Dec 15: LRWP Potluck Dinner, followed by TMDL workshop presentation

Join us at 5:30 PM on Tuesday December 15 for the LRWP’s First Annual Holiday Potluck Dinner. This will be followed at 7 PM by a special workshop on on water quality issues.

The workshop will be co-hosted by the LRWP, the New Brunswick Environmental Commission and the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC). The topic is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDLs) of pollutants that our water bodies (the Raritan River) can handle and still maintain viability.

Speakers include:

-Kerry Miller, ANJEC Assistant Director

-Bill Kibler, Director of Policy for the Raritan Headwaters Association

-Heather Fenyk, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership President

The event will be held in the Middlesex County Office of Planning’s Lower Level Conference Room C located at 75 Bayard Street in New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

Parking is available in the New Brunswick City Hall lot at 78 Bayard Street, New Brunswick, NJ  08901.

If you plan to attend the potluck, please RSVP to hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed.org and include information about the dish you are willing to share. We will provide plates, cutlery, napkins and beverages.

 

Dec 7: New Brunswick Raritan River Conservation Zone walk

Dec 7, @ 1:30-3:30 pm

On Monday December 7 at 1:30 PM, as part of New Brunswick Municipal Public Access Plan planning effort coordinated by the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at Rutgers, we will be walking through the Raritan Riverfront Conservation Zone to see what public access might look like in that area.

We will meet in the back right corner of the Lowes Movie Theater on Route 1. For folks using GPS the address is: 17 Us Highway #1, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. From there we will walk along the gravel path in New Brunswick’s “Raritan Riverfront Conservation Zone” and if we have the stamina following the conservation zone foray we can also consider walking in a relatively accessible segment of riverfront leading to Carpenter Road. Message us if you are interested in joining the walk: hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed.org

A Walk on the Edge of the Woods

by Joseph Sapia

As I hiked through Jamesburg Park, Jimmy Talnagi stood outside his cabin, lighted punk in hand.

Strange, I thought, I just had an online discussion with fellow, local baby-boomers about punks, or cat-tails. As children, we would light the cigar-like flower, ostensibly to keep mosquitoes away, but more likely to be one of the kids. Jimmy was not part of the recent discussion, but here he was, as if waiting for me, with the smoking punk. And, this being November, was not part of the season for mosquitoes.

I had three punks left from the warmer weather, what am I going to do? Jimmy said. They just start shredding, like a big puff ball.

True, the fluffy vegetation of this punk was coming apart, sticking to my sweatshirt. So, either light them for the heck of it or let them disintegrate.

Jimmy and the punk were one of various unexpected discoveries on today’s walk – a walk on the edge of the woods. The walk was meant to combine two things: one, a hike into nature, and, two, a pragmatic commute to the other side of the woods to Krygier’s Nursery, whose owner, Jimmy Krygier, was giving me a ride to pick up my Jeep, which was getting some mechanical work done about 8 miles away near Englishtown. Because I was tired and busy with house projects, I did not really have the will or the time to get into the woods. So, I compromised, turning down Jimmy picking me up at home, but sort of walking the woods – that is, walking on the edge of the woods – to Jimmy’s house.

So, around 2 p.m. on this overcast day of 55 to 60 degrees that was calm to having a light breeze, I set off toward Cranberry Bog. The idea was to walk the Pipeline to the ConRail railroad tracks, then to the bog, past Shekiro’s Pond into Jamesburg Park and out the woods at Jimmy’s, roughly a walk of two miles.

Walking the edge of the woods is not as good as walking deeply into the woods, but I made my first discovery hardly off the beaten track. On the natural gas Pipeline, I came across plentiful and huge acorns. This year is a “mast year,” somewhat of a mystery when oaks really kick out acorns. An oak in my yard was covered with acorns; Here, they were huge.

acorns on the mast year - Joe Sapia 12.4.15 blog

Huge and plentiful acorns during this “mast year” Here, on the Pipeline.

classic pinelands white sand ecosystem - Sapia 12.4.15

Classic Pine Barrens ecosystem of white sand, pitch pine, Virginia pine, and oak.

Continuing on, I turned toward Helmetta, briefly walking the ConRail freight tracks, before turning toward the Bog. Almost immediately I came across a microcosm of the Pine Barrens: white, beach sand-like soil mixed with oak, pitch pine and Virginia pine. If someone doubts this area is part of the Pine Barrens, have that person look at this scene.

As I continued, I came across blazing red tree leaves, the changing colors of vegetation during the transition from hot to cold weather. What a beautiful scene, but nearby there was evidence a local neighborhood is dumping its vegetative waste in the area. At the Bog, too, I was greeted by another sad scene: invasive phragmites. Not only overtaking the bog as a whole, but overtaking a nice stand of valuable punks.

As I moved on, the phragmites invasion continued. I counted five plants growing in Shekiro’s Pond. Five now, but how many in a short time? On the bright side, literally across the unpaved road from the pond, I found nice stands of winterberry. Not only beautiful, but food for birds and decorative material for my Christmas decorations.

phragmites in Sheikiro's Pond - Sapia, 12.4.15

Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an invasion at Shekiro’s Pond.

I dipped back into civilization at the former worker houses of the George W. Helme Snuff Mill, then worked my way out again into the woods passing Jimmy’s cabin and a few other homes. Finally, I was back in the woods, but out all too soon, my walk done.

Sometime, life gets in the way of doing fun things, such as playing in the woods. So, one has to take advantage of snippets here and there.

As for the lighted punk, Jimmy insisted I take it as I continued hiking. But it was dry and leaves heavily littered the woods.

I don’t want to set the woods on fire, I said.

This went back and forth, with me finally agreeing. I took the punk, bit into its stem, and held it like a cockeyed version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cigarette.

I tromped on, looking like a swamps-around-Helmetta aristocrat.

Jimmy with a lighted punk - Sapia 12.4.15

Jimmy Talnagi with a lighted punk

Joe Sapia, 59-years-old, grew up in and lives in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at Snufftin AT aol.com or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Sapia

Pine Barrens Around Helmetta: Turkeys

by Joe Sapia

As the 1800s turned into the 1900s, wild turkeys apparently were extinct in New Jersey.

“It’s a native species,” said Tony McBride, the state’s turkey biologist at the Division of Fish and Wildlife. “It requires large areas of upland forest interspersed with openings.”

Turkeys roost in trees, but it is important for the young to feed on insects, available in open areas, to get necessary protein.

But, at the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th Century in New Jersey, land was being cleared for farmland, resulting in the loss of forest habitat. Additionally, there were no limits on hunting turkey. Translated, turkeys disappeared in New Jersey.

“They were gone, as far as we know,” McBride said.

Today, though, the Pine Barrens Around Helmetta – as well as the rest of New Jersey, with an estimated population of 20,000 to 30,000 — are thriving with turkey. And they are easily seen – I see them often as I drive my Jeep down paved roads, for example.

Or I may get a glimpse of them in the woods, even though they are stealth and, when threatened by my approach, make sleek getaways – sometime simply scrambling into heavy understory and fitting in, camouflaged.

“They’re very wary,” McBride said. “They have good vision, hearing, and they taste good, so everything’s after them. They’re constantly on the lookout for predators.”

Turkeys can fly 55 miles per hour, once they get going.

“Turkeys are good fliers,” McBride said.

In January, I was attending an afternoon wake at a funeral home that backs up to the woods. On the funeral home grounds is open space. The funeral director mentioned how turkeys frequent the property. None were in sight when he said it, but, within minutes, there they were.

Even if one does not see them, their three-prong tracks are obvious on the ground or in snow.

“When we release birds in an area, they disperse,” said McBride, adding “every once in awhile,” turkeys, with a range of up to 2 square miles, will settle miles from the release point.

Bob Eriksen, the state turkey biologist from 1977 to 2001, said he once had a release in the Walpack area of Sussex County ending up in Sullivan County, New York, or 28 miles away.

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta have nice turkey habitat of woods and open space. Here, there is forest with farmland abutting it and utility right-of-ways cutting through it. Basically, that explains the re-population of turkeys here, apparently beginning in the late 1990s.

Looking back to the 1950s and 1960s, East Coast game farms would release turkeys. These farm-raised birds, however, “would persist (perhaps for a few years) and fizzle out,” not having the instinct for general survival and feeding, McBride said.

In the early 1970s, scientists learned restoration would be successful with releasing a “true wild stock” of adult birds, McBride said.

“There’s something to be said about these birds growing up in the wilds and passing the skills along,” McBride said.

Around 1977, 22 adult turkeys – 15 hens and seven toms – from New York and Vermont were released in Sussex County. Thus began successful restoration in New Jersey.

By 1979, New Jersey was moving around in-state birds, Eriksen said.

“When a turkey population is first established, the growth is really fast,” McBride said. “The thinking is the predators are naïve.”

Predators of eggs in the ground nests include skunk, raccoon, and crow. Predators of adults and babies include coyote, fox, red-tailed hawk, and great-horned owl.

Within four years of that 1977 release, it had been so successful “we were hunting them,” McBride said.

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta are part of Turkey Area 12, which runs north to south from the Raritan River to Interstate 195 and west to east from Trenton to the Atlantic Ocean from Sandy Hook to Belmar.

In 1995, the state opened a turkey-hunting season in Area 12, because the birds were well-established in the Sourland Mountain area to the west and the Colts Neck area to the east.

In 1996 and 1997, looking to populate the area between Sourland Mountain and Colts Neck, the state released 18 birds on Dey Road, Cranbury – eight birds over two days in January 1996 and 10 birds on Feb. 9, 1997.

A file card from Jan. 3, 1996, shows an adult female, caught in Hampton, Sussex County, and weighing 10-1/2 pounds, was released on the Simonson Farm on Dey Road in Cranbury.

Apparently these were the only two releases near the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, which are about 5 miles away. But that was all that was needed. Soon, turkeys were being recorded in those Pines.

My field notes indicate I first noticed turkey in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta in the fall of 1998.

November 28, 1999:  “Turkey in tree in area behind Helen Maslanka’s house,” which is at Jamesburg Park.

January 20, 2001:  “Tracks in snow by Jamesburg Dump/Manalapan Brook floodplain area.”

May 22, 2006:  “Turkey, saw 2 on Washington Avenue” at Jamesburg Park.

May 25, 2008:  “Saw turkey tracks in wet area” along Lincoln Boulevard.

March 24, 2010:  “Saw a few wild turkeys on the other side of (Cedar) Brook, or behind the houses,” in Spotswood.

Early May, 2010:  “Turkey trots up (Swing) Hill.”

April 14, 2011:  “About 6:10 p.m. at the corner of Helmetta Boulevard and Old Stage Road, a turkey flew across Helmetta Boulevard from north to south.”

January 25, 2012:  “A flock of turkeys in (Cranberry) Bog. Only heard them because they moved, rustled vegetation. Guess I spooked them.”

I have seen either turkey or its tracks in various places in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta:  Snuffy Hollow, the Power Lines at the Cranbury Road farmland, behind Holy Cross Cemetery, in my neighborhood between Helmetta and Jamesburg, across Manalapan Brook from my neighborhood. Basically, they are all around.

Area 12 hunting records suggest the success:

In 1995, during that first season in Area 12, the area had 43 kills of the state’s 1,581. In and around the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, the kills were 3 in South Brunswick, 1 in Monroe, and 1 in East Brunswick, with no kills recorded in Helmetta, Spotswood, Jamesburg, and Old Bridge.

In 2012, Area 12 had 113 of the state’s 2,956 kills. In and around the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, the kills were 16 in Monroe, 7 in Old Bridge, 2 in Helmetta, and 1 in East Brunswick.

In Area 12, turkey hunting is allowed with shotgun or bow and arrow from late April to early May. (The state also has a fall turkey season, beginning in late October and running for one week, but that season is not open in Area 12.)

Turkeys mate from March into April. Nests are hidden on the ground, either in a field at the edge of a forest or amid shrubs or fallen tree in a forest.

“When they make their nest, you generally can’t see them,” McBride said.

A hen will lay about a dozen eggs during the last two weeks of April. About May 1, she will begin sitting on the eggs. They take 28 days to hatch – or at about Memorial Day.

A hen will re-nest to achieve successful hatchlings, laying eggs as late as mid-July.

Of the dozen or so eggs, four poults will make it to 16-weeks-old “in a good year,” McBride said. By the end of September or early October, the young are no longer dependent on the adults.

At that time, they will flock, the young staying with the hens, the adult males, “toms” or “gobblers,” forming their own groups.

Turkeys achieve adulthood at 2-years-old. Their life expectancy in the wild is 3 years.

The best turkey habitat in New Jersey is Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and south Gloucester counties, possibly along with parts of Atlantic County, McBride said. That is because these areas have prime habitat of rich forest and open space.

“Adults eat plenty of acorns, berries, other vegetative matter, and they can also rely on feed associated with dairy operations and backyard birdfeeders, especially in cold weather,” McBride said.

About a dozen years ago, the state basically stopped releasing turkeys.

“By then, we pretty much had turkeys in all of the available range in the state,” said McBride, who became the turkey biologist about that time.

Turkey restoration “skyrocketed” in the 1990s, because dry springs were perfect for nesting and the raccoon population was diminished by disease, Eriksen said.

“The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife did a real good job,” said Eriksen, who, for the last 12 years has been the biologist in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “It was a very aggressive program. The results are impressive. It was tremendous time and energy by the agency.”

Joe Sapia, 57-years-old, lives in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at Snufftin@aol.com or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828. This article was first circulated as an e-mail to friends in 2013.

Nov 12: Rail-Arts-River RARitan meeting

The Rail-Arts-River planning team, including representatives from the LRWP, coLAB Arts, Rutgers Landscape Architecture and Middlesex County Department of Planning, have been busy working on the framework for Rail-Arts-River’s Year One impacts and are ready to share the work that came out of spring and summer development.

Please join us on Thursday November 12 at 9:30 AM when we will share planned deliverables through summer 2016 and engage you with that work.

Where: Middlesex County Administrative Building, at 75 Bayard Street, 5th Floor Conference Room

When: Thursday, November 12 at 9:30 AM

If needed, parking is available at the Robert Wood Johnson Wellness Center Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street (Level 5 and higher) – attendees should bring their parking tickets to the meeting for validation.

Short-term impacts for 2016 are outlined as follows:

1. Watershed Sculpture Project – our ongoing visual art project that incorporates refuse from the watershed into pieces of public art. We just finished our second round of commissions, and unveiled them last week. The project was recently honored by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. Next steps are to organize Woodbridge and Perth Amboy arts groups to adopt this program in their respective towns.

2. Rutgers Landscape Architecture Praxis Studio – work with residents and community organizers to identify areas in New Brunswick that aren’t part of city or university development plans, but are opportunities for cultural and environmental design.

3. The Run Off – a large community event/flash mob that will serve as a press opportunity at the end of the spring, that illustrates the movement of water through the city, by way of moving physical bodies through the city. As with the digital kiosk, New Brunswick would be our pilot, with Woodbridge and Perth Amboy to follow.

4. Digital Kiosks – pilot the installation of a physical interactive digital kiosk that incorporates the story and data about the watershed, and how New Brunswick interacts with it ecologically and through municipal access. The kiosk is also an opportunity to further engage the public with the history of New Brunswick and downtown business. New Brunswick would be the first post and feature local business sponsors. Woodbridge and Perth Amboy locations, with local content, would follow.

5. Commercial Avenue green infrastructure pilot – facilitate partnership with the Rutgers Safety Building and city DOT to install creative and artistic opportunities for rain capture and water remediation, and provide wayfinding opportunity down Commercial Avenue towards Boyd Park.

We will also present our concept plan for a long-term impact in Boyd Park, a plan that developed out of the June 2015 Sustainable Cities Design Academy:

Boyd Park wetland pilot – a long-term version for the impact of Rail-Arts-River in New Brunswick, is to create a destination performing arts space at Boyd Park that incorporates the natural environment of the river and riverbank into its design. This pilot wetland project is meant to demonstrate the design, infrastructure, beauty, and scientific curiosity that can be introduced into the park.

Nov 10: New Brunswick Raritan River Conservation Zone walk

**This event has been CANCELLED due to slippery conditions and rain. Please come back for information on a new date.

Tuesday November 10 at 10 AM, as part of New Brunswick Municipal Public Access Plan planning effort coordinated by the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at Rutgers, we will be walking through the Raritan Riverfront Conservation Zone to see what public access might look like in that area.

We will meet in the back right corner of the Lowes Movie Theater on Route 1. For folks using GPS the address is: 17 Us Highway #1, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. From there we will walk along the gravel path in New Brunswick’s “Raritan Riverfront Conservation Zone” and if we have the stamina following the conservation zone foray we can also consider walking in a relatively accessible segment of riverfront leading to Carpenter Road. Message us if you are interested in joining the walk: hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed.org

Nov 9: Field trip to the Middlesex Water Company

The November LRWP meeting, co-hosted by the Middlesex County Water Resources Association, will be a field trip to the Middlesex Water Company’s Carl J. Olsen Water Treatment Plant facilities in Edison located at 100 Fairview Avenue in Edison, NJ 08817. Please join us on Monday November 9th for this special opportunity. Lunch, courtesy of Middlesex Water, will be served at 1 PM followed by the tour from 1:30-3:00 PM. As we need a head count for lunch RSVP to lori.kahel AT co.middlesex.nj.us

The Middlesex Water Company owns and operates regulated water utility and wastewater systems in portions of the Lower Raritan Watershed, and operates wastewater systems under contract on behalf of several Lower Raritan Watershed communities. Water is provided under wholesale contracts to Edison, the Borough of Highland Park and the Old Bridge Municipal Utilities Authority. Retail customers are located in Woodbridge Township, the City of South Amboy, the Borough of Metuchen, portions of Edison and the Borough of South Plainfield. Contract sales to Edison, Old Bridge and Marlboro are supplemental to the existing water systems in those towns. Middlesex is the sole source of water for Highland Park and East Brunswick. Through their “Utility Service Affiliates,” Middlesex Water operates the City of Perth Amboy’s water and wastewater systems.

The principal source of surface water for the Middlesex Water Company’s system is the Delaware & Raritan Canal, which is owned by the State of NJ and operated as a water resource by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA). The Middlesex Water Company is under contract with NJWSA.

 

 

 

Oct 29: 2015 Watershed Sculpture Unveiling

LRWP-CoLAB River Spirit by Christopher CarterJoin us on Thursday October 29 from 6-9 PM for the unveiling of the 2015 Watershed Sculptures.

This is the second year of a partnership between the LRWP and coLAB Arts. Our groups provide refuse from stream clean ups to artists who rework them as masterwork sculptures.

Sponsored by the RWJUH Wellness Center, the evening will include an artist meet and greet, music by Little Rose, heavy hors d’oevres and a silent auction. Beer and wine will be available.

Oct 20: General Meeting

At our October 20 meeting, 9 AM-noon, former WMA9 Watershed Ambassador Jon Dugan will present findings from habitat and biological monitoring at sites in the LRW. Is there a site you want included for monitoring in 2016? Come ready to discuss recommendations for future monitoring, action and restoration.

Please note our NEW meeting location in the 5th Floor Conference Room in the Middlesex County Administration Offices at 75 Bayard Street.

Meeting attendees can park in the Robert Wood Johnson Wellness Center Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street on floors 5 and above (note that levels 3 and 4 are only for supermarket and RWJ use).

A maximum three (3) hours of parking will be validated for our meeting, and attendees will have to visit the Second Floor of the Administration Building to have their ticket validated.

Welcome to the LRWP website!

We can’t think of a better way to launch our new website than with a recap of the fun had on September 27, 2015 at the annual Raritan River Festival in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park, and with the story of the first Raritan River Festival held on August 16th, 1980.

The first Raritan River Festival was held as part of the 300th Anniversary Celebration of the City of New Brunswick and combined community entertainment and celebration with environmental awareness and action. The goal, according to the Festival Chairman MC (Mac) Babcock was to “demonstrate the recreational and artistic potential of our riverfront.”

On that sunny Saturday in 1980 hundreds of people crowded the banks of the river to watch parades of decorated boats, raft races, canoe races and to witness the arrival of Folk Music Legend, Pete Seeger on the good ship Clearwater. The Festival has since been awarded “Living Legend” status by the United States Library of Congress.

At the LRWP we are driven by the same spirit that launched the Raritan River Festival 35 years ago. We too want to demonstrate, and celebrate, the potential of the Raritan River throughout the Lower Raritan Watershed. We do this through data gathering and reporting, civic science and environmental education and outreach. We do this through a host of collaborative work with artists, academics, planners, engineers, and local and regional stakeholders, and by having a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun: This year the rubber duck and cardboard canoe races were nail biters. Sorry to say the LRWP ducks didn’t win, but the LRWP canoe came in 4th overall!

Many thanks for help at the Festival to our new AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program Ambassadors for bringing out their enviroscape, to our wonderful volunteers and interns, and to the amazing COLAB ARTS sculptors who installed the “Found in the Watershed” sculptures on river’s edge.

Please plan to join us for more fun at our gallery opening fundraiser “sculpture unveiling” from 6-9PM October 29 when these artworks will be installed in the Robert Wood Johnson Fitness & Wellness Center. For more information about the gallery event and to purchase tickets, check out the sculpture project website.

Thanks for visiting, and see you in the watershed!

Heather Fenyk, President

Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

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