Jimmy Rides Again!

Article and photos by Joe Mish

As elated as Lewis and Clark upon reaching the Colombia River, Jimmy and I proudly pose with our intrepid craft , “The Wild Turkey”, in the back of an old Ford Pickup

The eternal waters of the South Branch flow with memories and reflections, kept safe for those who have opened an account along its banks and written their story upon its waters.

I have a longstanding account, opened years ago, from which I make occasional withdrawals. The memories are recalled, polished with reflection and returned for safe keeping.

Hazy events, prompted by a scrap of paper that fell from one of my books, brought a canoe journey made decades before, into sharp focus. The lined, yellow paper, in my handwriting, was a record of time and places noted on a trip down the South Branch to the sea with my good friend Jim Serchio.

Jim worked across the hall from me in the pharmacology department at J&J. Intrigued by my stories of paddling solo to the mouth of the Raritan River; Jim recruited himself to join me on another run to the sea.

A hasty plan was hatched and a day chosen. We would launch from Main st in Clinton and paddle down to Keasbey. I would then walk to ‘Billy Vack’s Loop In’, an old iron workers bar located under the Parkway bridge, phone my brother-in-law, and get a ride in his pickup truck to my parent’s home, about three miles away.

The chosen canoe was my old canvas covered 1910 Old Town OTCA 16 named the “Wild Turkey”. Now stripped of canvas and covered with fiberglass, the hull was painted a flat, dead grass green and weighed in at about 85 pounds.

No cooler, just a couple of blue cushions and two guys in the canoe headed downstream. Jim was brilliant guy, studying biomedical engineering. I suppose it was his scientific inquisitiveness which finally prompted him, once we were underway, to ask, how long would the trip take. In my best carefully calculated estimation, I answered, “pretty much all day, we should be there before dark”.

As we passed under interstate 78, just after launching, I noted the time on my scrap of paper. Every time we passed a landmark, clock time was recorded.

Route 202 was reached at 9:23 am.

Looking over the sequence of shorthand notes, I now realize we had paddled under and over landmarks that are now gone or restored differently from their original form. Many of the metal bridges have been reconstructed over the years, their fieldstone supports now replicated by fieldstone veneer. I counted five bridges between Clinton and rt 31. The old dam we portaged below Dart’s mill is now essentially washed away. One bridge downstream of Neshanic station was not yet constructed. The scenery on the same trip today would be quite different.

Route 206 was reached at 1:09 pm

One entry made at 2:45 just before the second downstream pass under interstate 287 makes me smile; I wasn’t smiling then. I recorded the word ‘surgery’.

There was the wreckage of an old wooden bridge just before the last pass under I 287. It blocked our passage so we had to go up and over. As we set the heavy boat down on the rough planks, we did not see a huge spike that punctured the hull below the water line on the starboard side. The situation was looking grim as we were about to enter tide water on the last six hours of the trip. This meant navigating a running tide and staying clear of the main channel to avoid the large wakes churned up by tugboats and deep hulled pleasure craft.

Undaunted, we set the boat back in the water and began down river to see how bad the leak was. It was bad, real bad. How were we possibly going to finish. Pulling to shore, we looked around the debris, left by high tide, for a possible solution. Seeing a piece of yellow polypropylene rope, I had a flash of brilliance. As a kid I loved playing with fire, burning all sort of material including little plastic soldiers. The drops of melting plastic would quickly cool to form rock hard globs and even make a neat hissing sound as it dripped. On a hunch, I took the piece of rope, set it ablaze and dripped the plastic into the large hole in the hull. A perfect watertight fit and we were on our way.

At 4:30 we passed under rt 27, the low water encountered from 287 to Landing Lane Bridge road really slowed our progress. Now we had to deal with the wakes of large watercraft, which showed no mercy to two guys in a canoe. The resultant waves forced us to divert course, turn the bow into the wake and then re-correct to head downriver.

We passed the old drydock across from Crab Island at 6:15 and finally reached our destination under the New Jersey garden state parkway bridge, the former site of the Keasbey Outboard Motor Club, at 7:05pm.

While Jimmy entertained the bystanders, I headed up to Billy Vack’s to call my brother-in-law.

When I returned to the boat and Jimmy, someone asked where we put in. We were actually embarrassed to say, Clinton. We figured they wouldn’t believe us.

Our ride soon arrived and we could finally relax. We did it! Paddled from the NJ highlands to the Mouth of the Raritan river in about 12 hours in a 1910 Old Town canoe pressed into service for an epic journey to the sea.

Jimmy passed away a few years later from a medical procedure gone badly.

I still have the canoe and think fondly of the epic river journey shared with my good buddy Jim. The diary of times and places serves as a reference for memories and the ever changing river landscape.


Two of three pages from the ship’s diary, documents the journey of “The Wild Turkey” and its crew, serves to sharpen the memory of a dash to the sea by two friends in a turn of the century canoe.

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.

Along the South Branch: Connected!

Article and photos by Joe Mish


Bear have no need to read signs, much less pronounce the names of obscure creeks, to figure out where they are going. They just put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.

Two yearling bears curled up to sleep in a jumbled embrace, to form a single pile of pulsating fur, from which random legs protruded.

Upon waking, one bear walked downhill 500 paces to its right, the other 500 paces left, each bear seeking to satisfy its thirst in the nearby streams.

Rested and full of adventure, thirst satisfied, both bears began to follow their respective stream in the direction the water flowed.

One bear followed Plum Brook to Wickecheoke Creek and ended up on the Delaware River, while its sibling rambled along the Second Neshanic River, to the First Neshanic River, to the Neshanic River, to the South Branch of the Raritan River, to the Raritan River

The two streams, arising from springs, on each side of a common ridge, a mere half mile apart, lead to the state’s opposite coasts. Together the streams form a direct pathway from coast to coast.

We live in a provincial world defined by geopolitical borders, reinforced by the scale of our self-imposed home range. When we travel US route 1 in New Brunswick, we never consider that if we go straight, instead of turning into Chipotle, we end up in Caribou, Maine or the Florida Keys. Same situation as the two bears.

Whether tracing the tracks of a rambling bear down a watery trail to the coast, or a paved highway to opposite ends of the continent, we begin to see a connectivity to distant places.  Artificial borders fall away and perspective comes into focus. Taken to the highest resolution, we see that celestial events in the cosmos dictate the requirements and conditions for life on earth.

Adjust the resolution and closer to home we see the Atlantic flyway, a major bird migration route from the arctic to Mexico. Events at either end of the spectrum and along the flyway, can have a dramatic impact on population dynamics of many species.

Preserved lands like the Rachael Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey are just two of many areas critical to migrating, nesting and overwintering avian activity. Private lands cannot be overlooked and must be appreciated for their valuable contribution outside established state and federal refuges and wildlife management areas.

On a smaller scale, though still expansive, is the critical need for linear greenways in an area broken into isolated segments of habitat.

Many reptiles, amphibians and furbearers are impacted. Isolated populations require a critical amount of genetic variation to remain viable into the future.

Slow moving turtles such as the bog and eastern box turtle are especially threatened. They are now exposed to predators and cars on their journey to lay eggs or migration forced by habitat loss. To celebrate the establishment of isolated patches of open space is misplaced, if a pathway is not considered.

Concerned with isolated habitat and lack of greenways connecting them, the State of NJ, Dept of Environmental Protection, Natural and Historic Resources, Div of Fish and Wildlife, has established a program to examine the impact of isolated habitat and genetic variation. Their program is CHANJ- Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey.

“The goal of this project is to collect DNA samples from a variety of native, terrestrial mammal species across NJ that represents the spectrum of movement capabilities. The genetics analysis will help us understand the impact of landscape fragmentation and road barriers on wildlife mobility.”

I have volunteered to participate and collect tissue samples from roadkill or harvested animals. Please contact me if you spot a fresh roadkill other than deer; jjmish57@msn.com

Far away places exist only in our limited imagination, programmed with a distorted sense of scale. Put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.

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.

Help track stream salt levels with free “Salt Watch” kit

Did you all get caught in the snow squall yesterday? Leaving Rutgers campus at 3:15 PM I traveled a good half mile in near white out conditions on Route 1 North. Skies cleared at about 3:40 PM, just as I started on the Goodkind Bridge across the Raritan River. There was no precipitation at all as I traced the path of a salt spreader for the length of the span. In fact, the squall was the result of a very narrow band of precipitation and lasted a mere 25 minutes. It left just .02 of melted snow in our gauge.

Salt trucks are loaded with 12-15 tons of salt, and spread rates are about 400 pounds per lane mile of roadway. In the time I was behind that truck – the quarter mile or so across the bridge – approximately 100 pounds of salt was spread on one roadway lane. This was after the snow had stopped.

A new study released January 23, 2018 by University of Maryland researchers is the first to assess long-term changes in freshwater salinity and pH at the continental scale. Drawn from data recorded at 232 U.S. Geological Survey monitoring sites across the country over the past 50 years, the analysis shows significant increases in both salinization and alkalinization. The study results also suggest a close link between the two properties, with different salt compounds combining to do more damage than any one salt on its own.

This map shows changes in the salt content of fresh water in rivers and streams across the United States over the past half century. Warmer colors indicate increasing salinity while cooler colors indicate decreasing salinity. The black dots represent the 232 US Geological Survey monitoring sites that provided data for the University of Maryland study. Image credit: Ryan Utz/Chatham University.

The results of this “freshwater salinization syndrome”? Infrastructure corrosion, contaminant mobilization, variations in coastal ocean acidification caused by increasingly alkaline river inputs, and significant impacts on ecosystem services such as safe drinking water, contaminant retention, and biodiversity.

Simply put, fish and bugs that live in the Raritan River and our freshwater streams can’t survive in extra salty water. And while almost all of us in the Lower Raritan depend on local streams for drinking water, water treatment plants are not equipped to filter out the extra salt, so it ends up in tap water and corrodes pipes.

Road salt is everywhere during winter months. It keeps us safe on roads and sidewalks, but it can also pose a threat to fish and wildlife as well as human health. Of course we want to keep our roadways safe. We also must ensure that any salt spreading be conducted utilizing best practices for sustainable use, which includes calibrating salt spreading in accordance with weather forecasts and minimizing the amount of salt spread over sensitive habitats.

There are things you can do to help us better understand the impacts of road salt on our local environments. The Izaak Walton League is recruiting volunteers to help measure salt levels in area streams to gauge the extent of salt spreading impact. With the information they gather they will be able to develop a targeted and prioritized approach to reduction of salts in local and national waters.

The Izaak Walton League requires a simple registration process, after which participants receive a free chloride test kit. The kit includes test strips and instructions to measure the chloride level in local streams, then report out findings in a national database.

Dedicated Lower Raritan Watershed volunteer Raymond Croot is the first to submit data for a Lower Raritan stream

Meet LRWP Board Member David Tulloch

Interview by TaeHo Lee, Rutgers Raritan Scholar

On the second Monday of 2019, LRWP Board Member and Rutgers Professor David Tulloch welcomed me to his office at the Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis lab (CRSSA). Giant maps on the lab walls hint at what Professor Tulloch does at Rutgers. His research focuses on a mixture of landscape architecture and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Professor Tulloch received a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky, his Master’s in Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, and PhD in Land Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has now lived and worked in the Lower Raritan Watershed for two decades. He enjoys exploring our area on foot, urban hikes, and trying to connect pieces of landscapes that a lot of people overlook. These interests led him to create an interactive google map that explores various features of the Lower Raritan Watershed. The map will soon be a supplement for Professor Tulloch’s “Watershed Highlights and Hidden Streams: Walking Tours of the Lower Raritan Watershed,” which kicks off on Sunday March 16.

LRWP Board Member, Professor David Tulloch

TaeHo Lee: Where are you from in the LRW, and in your time in the watershed, how have you engaged in/explored the watershed?

David Tulloch: I live in Highland Park near the Mill Brook, and I have lived there for nearly 20 years. I am within an easy walk to the Raritan making it hard to ignore the connection of the landscape and its watershed to the river. I’ve gotten to know the watershed as I explored it not only as a person who is curious about the large landscape. But also, as a benefit of my job, I have what amounts to two decades of mapping and design projects in different parts of the LRW and the larger Raritan River basin. Student research projects and studios have helped me get to know the watershed in ways that now are quite helpful in ways that, at the time, I didn’t always appreciate. My favorite thing to do in the Watershed is just to get out and walk it. I will look through historic maps or various air photos and look for hidden connections to explore. But there are also plenty of marked trails within the Watershed that I have yet to walk.

TL: As a parent, how do you want your kids to engage in/with the watershed?

DT: Well, I want my kids, like so many people who have grown up here, to really treasure this as a special landscape and see that it is both a special landscape and a singular, very large landscape. It has a fascinating history that we don’t talk enough about: American history, Revolutionary War, World War II, and an industrial history which is really significant as it impacted people around the world but also has impacted the river and our communities pretty dramatically. There are interesting educational and cultural histories for example, a colonial college right on the banks of the river in New Brunswick, the old proprietary house in Perth Amboy, the Monmouth Battlefield. So many things have marked this landscape. Additionally, its nature is incredible: Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, sandhill cranes, all within a few miles of us. And the landscapes that make up the Watershed are amazing: Mountains to marshes with really special spots within the Watershed like Duke Farms, Watchung Reservation, and the Rutgers Ecological Preserve. I really hope that my sons are coming to see the place not just as memorable but as incredibly special and something to treasure, even if they end up in another part of the world in the coming years.

TL. What, in your view, are the primary issues that need to be addressed in the watershed?

DT: The first for me is clearly the need to improve resident’s awareness of the Watershed and its issues, and their understanding of how both natural and policy processes within the Watershed work. I think one of the real challenges for us, an issue that affects ultimately the quality of water of the river, is encouraging our population of something like 800,000 residents to understand that the watershed is so much more than the river, and more than just the river valley. Most people associate the watershed with Donaldson Park, Johnson Park, Duke Island, or Duke Farms, and they can see those as areas that are associated with Raritan River. But we need to help them understand that in a 350 square mile watershed places like Freehold, Scotch Plains, and Bridgewater are all contributing to the water quality and the experiential quality of the watershed. And with a growing awareness and understanding, comes an appreciation of how much we still don’t know and how we need to enlarge our understanding of the river.

The other issue that really stands out to me is the land use of the watershed. It covers 350 square miles and includes 50 municipalities, each making their own independent decisions about land use with very little coordination, and we share collectively in the good and bad outcomes of these decisions. I live in one of those municipalities and work in another, but in between projects for work or taking my kids to different events I spend lots of time in other watershed towns experiencing the results of those independent decisions made in 50 different borough halls, city halls, and township halls. A really important step is to begin to monitor land use choices, and to examine them in terms of how they impact the watershed. We need to help the different people involved with the LRWP connect with those processes and see them in a more serious way.

TL. What is your vision for the LRWP?

DT: One important thing as a young organization, part of the shared vision we all have, is that as a growing organization it needs to be nimble enough to adjust to not only the changing needs of the Watershed but also the changing understanding of what the organization can become. Through listening and learning and reshaping itself, we all come to a new understanding of what the Lower Raritan Watershed as a community, as a physical landscape, and as a place with changing pressures on it, is.

Having said that, three areas are really important for us. One is appreciation. I don’t just mean that in the broadest sense, not just appreciating the place, but appreciation based on increased understanding. That’s getting more residents out on cleanups so they can see the problems themselves; getting as much as we can out of the research at Rutgers and the NJ DEP and from others working along the river so that our appreciation of those problems are also based on something serious.

Second is advocacy. My vision for LRWP sees it as a voice for the river and the Watershed that can really advocate for needs that often don’t have a strong voice.

Third is action. Turning the appreciation and advocacy into action. This includes small steps like cleanups, but some of the actions we take overtime can become more dramatic. Appreciation, advocacy and action, I think, together really represent a forward looking vision for the Watershed and the Partnership that could engage a very large number of residents and not just the usual suspects.

TL. You are a Professor at Rutgers. What is your role there? Can you provide insights into how we can best bring the resources and attention of the University to address the needs of the LRW?

DT: As a faculty member of Rutgers, I have formal roles. I am Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Associate Director at CRSSA, and lead the GeoHealth lab. A lot of the things that I do at Rutgers are as an integrator, as someone crossing over between different kinds of activities. So I work as an educator, and in landscape architecture I teach design, I teach planning, I teach what we call geomatics. But I’m also a researcher here at the center. We are looking a lot at the ways that the landscape is shaped and affects human health and our lives.

In my role as an integrator, I bring research into the classroom, and draw students back into the research. In the same way, I am now really interested in integrating the experiences with the watershed into the different activities that I have in Rutgers, as well. As part of my research 20 years ago or so, I visited and interviewed NGOs all over New Jersey, looking at their use of GIS and mapping. The groups that most caught my attention at the time were primarily watersheds. Many of them were brand new and in that way, for me, it was the first chance to learn and explore New Jersey’s landscapes. This forced me begin to confront the potential that Watershed organizations have as advocates for pieces of the landscape across municipal boundaries. I also began to see a role for integrating science and education and policy.

One of the other roles that I have at Rutgers is interacting with students. I get to know a lot of students as they first come to Rutgers. A role for me with students who are not from the area is helping them appreciate what a special place this is, getting them hooked on the River, and sharing Rutgers’ long relationship with the river. After all, it’s mentioned in the school song. In the broadest sense, to answer your question, we are so fortunate as a watershed organization to have a University like Rutgers in such an integral relationship with the river and the Watershed. But, with the many research and outreach programs that Rutgers has, one of my ongoing roles is going to be bridging the two and helping make connections with those activities and helping be a voice for the Watershed as well.

TL. I understand you are planning a series of “Walks in the Watershed.” Can you tell me more about this opportunity? What is your goal with the walks?

DT: Part of this goes back to simply trying to help all of us improve our appreciation and understanding of the watershed in little and big ways. But the walks are a very special way to connect the abstract places that we’ve all seen on maps with very real experiences on the ground. The goal with the “Watershed Highlights and Hidden Streams: Walking Tours of the Lower Raritan Watershed” is to help reveal connections across landscapes of the Watershed that are often hidden in plain sight, but also to help us explore some connections, like hidden streams, that are truly invisible.

Johnson Park/Raritan Landing – 1890s

Over time we will try some walks that explore the outer edges of the Watershed – Beyond the banks of the old Raritan – but at the start, we’re going to take walks that explore connections of important pieces of land to the river and, where possible, look into the streams that make those connections. So, one of the first walks, on March 17, is going to be close to the Rutgers campus here where we’ll be looking at the connections between Buell Brook and the Raritan by taking a walk that connects Johnson Park and some of its history and Raritan Landing with the Eco Preserve. Many people visit Rutgers’ Eco Preserve and don’t think, even when they are only hundreds of yards away from the river, don’t think of its connection to the river. The walks will look more at the connection and what it means. Walking also just reveals some other patterns and some hidden features along the way. I hope to be as surprised as the other participants. A second walk this Spring, scheduled for May 18, connects the old constructed landscapes of the canal at Duke Island County Park through a new greenway that has been developed along the Raritan and crosses over into the Duke Farms properties. I think a lot of the residents in that area are familiar with individual pieces. Fewer have made the walk to connect them all. We hope to make the walks a regular experience. 

TL. Is there anything else you want to add?


DT: When you asked about what I do at Rutgers and how this helps make connections for the watershed, let me mention one more example. I think that as I teach planning students and geomatics students and design students who make some connection with the place, that the Watershed as a whole also is benefiting from those who stay here. An interesting example of that is Daryl Krasnuk, who I taught as an undergraduate student. Daryl has continued to volunteer and make maps both for the LRWP’s general education efforts and specifically for the State of the Lower Raritan Watershed report. It’s exciting to see the students that I taught now sharing their passion for this special place and finding ways to help up us to improve that landscape over time.

An MLK Day invitation to grow through service

Martin Luther King Day was established as a National Holiday in 1983. Eleven years later in 1994, Congress added a service component to the holiday. Monday January 21 marks the 25th anniversary of our federally designated National Day of Service, also called the “King Day of Service” or “A Day On, Not a Day Off.”

Through his leadership of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King provided tremendous service to our nation. Despite this, media coverage of the service aspect of Martin Luther King Day celebrations is sparse. Especially rare are stories that highlight impacts of volunteering that go beyond economic valuation and personal benefits.

How can we build on Dr. King’s legacy and celebrate volunteering in ways that strengthen our neighborhoods and nation? We can conceive of service as an expression of citizenship, service as an expression of generosity, and service as the opportunity to experience a felt sense of community.

Citizenship. The pressures of our day-to-day political and economic engagement tend to reduce us to “voters” or “consumers.” Through this process we lose sense of ourselves as citizens, and lose connection to our communities. Volunteering allows us to connect deeply with one another as citizens in the craft of working together for the common good.

Generosity. Non-profits, schools and nursing homes do not need “free labor” or “spare time” as much as they need the generosity of spirit that prompts us to engage as volunteers. In sharing our generosity, we are held to a higher standard: the intention to enhance the true well-being of those to whom our generosity is given.

Community. Volunteering is about a felt sense of community. It is about making connections and building resilience. Connections, resilience – these are especially critical assets in these more trying times.

As we recognize 25 years of celebrating service as a national value, let’s reflect on and commit to grow through the broad benefits of volunteerism. Evolving through service in this way can help strengthen our diverse communities and further protect civil rights and civil liberties.

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D. serves as Board President of the 100% volunteer-run Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership based in New Brunswick, NJ.

LRWP’s Top 10 Environmental Issues, 2019 edition

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is often asked to talk about the most pressing environmental issues facing our Central Jersey watershed communities. Here is our “Top 10” list of cross-cutting concerns for 2019. Starting in February we will feature one concern a month on our website, exploring that issue (and potential solutions) in more detail. We invite you to join in the conversation.

  1. Poorly coordinated stormwater management, conducted at municipal (not watershed) scales, means that one community’s flood control efforts can lead to another community’s flooding problems.
  2. Centuries of burying and culverting streams has “disappeared” many waterways, compromising the ability of our landscape to adequately capture and store rain and stormwater runoff.
  3. Perceptions of safety (poor lighting, litter) around riverfront spaces, and poor signage and access to these spaces, deters use and enjoyment of our waterways. If we don’t know our rivers and streams we won’t grow to love them and act to protect them.
  4. Failure of aging water infrastructure (culverts, pipes, inlets and outfalls), an urgent safety issue for all our communities, is exacerbated by an increase in precipitation due to climate change.
  5. Poor control of non-point pollution sources (fertilizers and pesticides from lawns, sediments from development and erosion, oil and grease and road salt from roadways, animal and human waste, dumping of detergents and paints and other chemicals into stormdrains, and litter) results in high chemical levels, bacteria loads and algal blooms in our rivers and streams.
  6. Loss of biodiversity in our watershed, and a reduction in absolute numbers of insects and flora and fauna, reduces the ability of our ecosystem to cope with threats from pollution, climate change and other human activities.
  7. State and regional authorities do not have a clear plan to improve knowledge of the health of the Raritan and its tributaries, and do not model pollutant loads for our watershed.
  8. Recent federal rollbacks of requirements for oil and gas reporting may result in increased methane emissions and open the door to more pipelines that fragment and threaten habitat.
  9. Federal policies that extend the offshore fishing season and increase allowances in catch rates for commercial fishing reduce numbers of anadromous migratory fish in the Raritan, affecting the food chain.
  10. Limited regional cooperation, a “home rule” focus, and lack of collaborative action and capacity building results in a slow pace of restoration and improvements in our watershed.

Check with your local Environmental Commission or Green Team for information about specific source impacts and development pressures in your community.

Final Stream Habitat Assessment – Ambrose Brook

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.

As my year-long project entailing the assessment of the Ambrose Brook is now drawing to a close, I wanted to make one last observational visit to the site, which I completed on 31 December 2018.  As I was driving over, in my mind I reviewed the year and wondered, at this point in the process, if there would anything more or new that I could possibly say about the Ambrose Brook.  Well, was I in for a surprise, and a most captivating one at that!  I arrived at just about 10:30 am, I was the only human around, and as I traversed the eastern side of the stream, I spied just one pair of mallards afloat on the lazy, meandering brook.  The male’s plumage was blatantly obvious against the muddy, slow-moving current, whereas the female’s was camouflaged just about perfectly with the background: muddy water, brown earth, fallen leaves.  The sky was overcast and the air was calm with a moderate 40 degree temperature that provided a welcome and silent capsule for my period of observation.  My goal was to walk the bank, if possible on both sides, from a bit past the small waterfall all the way back to the footbridge and back again.  And with this trajectory, nature provided me with a series of surprises.

               As I made my way south on the eastern side of the brook, a veritable flock of mallard pairs came into view, comfortably resting on the water’s surface, the first that I have seen in the entire year.  They gave me a slight if sneering glance, then turned away from me to glide closer to the western bank.   Secondly, as I walked along the bank farther and farther from the street noise, I noticed that several trees had a distinctive series of marks along the base up to about one foot, all around the circumference of the trunk.  I am not a naturalist, but I wondered if by any chance it could be a family of beavers at work.  “Nah”, I said to myself, this place has too many people around, “no way”.  Well, I suspect that I was proved wrong!  At another spot, a neatly chewed tree, gnawed to what looked like a precise pencil point, had been felled and now was lying in the water, the severed trunk just inches from the sad looking stump.  “Aha!” I exclaimed, “nature wins again, beavers’ resourcefulness as effective or more so as a mini-chainsaw”.  I never did see any beavers but their handiwork was a very good indicator of their presence.  At the farthest point away from the street, still on the eastern side of the brook, felled trees were piled up very close to the water’s edge, and I wondered whether that might be an indication of a lovely and cozy den.  Hmmmm…..

Beaver handiwork.  Very impressive!

               After crossing the footbridge to the western side of the brook, I was presented with another of nature’s surprises.  Now that winter is officially upon us and foliage has died back both above my head and below my feet, I was able to make my way about three quarters of the distance to the small waterfall.  As I walked among the brown brush, fallen branches, and dormant grasses, it dawned on me that the brook had on this western bank a lovely and wide flood plain well below street level that I had never noticed before, given the presence of a daunting array of vegetation, including some very fierce brambles that had heartily discouraged my passage in previous visits.  Wow!  Talk about hiding in plain sight!  I presume that this flood plain accepts the surplus of storm water that occasionally overflows the banks of the brook, which is then absorbed into the ecosystem, but in turn does not flood area streets … or basements.  Nifty!

West Bank flood plain, Brook is to the right, street to the left.

               And two last affirmative surprises.  Having crossed over once again to the eastern side, I noticed yet another storm water outlet that fed into the brook, close to the small waterfall.  I had never noticed it before because of the verdant camouflage offered by the grasses that were presumably fed by its generous flow and overflow.  It was right there all the time, but I had never seen it.  It humbled me and made me smile – in this visit, I suspect that nature, anthropomorphized to be sure, was having a good chuckle at my expense because of my naiveté.  To think that there would be ‘nothing more to see’ was pure hubris and I was given my comeuppance.  In addition, the waterfall also had a surprise.  Even though the water continues to flow, it was evident that it was starting to freeze at the base!  The clumps of white ice shone unmistakably through the tumbling current, a solemn reminder that winter is upon us.  I would have missed it if I had not walked closer to the waterfall than I had ever done on previous visits.

Waterfall view in winter.  Great for a contemplative moment.

               The last surprise was not a very happy one.  As I made my way on both sides of the brook, I took note of several places where the water was almost completely stagnant, where the current did not have the opportunity to lend an active, cleansing presence.  And in those small culverts at the water’s edge, I noted that the water kept a glaze of oil slick of who knows what composition.  At first glance I had guessed that the water might be beginning to freeze, but upon closer inspection, the real reason for the discoloration was obvious: water pollution of a chemical nature. Ugh.

            So this was my visit, a combination of wonder and despair.  I plan to offer in the coming weeks one last report, an estimation of the year’s trajectory as applied to my original proposal for this project.  Happy New Year, everyone!  May nature be your guide and live in your heart.  

South River Green Team: Resolutions for 2019

Editor’s note: The LRWP is regularly amazed by the behind-the-scenes work of municipal Green Teams, Environmental Commissions and other groups to advance environmental protections and restoration throughout the watershed. The South River Green Team shared their New Year’s Resolutions with us (see Mark Barry’s article below), and we think these goals are pretty inspiring. Are you part of a Green Team, Environmental Commission or other group with plans to tackle big (and small) environmental issues in your community? Share them with us, and we will post them on our blog as a way to encourage others to likewise prepare and act for a healthier watershed.

By Mark Barry, South River Green Team

Community Garden — creation of pollinator garden, bee keeping, bat houses, nursery for street tree replacement, flower nursery for community beautification projects, Adopt-a-Spot (or street) for clean-ups and beautification.

River Advocacy — flood plain restoration and tree planting, recommending creation of a local river advocacy community group and/or permanent inter-municipal advisory board, study riparian land use zoning, Blue Acres property reactivation, Brownfields inventory and landuse, flood resiliency.

Natural Resources — green infrastructure planning and implementation, assist in ERI/NRI research, review processes in Community Forestry Plan and tree planting/inventory.

Transparency and Open Government Taskforce — study and issue report of recommendations on improving access to government and records, produce a guide to preparing public body minutes, review public information and publicity efforts of the borough and school district.

Creative South River — encourage creative arts respecting inclusiveness and diversity, pursue arts funding and grants, mural installations to combat graffiti.

The main Green Team Committee will also continue to advocate for the environment and sustainability by pursuing Sustainable Jersey certification, make recommendations to the South River governing body and undertake public education efforts on all matters green.

See below for photos from a successful 2018 in South River

Charging station installed in July 2018 – Photo by Mark Barry

South River GT youth contingent outnumbers GT members – Photo by Mark Barry

Initiation of the South River community garden – Photo by Mark Barry

“Bonding with Plastic” – an interview with sculpture artist Olga Mercedes Bautista

Interview by TaeHo Lee, LRWP Fall 2018 Raritan Scholar

Olga Bautista’s “Tree: Bonding with Plastic

On Boxing Day 2018, Olga Mercedes Bautisa and I met at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick to talk about her art installation that will be featured in Windows of Understanding, a city-wide public art project, on behalf of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. Windows of Understanding is a project of The New Brunswick Community Arts Council, Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and the Highland Park Arts Commission that unites local artists, organizations and businesses to promote compassion and awareness around social justice issues in our community. Olga was paired with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, and has developed sculptural pieces that address pollutant and littering concerns at the heart of the LRWP’s community outreach. Her work will be displayed in Kim’s Bike Shop (111 French Street, New Brunswick, NJ) from January 21- February 28, 2019.

Olga was born and raised in Colombia and moved to New Jersey when she was 24. She graduated from Kean University and New Jersey City University with Sculpture and Studio degrees, respectively. Living in Perth Amoby, Olga now travels between the town’s high school where she teaches photography, and her studio. She has also founded and served as director for Perth Amboy’s public art gallery. Check out her website to learn more about her art, and read below to learn about what she found inspiring in her “Windows of Understanding” partnership with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.

TaeHo: What was the environmental ah-ha moment that prompted you to address environmental issues through art?

Olga:  Superstorm Sandy. The roof of my studio was damaged. Since then, I noticed that I was looking for something more… real, something that is representing what is going on. For a long time, I had been working with clay, ceramics, mass media, a bunch of installations. I wanted something more real. The roof incident happened six years ago. That personal moment, partially caused by climate change, motivated me to reflect environmental issues to my art.

T: What materials do you use for your art, and what are your processes?

O: Right now I use leaves, tree branches and bark that I found after Sandy, and any trash or litter that gets washed into the Raritan River. After collecting this debris, I used the real bark and make a mold out of it by pouring silicon on top of it. This process allows me to make a copy of the original bark. I then add leaves, trash and other plastic pieces before the silicon dries up to enhance color and texture. When the silicon dries, the material is opaquely visible, and through my assembly I work to highlight interesting words and colors of plastic. These are essentially sheets of a duplicated bark, and I can connect and hang them, shaping them like trees. While on first glance these pieces look like trees, a closer look reveals the bits of plastic and trash.

A sheet of faux bark. Several sheets will be crafted into “hanging trees” and installed in the windows of Kim’s Bike.

T: What is your goal with the sculptural pieces that you are creating?

O: The goal of this piece is to portray the plasticity of the world in our impacts on the environment. I hope that the piece creates conversation between people about their plastic use and make people question their own habits and change their behavior to be more environmentally-friendly. I hope they will see the words and logos of big corporations and brands dissolved into what looks like a real tree made of plastic. Many of these companies are responsible environmental harm. Just like this fake plastic tree, if we do not change our patterns of plastics consumption, plastic will take over everything, no? (laughter). And I want to see how people react to the piece. Let’s just see how they react.

T: How do your pieces reflect the work of the LRWP?

O: Trees are such an important part of the watershed. Appropriating and connecting the benefits of trees to my art, I think, resonates with the work of the LRWP. Trees create oxygen, provide habitats for innumerable kinds of species, and hold the soil and water for the health of the watershed. I see these traits of trees as symbolic in its relation to what the LRWP does to restore the environment.

Additionally, plastic litter and trash is a huge issue for the Raritan River and tributaries. The LRWP regularly conducts clean-ups of the Raritan and area streams, and gathers hundreds of bags of plastic litter a year. The action of collecting and integrating plastic into my work is important. These materials highlight the littering problem in the watershed. As I explained, my approach is to appropriate real tree bark by introducing leaves with plastics debris to mold a new plastic tree bark. I want to show how the plastic which is used to make shopping bags, plastic bottles, or other items found in abundance as litter and debris during clean-ups is impacting the health of area streams and the watershed.

T: Can you tell me more about creating the Resin Piece?

O: The process of creating the plastic tree bark involves handling chemicals for a long time, like three hours per day at least. So, creating the piece takes quite a time, especially when I dry the mold in the barks. And being exposed to these chemicals gives me headaches sometimes. Also, during the winter time, it is difficult to work in studio and collect debris from the waterways because of the cold weather.

Close up of tree “bark” with onion bag peeping through the silicon
Close up of tree “bark” with plastic bag debris.

T: What effect do you think the Windows of Understanding project has on you and the community?

O: People will be able to communicate something artistic and unique at commercial places as they see and pass through the area with the projects. I hope they will be curious about how the tree piece is done. Taking a look at the piece inside these commercial places is where the curiosity starts. And they will reflect their lives on this piece and create more conversations with their friends or family. This chain effect will, I hope, create a strong connection between people and the environment. I see the Windows of Understanding Project as a great platform to raise local environmental awareness through art.

T: As an artist, what do you stand for?

O: The difficult part of being an artist is communicating a message that is going to transcend the beauty of the piece. For example, some might think seeing a ceramic container is nice and pretty and useable or practical, but how the container makes people think beyond that is difficult. That is what I stand for as an artist. Additionally, not only is the transcendental communication part of art important for me, but especially considering the urgency of the issue these days, addressing environmental crises is extremely important. My project, Bonding with Plastic, addresses the daily stress of individuals facing global crises of overconsumption and climate change. Through my sculptures, I want to contribute to a greater awareness of these issues before we reach a point of no return.

The opening reception for Windows of Understanding is at the Zimmerli Art Museum on January 22nd. Olga’s art installation will be exhibited at Kim’s Bike Shop, 111 French St., starting on January 21st. From 10-noon on January 21 the Olga and the LRWP will participate in walking tours of the art installations and seed plantings at 10am and 2pm.

Seed Planting with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership & Kim’s Bike Shop

Seed Planting with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership & Kim’s Bike Shop
Location: Kim’s Bike Shop / 111 French St, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Time: Monday January 21, 10-11:30 AM
Description: Join the LRWP and Kim’s Bike Shop as we plant trees and pollinator plants – seeds of hope – in honor of Martin Luther King Day and the kick-off to Windows of Understanding 2019. Participants will be able to take their seedlings home with them.
1 2 3 21