Author: Heather Fenyk

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?

Except as noted, article and photos by Joe Mish

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A Siberian tiger, out of place in modern times in New Jersey, comfortably rests on the frozen snow in sub zero temperatures, intensified by a strong northwest wind. Conditions that would turn exposed flesh beet red in an instant, didn’t phase this big cat as it appeared oblivious to the deadly weather; as if not bound by the laws of Nature.

It was a bitter cold day as Bert and I drove the Warner Bros Jungle Habitat trails to check on the open ranging wildlife that occupied the windswept mountains and valleys of the northern New Jersey wildlife park. Inside the warm Chevrolet truck, converted into a veterinary mobile unit, the heater was turned up high, while warm coffee steamed the windshield. Most animals escaped the polar wind hiding behind natural windbreaks and temporary shelters placed around the park.

As we drove past the tiger compound, near the highest point of the park, here was this tiger, a cat we affectionately named, ‘Bobtail’, lying down exposed to the full force of the wind. Bearing an ever present grin, for which the big cats are known, Bobtail appeared content, oblivious to the deadly arctic blast. He remained motionless and stared into the brutal wind that must have escaped from the 10th circle of Dante’s frozen hell, showing no signs of discomfort. He may as well have been enjoying a cool breeze on a warm summer’s day.

This image of Bobtail lying in the snow captures for me the essence of the tiger. Well documented accounts of tigers hunting humans in India, and their magical ability to make kill after kill and avoid inescapable traps, have elevated the tiger to supernatural status.

This is an animal believed to exist in the spirit world as a cunning killer with the ability to transform into flesh and bone and back again at will. The tiger has a reputation of defying natural law that limits all other living things; Bobtail was doing nothing to dispel that myth on this cold day.

The poem, “Tyger”, by William Blake, written in 1794, so well captures the visceral reaction I had to the tigers, I memorized the poem. Here are a few lines that chill my blood.

In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

And what shoulder, & what art. Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 

While here is photographic proof of a tiger living in New Jersey, an anomaly for sure, it is not hard to imagine a time when big cats stalked our land. I wondered every time I passed the tiger compound, how humans ever survived these Paleolithic predators. Perhaps it was the predators’ evolved intelligence that raised the level of human creativity in a Darwinian dance played to a deadly tune.

Evidence of saber tooth cats and jaguars, among other prehistoric creatures, were found in a limestone cave in southeastern PA near Pottstown and trace back to the cretaceous period about 100 to 66 million years ago. The cave was located in a now forgotten town named Port Kennedy, which is part of Valley Forge National Park.

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Evidence of sabre-tooth cats of the late cretaceous period discussed in this 1993 article. Additionally fossil remains have been found in the Cutter Clay works near Raritan Bay and along the shore across Raritan Bay in Union Beach.

NJ was unrecognizable in terms of geography and climate with glaciers terminating at the Watchung Mountains and our rivers not yet formed. The Hudson River at one time was thought to have emptied into the lower Raritan watershed at Bound Brook.

As the sea level rose and fell over the eons, it formed clay banks along the Raritan and its bay where dinosaur fossils and tracks have been found. To date, I am not aware of any prehistoric cat trackways or fossils being discovered in NJ. Though surely, when southern NJ was above water, it would be reasonable to expect prehistoric cats, whose remains were found in the Port Kennedy Cave, to have roamed our land.

In more modern times the eastern mountain lion did stalk the shores of the Raritan and in fact a bounty was offered and the last local cat killed in the Sourland Mountains in the early 19th century. Officially, the last New Jersey mountain lions were killed in the southern most counties about that same time.

Rumors of mountain lions persist in several north east states, though no hard evidence has been uncovered in NJ. Given the fact that people have been known to illegally harbor large cats in less than secure enclosures, anything is possible.

Today, New Jersey has a healthy population of bobcats, primarily in the northwest part of the state. The retreating glaciers left a boulder strewn, mountainous landscape with plenty of nooks and crannies, ideal habitat for these elusive felines. Occasionally bobcats are captured on hunters’ trail cameras to give us evidence of their presence as they are rarely ever seen even where they are plentiful.

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This very rare photo of a bobcat was taken in Warren County, NJ. New Jersey has a healthy bobcat population along with other wildlife thought not to exist within our borders. This cat is really a sabre-tooth tiger distilled down to miniature with all the accumulated intelligence and instincts required for survival in any geologic iteration of New Jersey. Photo by Nancy Mayer

Still the thought of saber-tooth cats, tigers and jaguars ranging across the state becomes more than just imaginary when you see the gleam in your pet cat’s eye. It is as if the prehistoric felines have been distilled down to their essence in the form of modern day cats that dominate many of our homes.

“The Man-Eaters of Kumaon”, by Col Jim Corbett, published in 1944, deals with the man eating tigers of India in the early 20th century. Please read the last chapter, “Just Tigers” before you begin the book as it puts the tiger in perspective and talks about photography vs hunting and concern for their the conservation even at that time. The first hand account of the almost supernatural ability of tigers to avoid being killed or captured while hunting humans, reveals an intellectual battle where man doesn’t always dominate nature.

THE TYGER

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art. Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears, And watered heaven with their tears, Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

1794

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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.

Top Issues Facing Lower Raritan Watershed communities (2016 version)

The Nature Conservancy recently asked the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership to identify the top issues facing the communities with which we work. We developed our “Top 10” list, below.

A few caveats to this list. First, the Lower Raritan Watershed is comprised of a diversity of communities facing a varied set of issues. Each community would likely identify a different set of priority issues. Second, the LRWP has not conducted a comprehensive survey of need (although it is something we would like to do). The following issues have been identified during discussions with communities, by daily culling of google for Raritan River and watershed-related news stories, reading minutes from Environmental Commission, and from general observation. Many of these issues are inter-related, but we have culled them out as they often seem to be discussed singly.

We very much welcome stakeholder comments, input and suggestions to the add to our list.

  1. Substandard quality of area waters due to toxic contamination and contamination due to disease-causing pathogens. This bears not only on fishing, swimming and secondary contact, but also on concerns with drinking water quality.
  2. Uncertainty regarding the quality of area waters: lack of readily accessible (and easily interpreted) information about water quality.
  3. Linked to, but distinct from the above: the need for restoration of historic contaminated sites and waterways to protect public health.
  4. Sea level rise, and assistance with preparedness / resiliency planning.
  5. Flooding, significant impervious surfaces, and disruption of natural / historic hydrologic flows.
  6. Stormwater runoff and the need for regional stormwater management, including assistance with meeting MS4 requirements from County/state or other regional entity.
  7. Fragmentation of habitat, including fragmentation of human scale habitat (e.g. walking and bicycling routes).
  8. Perceptions of safety around riverfront spaces and streams deters use of these spaces (e.g. significant homeless populations, poor lighting, limited access and/or limited signage).
  9. Aging rail infrastructure that could lead to devastating spills in our waterways.
  10. Threat of pipelines or other significant infrastructure that might damage habitat.

Developing a Soils Research Plan for the Lower Raritan Watershed

Article by Dorothy Lee, Rutgers University Sophomore and LRWP Summer Soils Intern

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LRWP intern Dorothy Lee, presenting at Rutgers (photo by Heather Fenyk)

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the LRWP doing soils and civic science research. My job was to conduct initial research into how the LRWP could develop a civic science soil monitoring program to better understand soils functions for an urban watershed level. Urban areas can benefit from soil mapping exercises because urban soils are a concern for food supply, drinking water, stormwater control as well as aesthetics and recreation. Particular issues of urban soils are related to impervious surfaces, erosion, land filling and land leveling, surface removal, contamination, sedimentation and severe compaction. The benefits of working with civic scientists to aid in research means that data can be collected efficiently and in a timely manner while simultaneously connecting the community to their environment.

The LRWP’s specific interests as they relate to soil include soil enrichment for stormwater retention and for bionutrient food availability. After researching these issues, I worked with LRWP President Heather Fenyk and Professor Stephanie Murphy, Director of the Rutgers Soil Testing Lab, to identify ways that the LRWP could begin to engage the Lower Raritan Watershed community in soils research. A few of the actions we thought could orient conversation for future soil-health-oriented civic science studies include: having area civic scientists work to identify “new” bacterial phyla, linking soil health improvement goals to impervious cover remediation actions planned at the municipal level, and evaluating rain gardens as a management strategy to increase soil C, optimize soil N cycling processes, and reduce leaching and gaseous emission losses of nitrogen.

The LRWP is also beginning to develop a plan to communicate the benefits of composting for soil enrichment. This relates directly to my work at Rutgers with a new club, RU Compost. Compost is an efficient way to reduce our food waste, cycle nutrients back into our soils, and create more awareness and education opportunities to the public. At Rutgers our club is working to implement composting in our dining halls and students centers, and we are also working on building a compost demonstration for the Spring semester in the Lower Raritan Watershed. Look for us in the spring!

Rutgers Environmental Stewards Champion the LRW

Photos and article by Michele Bakacs, Environmental and Resource Management Agent, Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station

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Through a relatively new program sponsored by Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, citizens throughout the Lower Raritan Watershed are working to help people discover the hidden natural world flowing through their communities. These citizens are part of the Rutgers Environmental Steward program and their projects range from conducting stream habitat assessments to developing middle school illustration lessons highlighting the flora and fauna of the watershed.

The goal of the Rutgers Environmental Steward program is to help citizens understand the science behind pressing environmental issues and help create positive environmental change in their communities. Susan Edmunds from Highland Park is one such Environmental Steward working on assessing the health of Mill Brook, a tributary of the Lower Raritan River.

“My goal is to bring an awareness of the Mill Brook to the community so we can work to protect it and use it as an asset. I have realized the most important thing to do is just talk to people about the brook. So many people just don’t know it is there. It would be nice to be able to take a stroll along the brook in some of the already existing parks.”

One morning in September, we scramble down a steep ravine and climb down over branches to the brook. The brook is hidden behind chain link fences, railroad overpasses, and overgrown vegetation. Once you are there you can’t believe how beautiful it is. We are transported to a natural world where the gurgling stream winds its way past towering locusts and silver maple canopy trees, and through sandstone and shale outcrops. Of course we see garbage and dumping typical of every urban waterway- the stereotypical abandoned tire and shopping cart, down trees across the stream collecting trash showing you just how damaging plastic water bottles can be to our environment when not disposed of properly. But except for the occasional train coming by as a reminder, you can barely tell how close we are to houses, roads, and train tracks. There’s the sounds of birds, leaves blowing, shadows and sunlight peaking through the trees on the water. The brook is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by anyone who makes the effort to find it.

“The Environmental Stewards program was exactly what I hoped it would be in that I gave me a way to start getting involved with environmental protection in my community.”

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Environmental Steward Susan Edmunds Assesses Mill Brook

Mapping Mill Brook is the project Susan chose for her Rutgers Environmental Steward internship. After attending about 60 hours of classes that start in January and run through June, Stewards complete an internship project of their choosing in order to become a certified Rutgers Environmental Stewards. The program welcomes non-scientists and links them with members of the academic community, government, and non-profits. The curriculum includes classes, field trips, and an internship. Once Susan is done mapping her section of Mill Brook she will summarize her findings for the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership who will use her work to prioritize sections of the Lower Raritan for monitoring, restoration, and clean up.

“Already this project has connected me with so many people who are just like me in that they want to clean up this stream. From this assessment I plan to create a presentation about the brook and its history. I am excited about the potential for a Friends of the Mill Brook group working together towards stream access. This assessment is just the beginning of my journey.”

During the assessment, Susan takes pictures of deteriorating culverts, tree snags that collect garbage and stormdrain outfalls- concrete pipes that empty the rainwater runoff from local roads into the stream. We walk into a steep ravine probably 25 feet high with sandstone and shale outcrops leading to a large culvert where the stream flows under the NJTransit’s train tracks. This ends today’s journey and we turn around to make our way back to civilization.

If you are like Susan, and looking to start your own journey helping to protect the local environment, then sign up for the 2017 Rutgers Environmental Stewards class. Classes start in January in 5 counties throughout the state including Middlesex County at the EARTH Center in South Brunswick, and Somerset County at Duke Farms. For more information contact Michele Bakacs, at 732-398-5274, mbakacs@rutgers.edu, or visit our website http://envirostewards.rutgers.edu/

The Snowy November Woods

Article and photos by Joe Mish

 

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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

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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