then she asked me to help out with formation of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. It’s fine to do things on my own, but working with the Partnership brings so many more resources to the stream, and opportunities to learn more and get more involved in larger watershed issues.

T: Could you tell me what a Streamkeeper is?

A: A Streamkeeper is somebody that has committed to monitoring the vitals of a particular stream, and to providing stewardship for the ongoing health of that stream. This includes the water quality monitoring that we do, things like measuring temperature, speed, depth, and turbidity, and taking a more holistic approach to the activities going on nearby that might impact the stream and possible areas of improvement. It also includes organizing clean-ups and helping people who want to get involved. That is finding folks that would want to help with this effort. A Streamkeeper takes a stewardship role, above and beyond taking data by looking at who is using the stream in terms of not only human recreation but also fish and wildlife and figuring out things that need improvement.

T: Tell me about Mile Run Brook.

A: There is a fascinating history with the stream. Have you seen the documents about the old mine?

T: No!

A: There was an old copper mine that started near where my house is. Somewhere in those backyards was an access tunnel. And it went all the way down past where the new Hillel building is on the Rutgers College Ave campus. The tunnel ran underground. This was back in the Colonial Era. I think it closed up maybe by the end of the 1700s, definitely by the mid-1800s. But that mine shaft is still there. Workers still find it every now and again during construction projects. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie, the Goonies, but it’s an ongoing joke that they found a treasure map and a series of mine shafts and tunnels under this suburban town. And it’s a fantastical adventure with pirate ships and such. We joke about the copper mine in New Brunswick and say “Oh! We got a Goonies’ situation down there!”

Copy of the map that depicts the copper mine and its mine shaft in New Brunswick

T: (laughter) So, the mine is all filled up now? Or…

A: No, it’s abandoned. Although when they were constructing the Hillel building on College Ave, they found old pickaxes and parts of the dissolved mine. Unfortunately, the reason why this mine opens up over by Mile Run Brook is that, before modern science and human understanding of our effects of pollution on the water systems, people thought water will flush out any garbage left behind and make the area clean, just all of the mine waste and stuff. At one clean up, we found, we’re pretty sure, it was a piece of old coal slab run off from the mine, from the smelting process. And the whole area behind my house is actually a landfill that was capped in the 1930s, I think. And on the Woodbridge St., all of the houses along it were built in the 1950s. Folks would use the stream as a garbage dump. There are pits down there where they found old glass, where they just had been throwing old bottles. Some of these bottles are, in fact, very old. As old as New Brunswick, even. Some of these are hand blown glass. Also – have you seen the name Paulus around? It’s a dairy company in the 1800s in central New Jersey. We found milk bottles from the dairy. This was back when a fleet of milkmen was delivering milk to people.

T: And you found it during a cleanup?

A: We found it one day when I was just kind of walking around with my boyfriend. Sometimes we walk down there to explore. We’d seen some local folks who would walk down with a bucket and then come back out with a bucket full of old looking bottles. And we’re like, “what’s going on down there?” It’s a fascinating history. You know, there’s been people in and around the stream for a long time.

Old hand-blown glass milk bottle from Paulus Dairy that Amy found from the stream.

T: What are current challenges of your Streamkeeper work?

A: The constant challenge is the garbage that is washed in with the stormwater from residential areas. Storm drains lead to our local waterways and a lot of refuse that gets into our streams that way. Also, unfortunately, there is a lot of dumping. I think that doing anti-littering and anti-dumping outreach in a way that is effective and that actually gets people thinking about the effects of their actions is a challenge.

Another challenge more specific to my spot, my geographic proximity along Mile Run Brook, are homeless folks who live there from time to time. Doing outreach with them has been difficult, because there is a lot of fear. When I approach them, they will hear me coming and leave. There’s fear of authorities. There’s fear of having all their stuff stolen. The LRWP has done some great outreach work to these communities in advance of clean-ups. For example, we let them know what’s going on, invite them to join us, and treat them like human beings. The LRWP worked with a social worker to develop outreach material to give them that talks about shelter and food and employment and other social service resources. But, working with those communities, it’s going to be a challenge.

We do want to make that bridge, because they can also be great allies, and there are folks that live near the stream, and it shelters them, and they can be another set of eyes. There’s a lot that we share in common. And I think sometimes people just call the police on them and they get pushed out of the spot and it’s unfortunately a long-term problem in our society that needs to deal with. It’s like the lack of housing and shelter for everybody that needs it. These are kind of like big society problems, but also they relate back to the work with Mile Run Brook. Because the way the things are now… a lot of the homeless people don’t want to be seen and so they will just hide all the evidence of them being there like garbage and food wrappers and all that stuff. And the way they hide them is to just throw it down the ravine.

T: What are some responsibilities that property owners who live adjacent to streams have to maintain the adjacent water bodies?

A: There are two levels: there is legally what is required of them; and then I would say there is kind of like morally and ethically what it is required.

Legally, people cannot discharge any fluids or liquids into the streams. Sometimes folks will be doing home model repair and will not take the proper precautions when emptying radiators or changing the oil. And that stuff can get straight into the stream and have an impact. Also, we have a responsibility to not put any other materials into our local streams. One common mistake that property owners make is just pushing all the leaves, branches, sticks, and debris off of their property and down the ravine into the stream. I mean I think that their thinking is that It’s all natural, it’s not going to make an impact. But this is illegal. And the cumulative impact of everybody pushing all that debris down in there, which would otherwise be scattered evenly on the ground ultimately becoming fertilizers in the waterway, would clog the streams and create stagnant pools.

Another issue confronting New Brunswick residents and homeowners is there is a lot of garbage just in general, and sometimes… you live in New Brunswick, right? So you see that garbage gets blown by the wind. So you can clean up your yard but then stuff can blow in and, I mean, really, it’s on each of us to go through and pull that garbage out of our yard. It is not fair. I didn’t throw it there. It blew in. But that stuff ultimately does make its way into either the trees getting caught or into the streams. So homeowners have responsibilities to remove the garbage or litter, before it is blown into these areas.

Morally and ethically, there is only so much that the law can require people without being coercive or going too far and saying how you live your life. But, I feel like people should look at the impact that their actions make such as how they mow their lawn or what kind of plants they choose to grow. So, where I am at the ravine is very, very steep, and there is an erosion issue. And there is natural plantings and natural ways to just getting those root systems in place to hold the bank in. Or also leaving old or fallen trees undisturbed, they really serve their purpose in streambank reinforcement. Thinking about the impact of each of our actions when it comes to aesthetic improvements to houses, sometimes we will take them in and there will be a bunch of trees and they’ll want a yard. We don’t get those trees back, not in our lifetime. Maybe in our kids’ lifetime if we’re lucky. So, taking positive actions to improve the areas is something that I think falls more into the area of morals and ethics.

One thing the LRWP advocates for that is amazing are pollinator gardens. These are projects the LRWP does in partnership with the New Brunswick Environmental Commission. They will plant milkweed and things that we know that these species are being impacted need in order to survive. Homeowners can easily plant pollinator gardens or native plant species, and they can make choices to not use fertilizers and pesticides. I think doing those kinds of things is really a moral responsibility at this point… Unless each of us tries to make an effort, there is coming a time where there is not going to be enough space for all the creatures of Earth’s biodiversity.

T: What would you like to accomplish in the next five years as a Streamkeeper?

A: let’s see… in 5 years as a stream keeper of Mile Run specifically, I would love for Mile Run to be a stream where people can wade in and fish in and play in as a recreational opportunity. Right now there are issues with stormwater runoff. There used to be a lot of industries along Mile Run – there was a perfume factory and other industrial dischargers dumping directly into the stream. Now the issue is stormwater runoff bringing in trash and other wastes through the stormwater system. Identifying what and where these pollutants are going in and stopping them at the source is goal #1. Maybe we can get Mile Run to be a place where people can really play. I would like to see frogs and lizards and other indicator species return to Mile Run. I would love to see a pathway along the Mile Run so that the members of the public can have a green space to go and recreate in. The more people use it or know it’s there the more they appreciate it. But if it’s just a hidden spot, it’s easier to get trashed and it doesn’t have value. So I would love to see some recreation spaces opened up over there.

T: As a Streamkeeper, do you have any messages to others who may be interested in becoming Streamkeepers?

A: Just explore your streams! Take a look around. All the work I have done to clean-up the stream has benefited me tenfold in terms of my enjoyment of a beautified space. And there is still a lot of hidden beauty in our streams; animals you wouldn’t expect to see. Honestly getting outside and being in nature it’s like… your kids are gonna love it. With a little bit of elbow grease, if we all do a little bit, it’s amazing how beautiful it can be. So, my message would be “go out there, take a look, and get to know the place!”

Following the interview, Amy took me to Mile Run Brook and gave me a brief tour of a section of the stream, from which her house overlooks. We had to be careful around what looked like a homeless spot and spotted a white-tailed deer darting away.

View of Mile Run Brook from Amy’s backyard. On the right of the bank is a homeless community.

Segment of an old tunnel that Mile Run runs through.

Even after many clean-ups, trash gets blown in, washed in, and dumped into Mile Run Brook

 

Protecting Darkness

by Heather Fenyk, LRWP President

As we move toward the shortest and darkest day of the year, and as the winter constellations take their places in our night sky, my family seeks out landscapes freed from the trespass of streetlights to check in with Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Gemini, and Canis Major. These forays are times to marvel at the grandness of the universe, and give us pause to reflect on our place in it.

Winter Constellations of the Northern Hemisphere
Image credit: Carolyn Collins Petersen

However, just like our terrestrial landscapes, even our views of the night sky need protecting. Did you know that fully 80% of the American population lives where they cannot see the Milky Way with the naked eye? Light pollution not only compromises our views of darkness and the heavens, it has implications for functioning of life on earth by changing bat and moth behavior, threatening rainforest regrowth, and contributing to the decline of firefly populations across the globe. Many towns around the world are adopting “Dark Sky Initiatives” to remind us that our lands and skies are interconnected, and that like our waterways and our forests, our dark skies need protecting.

It is the season of lights. Our houses and streets are glowing with color. We string the Christmas trees with miniature glowing orbs, set out the diya, and light the candle in the Menorah. The visual display is joyous, festive, welcoming and wonderful. But consider adding a new tradition to your holiday calendar: turn off your lights and go out to gaze at the brilliance of the winter sky.

My family will do just that during our annual visit to Rutgers’ Serin Observatory during “Public Open Nights.” There we observe the night sky through the 20-inch optical telescope. Barring inclement weather, on December 13, 20 and 27 the (unheated) observatory will be open for two hours starting at 8:30 p.m. We are hoping for clear views of M31, Almach, NGC 457, h & χ Persei, η Persei, M45, M42, Betelgeuse, Sirius, Neptune-Mars appulse, Uranus, and the Moon.

As we scan the skies and take in the vastness of things, remember to take stock of your power to affect positive change in the here and now. Even in urban light polluted areas like the Lower Raritan Watershed there are things we can do to save the stars:

  • Light only what you need
  • Use energy efficient bulbs and only as bright as you need
  • Shield lights and direct them down
  • Only use light when you need it
  • Choose warm white light bulbs.

Happy Holidays!

December – A Fall into Light!

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A female cardinal fluffs up her feathers to ward off the cold, as winter wind sweeps the snow covered landscape.

The first breath of winter is felt in the last days of December’s autumn. The frigid wind, intent on erasing the last vestige of fall color, convinces reluctant rusted oak leaves to cleave from their lofty anchorage and sail free. The dry, stiff leaves rattle their objection before finally letting go to add depth to the leafy woodland carpet laid in October’s grand leaf fall.

The branches swept clean of obstruction; darkness deepens as theatre lights fade to heighten the drama of winter’s opening curtain featuring the winter solstice and the birth of light.

The winter solstice describes the time of the year at which the tilt of the earth is such that the sun appears at the lowest point above the horizon. ‘Solstice’, directly translates to, ‘sun stands still’. An impression one gets when the earth’s tilt changes to make the sun appear to halt an instant before it changes direction and ‘rises higher’ on the sky on the first day of winter.

Early observers reasoned the earth was a stable platform and the sun moved from one horizon to the other, above the earth. During the course of the year, the height of the sun was noted each day, measured in some primitive way. Stonehenge comes to mind as one version of tracking periodic celestial events, which led to the concept of time. Days and months were easy events to track and filled in the gap to mark time and define seasons.

That predictability was noted and celebrated as a whisper from the gods, sharing the future forecast of animal migration, weather and plant succession with those who pleased them.

The shortest day of December, which translates to the darkest day of the year, occurs on the last day of autumn. At the instant of the deepest darkness, the wick of the winter candle is lit, glowing like a beacon, getting brighter each day as winter progresses.

Look at a sunrise/sunset chart, cross referencing minutes, hours and days against months, to provide a visual representation of day length over time. Though you may not have noticed the change over a few days, you are now conscious of the minutes of light gained each day. That tangible bit of information acts like bio feedback and goes a long way to physically quell the sadness that the dark winter will never end.

Even if you forgo charting daylight, your body has physiologically evolved to capture trending day length and alters your hormones and mood accordingly. The pineal gland at the base of the brain monitors the day length to mediate release of hormones, primarily melatonin, which affects sleep cycles and behavior.

An odd situation, when you consider that while being consciously unconcerned or oblivious to changes in day length, your pineal gland is hard at work, keeping track.

A candle, glowing in a distant window, giving off a flickering halo of warm amber light, is a perfect tribute to mark the early days of winter and celebrate the birth of light.

This year, winter arrives December 21, at 5.22 pm, so make a conscious effort to mark the time and celebrate the first flicker of light that grows longer each day to make the winter much brighter and improve your mood.

December owns first rights to freezing weather and whimsically decides just which week will host the initiation of winter. The calculated movement of the planets determine the exact moment of the winter solstice right down to the second. Practically, however, winter begins when December decides.

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.

Stream Habitat Assessment of Ambrose Brook – 10 October 2018

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

This visit to the Ambrose Brook in Middlesex, NJ took place on a sunny, blustery fully autumn day. I didn’t know what to expect in regard to this visit, given that Hurricane Michael had blown through NJ the previous day. What was most impressive about the site was that it was imbued with a sense of energy and even restlessness, perhaps a carryover from the weather event of the day before. As I wandered along the stream bank, my attention was caught by the wind, strong gusts that kicked up dust and a trail of early falling leaves that scattered along the footpaths, the banks of the moving brook, and settled momentarily on the water. There was plentiful sunshine, open blue sky, a few scattered clouds that gave scant shadow on the earth, but… fall is in the air. The surrounding trees have not yet lost all of their leaves, but it is evident that the summer heat and earth’s natural cycle are performing their annual duty: the tree color is washed out, leaves are drying out and there is more space between the upper branches, as evidence of the drying and falling leaves. The tall grasses at various points on the stream banks have taken on a brownish hue, in contrast with the deeper green of the earlier summer months. Is there a change in the sunlight’s power? I tend to think so. In resting for a few moments on the banks of the stream on a strategically placed bench, I noted that the angle of the sunlight was lower, so the sun’s rays and warmth were mitigated by the obvious change of season, the rotation and tilting of our green planet here in the northern latitude toward winter. Oh, don’t utter the word!

The restlessness that I noted previously can be attributed to the energy that is expressed in the pulsing of the planet via various sources: the movement of the wind, as noted in the trees, grasses and leaves, the rustling and creaking of overhead branches, and the comings and goings of the Canadian geese. For this visit, various groups of geese appeared to be organized into elite squadrons, squawking their arrivals and departures on clearly defined areas of the brook, which took on the function of an aquatic airport, an avian Newark Liberty, as it were. None were to be found on the grass or footpaths. In contrast with earlier visits during spring and summer; for this visit, the geese were supremely active, aggressive even, as if protecting given areas on the water’s surface for their landings and take-offs. I wonder if their ancient memory of paths of fall migration was contributing to their agitation. Their honking and hissing carried from all along the footpath. Other birds that were noted were hearty and intrepid blue jays, who with their size and weight, seemed to be able to tolerate the wind’s gusts and buffeting, as well as a privacy seeking blue heron. The latter was tucked into a quiet shallow at the base and to the side of the waterfall, likely an attempt to avoid and ignore the noisy Canadian geese. (This last comment is a glaring example of anthropomorphism, I know, but those geese really are quite vocal, pushy and …mildly annoying.) Ground squirrels, who appear to be in fine flesh, have begun to heed autumn’s warning, several were observed collecting and munching on the first fall of acorns from the surrounding oaks.

Ambrose Brook was swollen and fast moving, manifesting a steady and plentiful flow, with even some white water at the base of the waterfall. Although I had not brought any measuring equipment for this visit, my ‘guess-timate’ based on visual measurement alone as to water depth was approximately 8-10 inches closer to the bank and 12-15 inches toward the center of the stream and past the small waterfall, surely because of the rainfall from Hurricane Michael. The stream had lots of surface ripples, which acted as prisms for the sunlight, and thus produced a dancing refraction of water, waves, and light. Lovely.

So, this cycle of observation and assessment of mine will soon be drawing to a close. My commitment was for a year’s worth of visits and measurements. Given that I began in December of 2017, only a few more visits remain. Now that autumn is upon us, I am struck by the wholesomeness of this process and how the observation of nature’s constant change ironically demonstrates its sureness and constancy. The beauty of each season does not depend on human intervention – nature and the environment are enough, in and of themselves.

November – the Far Side of Autumn

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Expect the unexpected when you look up into the leaf bare November woods. Here a red fox walks up a leaning tree to rest 30 feet high in the crotch of an adjoining tree. Red fox are not known to climb trees as are gray fox., but this fox channeled his inner gray fox to climb to dizzying heights.

November is the far side of autumn, a time when the colorful drapery of October is taken down to reveal the bare structure, upon which fluorescent orange leaves once hung.

The change in scenery is quite dramatic, as we pass through the colorful curtain that decorated the first full month of fall. I imagine standing behind a waterfall where colorful autumn leaves flow like cascading water to create a transparent wall of scarlet, orange and yellow. As I reach out to part the flowing colors, I step forward into November.

Linear brush strokes of gray and brown now dominate. Light and rain play with intensity of tone as the bare trees alternate between tans and gray to darker shades of brown and black. Rain saturates the branches to shift subtle earth tones to the bold end of their color spectrum.

The fading light of dusk and early light of dawn erase all color to turn trees into black silhouettes. The interlaced network of branches and solitary trees become one dimensional, as any perception of depth is lost against the stark contrast enhanced by the loss of daylight.

A dynamic lightshow in the sky then commences with a pale yellow glow as the sun departs over the horizon to melt into a pool of fiery orange. When the unmoving silhouetted trees are viewed against the ever changing celestial color spectrum, the still scene becomes a cinematic event.

Stars begin to appear well before the sun’s aura fades. Their sparkling silver brilliance is held against an even colored, dark blue night sky, making the perception of depth impossible to detect. Here, the background is static and the stars sparkle with energy. Just the opposite occurs where trees appear one dimensional and static, while the sky is alive with changing color.

All these theatric opposites combine in a single scene to create an inspiring, though brief preface, to the end of a November day.

A walk through the November woods cannot be more dramatically different than experienced a month before.

Strolling within the woods, beneath the canopy of trees, now without their leafy crowns, the lattice work of a branched arbor is apparent. Since late spring, a cloud of leaves dominated the view, banning shadows and sunlight.

A day time stroll on a sunny day or moonlit night, allows light to play with trunk and limb. Gnarled branches, which fought for their place in the sun, form grotesque figures that groan in the wind. The source of the sounds impossible to locate, lend a ghostly atmosphere even in the light of day. Shadows that begin to arise from a subterranean prison at the base of large trees, appear as immovable as the tree from which it escaped.

Turn away and back to find the shadow has imperceptibly moved, as it circles the tree to close the distance between you.

Walk along silently on the rain and color soaked carpet of October and let your imagination run wild. Animals and portions of human like figures, frozen in the transition of creation, hang like spare parts growing from trees.

While November is no one’s idea of autumn, given the cold, frost, barren landscape and introductory snowfalls, the month ends 21 days short of winter.

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.

Hickory Swamp – A Periglacial Land Form in East Brunswick, NJ

Article and images by Richard Sears Walling, Historic Preservation Planner

October 21, 2018

Hickory Swamp – at Hidden Wood proposed development site

Along the Sawmill Brook corridor, part of the greater Lawrence Brook Watershed and Lower Raritan River basin, remains a unique geological remnant from the Wisconsin Ice Age of more than twelve thousand years ago – Hickory Swamp.  This landform is the northern-most example of Pine Barrens in New Jersey.  Although the area has remained undeveloped since the time of the Lenape, a major apartment development threatens the destruction of this habitat and poses irrevocable harm to the Sawmill Brook.

The Wisconsin Glacier ended at what is now the large hill just north of Exit 10 of the New Jersey Turnpike, about eight miles north of the proposed development site. At this point, the glacier was one-mile high, having descended from a height of 3 miles high further north. Beyond this massive glacier was a polar desert, with sand and loess being blown in by the wind from the north at a rate of 65 knots (75 miles) per hour. Wherever sand was deposited in enough quantity to create a habitat, sand barrens were formed. There are barrens at Albany and Long Island in New York, and the northern-most Pine Barrens in New Jersey is the wooded area along the portion of the Sawmill Brook, which runs through Harts Lane.

According to Mark Demitroff, internationally known and respected expert on Pine Barrens geology, this area was formed by proglacial and periglacial activity during the Late Pleistocene.  The two dunes present at the site represent a unique periglacial landform resource. These high terraces served Paleo-Indian and later native peoples as natural high ground overlooking Hickory Swamp and the many nearby ponds.  Associated natural ponds at Hickory Swamp may, upon further site examination, turn out to be spungs.  Professor Demitroff describes the Hickory Swamp area as “having potential value in the study of Carolina Bays, of which Pine Barrens spungs are a variant of.  Hickory Swamp ponds mark a transition from a proglacial to a periglacial realm; a little understood interface; at least in a North American context.”

Due to the environmental restrictions of the forty-five acre site proposed for development, there is a checker-board pattern of existing conservation areas.  If the site is turned into a literal mini-city (net density of the developable land is over fourteen units per acre, with six hundred parking spaces), these scattered conservation areas will be further fragmented, and partially destroyed by construction activities.

Dr. Emile DeVito, Manager of Science and Stewardship for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation finds that “portions of the watershed which are currently in conservation easements will likewise be degraded and lost. By placing high-density development and impacting current slopes and water-drainage systems that have existed for eons, those natural communities of both fauna and flora will be isolated into small pockets of helter-skelter islands with no chance of moving beyond those small confines. The direct result is obvious, the very intent for which those conservation easements were created in the first place will be negatively affected, and the animal and plant life will be diminished as time goes by, to the point of virtual extinction from their habitat.”

The fight to preserve this unique landform is spearheaded by the Preserve East Brunswick Pine Barrens Coalition. The Sierra Club and the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership have provided letters of support for conservation of this site, and it is hoped that this forty-five acre tract will be preserved and added to three adjoining preserved open space parcels, all connected by the Sawmill Brook corridor.

The Hidden Oak Woods development application is scheduled for a public hearing before the East Brunswick Planning Board for December 5, 2018 at 8 p.m. in the East Brunswick municipal courtroom.  At that time, it is anticipated that the applicant will conclude its presentation and the Coalition will then present the counter case against the proposed mini-city.  Interested persons and organizations are welcome to attend.  For further information, please find the Preserve East Brunswick Pine Barrens Coalition on Facebook, or email richwalling@hotmail.com.  Together, we can ensure that this vestige of our natural history will be preserved for future generations.

“Building Healthy, Equitable Communities” – the LRWP at Salzburg Global Seminar

Article by Heather Fenyk, photo credit Salzburg Global Seminar/Katrin Kerschbaumer

Earlier this month I traveled to Salzburg, Austria to take part in the Salzburg Global Seminar Session “Building Healthy, Equitable Communities: The Role of Inclusive Urban Development and Investment.” I was invited to discuss the role of citizen science in watershed management and land use planning, and my presentation highlighted issues and opportunities in New Jersey’s Lower Raritan Watershed. More specifically, I linked the work of Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership volunteers who collect water quality data and map stormwater infrastructure with desired human and environmental health outcomes.

Salzburg Global Seminar “Data and Evaluation Round Table” Participants, October 2018

The Salzburg Global Seminars started in 1947 as an international forum for post-war healing. The intent was to bring global actors together to develop a “Marshall Plan of the Mind” as a critical element of post-war recovery. Seventy years on, Salzburg Global Seminars continues to nurture global networks of researchers, policy makers, activists and advocates around pressing issues and concerns. My cohort of 50+ Fellows from 16 countries joined together for a week of discussions on themes including:

How can we leverage trends and opportunities in urban revitalization with investments in infrastructure to focus on health, equity and the public good?

Are there key policy strategies or practices that support healthier and more equitable housing, transportation, utilities and park/open space/environmental systems?

How can we foster a shared sense of community in the built environment? Can that lead to infrastructure in the public interest?

Can, and how can, data and citizen science be used to direct resources and promote equitable development?

Seminar discussions were punctuated with case study presentations and problem solving “labs,” and we soon organized ourselves into working groups to develop theoretical statements, policy proposals, and frameworks for practice and action.

I was part of two working groups. One of the working groups, which included individuals from Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Canada and the United States, set out to address immediate community needs related to the fragmentation of habitat in our built environments. This group designed a tool to map and prioritize underutilized community infrastructure for public multi-sharing/multi-functional use. The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership plans to pilot the tool in the Lower Raritan Watershed in coming months. The other working group, which in addition to myself included individuals from India and Germany, developed a research agenda to address a gap in the literature related to health outcome assessments at the watershed level. Both groups have been asked to develop an issue brief for publication in a special issue of the British Medical Journal.

In addition to advancing research and action around healthy, equitable communities, Salzburg Global Seminars formed a global peer support network of Seminar Fellows – that is professional practitioners from around the world working in the built environment and health.

While I am thrilled to be a part of this global initiative, I know there are also many in New Jersey and the Lower Raritan Watershed who are working to foster healthy, equitable communities. With an eye to advancing urban environmental restoration of our New Jersey landscape, and with the specific goal of marrying efforts to improve environmental and human health locally, I welcome conversations with folks who would like to create a New Jersey specific “Healthy, Equitable Communities” peer support network. Feel free to contact me at: hfenyk@lowerraritanwatershed.org

Jersey Water Works

The LRWP is pleased to be part of Jersey Water Works, a collaborative effort of many diverse organizations and individuals who embrace the common purpose of transforming New Jersey’s inadequate water infrastructure by investing in sustainable, cost-effective solutions that provide communities with clean water and waterways; healthier, safer neighborhoods; local jobs; flood and climate resilience; and economic growth. The LRWP is active on the Green Infrastructure subcommittee.

Jersey Water Works recently published Our Water Transformed: An Action Agenda for New Jersey’s Water Infrastructure – check it out! And plan to join Jersey Water Works for their annual conference on December 7 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark!

Honoring the Environmental Message of Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi – or Vinayaka Chaturthi, Chavath, or Lambodhara Piranalu depending on where you live – is one of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year. Occurring at the end of India’s four month monsoon season and at the beginning of the harvest season, Ganesh Chaturthi invokes the elephant-headed God Ganesh for a bountiful harvest.

There is a lovely environmental meaning to the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Ganesh idols were originally fashioned from the clays of area water bodies prior to the monsoons so as to clean the waters of silt deposits. Part of the festival involves Ganesha devotees celebrating their local region’s natural history by gathering 21 symbolic non-agricultural medicinal plants for inclusion in an offering to the idol. Traditionally at the end of the festival the idols were returned to waters from which their materials were taken, often with the plant and other offerings.

Ganesha and 21 leaves offerings – from www.thespiritualindian.com

In the past decades, Ganesha idols in India and the United States have been constructed out of non-biodegradable Plaster of Paris, plastic or metal, and painted with toxic paints. And it is often the case that idols are abandoned in rivers, lakes, streams or the ocean at the end of the festival. These idols can take several years to fully dissolve, if they dissolve at all. This leads to lowering of oxygen levels and contamination of our water bodies. Unfortunately the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and partners have found many dozen abandoned idols in area waters over the years.

 

Ganesha idols found in the Raritan River on September 20, 2018

As the negative environmental impacts of abandonment of Ganesh have been recognized, practices have been adopted to minimize these impacts. Increasingly clay and mud idols are crafted with a seed inside them, painted with non-toxic rice paste and vermillion, and then buried or planted in home gardens instead of being immersed or abandoned in area waters. We have also heard about a new way of making the Ganesha idol: that is by using modeling chocolate. The Ganesha idol is made using chocolate, and at the end of the festival the idol is immersed in milk. The chocolate is then distributed among celebrants, or provided to the homeless.

Chocolate Ganesha – it dissolves in milk!

In the United States it is a violation of the Federal Clean Water Act to pollute or discharge ANY items (biodegradable or otherwise) into waterways without a permit. It is now the case that many Hindu temples and other other cultural institutions secure permits for temporary immersion of the idols in the Raritan River and area streams. That is, celebrants bring their Ganesha to a public ceremonial immersion event and then reuse their idols the following year. We applaud those who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in an environmentally friendly fashion.

For those who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi we wish you happiness as big as Ganesh’s appetite, life as long as his trunk, trouble as small as his mouse, moments as sweet as modaks, and a healthy and clean environment in which to honor Ganapati and his gifts. Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

Autumnal Blush

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Shades of fluorescent orange, used to color the dawning day, dripped from the palette  of the celestial artist to set the autumn woods on fire.

Waves of celestial orange roll over the treetops to set the autumn woods ablaze.

The white, early morning autumn mist hung motionless above the flowing dark water of the South Branch. As dawn approached, the rising sun turned the eastern horizon into a glowing red-hot coal that lit the pale mist with an orange blush.

The trees along the river were immersed in the flood of pre-dawn mist. Some completely hidden and others partially protruding as dark brown silhouettes floating adrift on a misty sea.

As the sun arose, it was as if watching an artist at work laying base colors and adding tints to bring a charcoal sketch to life. The changing light and rising temperature caused the orange mist to vanish as entire trees appeared from the mist, revealing splotches of vibrant fall color.

It is easy to imagine the changing colors of the sunrise were infused into the river mist to wash over the treetops and set their leaves ablaze.

The same spectrum of color seen in the eastern sky at dawn can be found in the fall foliage not flooded by river mist. The full visible spectrum from violet through red and orange, to pink, salmon and yellow are shared as the tree tops meet the sky’s loaded paint brush.

A mere splash of color in early autumn is all that is needed to set the late October woods ablaze. Each living drop of color slowly expands to cover the entire leaf as the season progresses. Its radiance now sets adjoining leaves aglow until the entire woodland canopy is bathed in bright color.

Retreating skyward to a time lapsed satellite view, the expanding colors can actually be seen migrating south. The green foliage appears to be consumed by the advancing flames of the autumnal fire.

Poetic inspiration imagines it is the weight of intense color that causes the leaf to depart the branch.

Gusts of wind stir the treetops to recruit a shower of shimmering color in a free fall final dance for which the tethered leaves had been rehearsing since spring.

The first leaves to fall are contributed by the black walnut and ash trees. Impatient for some reason to drop their leaves. They stand naked among the still well-dressed oak and maple associates just beginning to change color.

A stand of Norway maples grew thick along a low ridge that bordered a sloping cornfield. Their brilliant yellow leaves carpeted the ground and reflected light upward to brighten the understory and set the leaves aglow. The lowest leaves fought for their share of light all season and grew oversized in the effort. The reflected light penetrated the deep shade to illuminate these outsized yellow beacons to celebrity status.

The change of leaf color during autumn has a well-established scientific explanation. Though a longer held belief declared, without question, the color was the work of an ethereal magician.

It is easy to subscribe to that belief when you see a green leaf turn fluorescent orange, a color otherwise unknown in nature. The only place to see that color was in the flames of a fire or in the distant heavens to mark the sun’s arrival and departure.

The fall color is best seen as magic, to set your imagination free and escape to a quiet place where all things are possible.

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.

1 2 3 18