February 16, 2016 – “Natural Assets Mapping” Presentations by John A. Miller & JeanMarie Hartman

In 2016 the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, with input from the Middlesex County Department of Planning, is spearheading development of a Natural Assets Map for the Lower Raritan Watershed (Watershed Management Area 9).

On February 16 we will hear presentations by John A. Miller, Princeton Hydro Water Resources Engineer and co-founder and legislative committee chair for the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management and Rutgers Professor JeanMarie Hartman, Director of the Hartman Lab of Watershed Systems Studies at Rutgers.

Presentations from 9-10:30AM followed by LRWP general meeting.

Location: Middlesex County Office of Planning located at 75 Bayard Street in New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Lower Level Large Conference Room.

About the LRWP Natural Assets Mapping Project

We have three key objectives in developing a Natural Asset Map:

1) To evaluate, prioritize and map natural and cultural assets in the Lower Raritan Watershed;

2) To provide an informed basis for Green Infrastructure (GI) Initiatives to be included in pending updates of regional/County Comprehensive Master Plans; and

3) To promote inclusion of a mitigation plan component with GI implementation strategies into recertification of Municipal Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permits and stormwater management plans for municipal master plans.

To advance these goals, the LRWP will host a speaker series in 2016: “Developing a Natural Assets Map for the Lower Raritan Watershed.” The year’s activities will be roughly divided into two phases. The first half of the year will include a series of presentations that will help us develop priorities for assets mapping and lead us to development of a Natural Assets Map for the Lower Raritan Watershed. The second half of the year and running into 2017 will focus on how to use the LRW’s Natural Asset Map to prioritize GI initiatives at the municipal, county and watershed level. We are using Karen Firehock’s “Evaluating and Conserving Green Infrastructure Across the Landscape: A Practitioner’s Guide” to structure the mapping effort and orient our work.

Midwinter Shines Its Light on Local Hawks

Articles and Photos by Joe Mish

Cooper's Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

A cooper’s hawk flies off after landing in a holly tree where it jumped from branch to branch in an effort to flush a hiding songbird into the open.

Midwinter is a great time to catch a glimpse of local wildlife, especially hawks, as these large birds stand in dramatic contrast to the gray-brown leafless trees in which they perch.

The most common hawk in our region is the red-tailed hawk. Comparatively large, the adults are recognized by the bright russet colored tail. This is the only hawk whose tail is not banded or bordered by a contrasting color. The young birds have barred tail feathers, alternating russet and white, with no distinct borders.

Red Tailed Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

Easy to spot at highway speeds, the light breast and faded red tail stand out like a beacon when perched in trees along the roadway. Locally, I often see these hawks atop telephone poles near pastures and flood plains where they scan the open area for small mammals and ducks. Some red tails specialize in killing gray squirrels, a worthy meal for such a large bird whose energy expenditure in the winter would hardly be covered with mice or voles.

During a winter freeze when most of the river is solid ice, there are always open sections where ducks concentrate in the water and on the ice. A red tail will make an easy meal, especially of the smaller wood duck, flushing it into the air or catching it as it naps on the ice.

Last winter I watched an eagle feeding on a wood duck, speculation was the eagle took the duck from a red tail as eagles are notorious for stealing game from ospreys and hawks.

Eagle - Mish, Feb 2016

Muskrats are also high on the midwinter menu as the males often travel during the day over ice and snow as they seek food and females to breed.

A hawk requires a large nest and now is the time to scan the treetops and high tension towers for these stick built structures. One local hawk has adapted to a giant oak in someone’s backyard bordering a cluster of recently constructed homes. I have seen several local nests situated high in sycamore trees along the river. Hawk nests are relatively flat and large, not to be confused with squirrel nests which are numerous and quite round, generally built at a lower level, among thinner branches. Red tails will also use ledges as a base for their nests.

Hawk Nest - Mish, Feb 2016

The ultimate adaptation belongs to the red tail known as, Pale Male, whose life is well documented in film, media and print as he has mated and bred several generations of hawks among the skyscrapers in mid Manhattan. His age is estimated at 24 years. Here is one site dedicated to Pale Male.

Marsh hawks share the sky with red tails and characteristically conduct ground hugging flights across overgrown fields, flood plains and grasslands and have an ability to hover in place. These hawks are slightly smaller than a red tail with dark brown coloration and a boldly banded tail. The key to identifying a marsh hawk is the bright white rump patch. These hawks are common, though not often seen and are known to migrate while red tails remain as full time residents.

Marsh Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

Aside from red tails, the most often seen hawks are the coopers and sharp-shinned hawks. The coopers being slightly larger than the sharp shinned. Both hawks feed on songbirds and small rodents. As each is similarly marked, identification is always controversial. More often than not, someone will submit a photo of a hawk to a website asking if it is a coopers or sharp-shinned and the replies are often split, each summarizing why they made their choice. I see the larger coopers preferring doves and rabbits while the sharp shinned has left piles of bluebird, indigo bunting and flicker feathers about the yard.

Lastly, look for the diminutive sparrow hawk, now known as the kestrel, typically perched on telephone poles and wires along open fields. This bird is about the size of a large dove, feeds on insects and small rodents. Kestrels are known for hovering before they dive on their prey and this stationary flight is a good identifying characteristic. The males are brilliantly marked with blue, shades of russet, black and white. At first glance a perched kestrel will appear as a songbird so be sure to give a second look. They are considered threatened in New Jersey and a nest box program and monitoring effort is having a positive effect on their recovery. The birds are easily baited and trapped for tagging and data collection.

Sparrow Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

This is the winter of the hawk and hardly a commute is possible without being evaluated by a feathered predator. They can see you, can you see them?

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. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

LRWP kicks off 2016 Natural Assets Map Project!

by Heather Fenyk & Elizabeth Dabundo

Join the LRWP from 9-noon on February 16th when we will hear presentations on Natural Resource Assets by John A, Miller, Princeton Hydro Water Resources Engineer and co-founder and legislative committee chair for the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management and Rutgers Professor JeanMarie Hartman, Director of the Hartman Lab of Watershed Systems Studies at Rutgers.

2.16.16 - LRWP Natural Assets Speakers flyer - Miller + Hartman

Natural Assets Map Project Background

In February 2015 at a workshop on Impervious Cover Remediation (ICR) co-hosted by the LRWP and Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources, the LRWP recognized a need for tools to help communities implement Green Infrastructure (GI) and meet ICR goals. At the ICR workshop municipal representatives expressed an interest in minimizing stormwater runoff, with many of of these reps suggesting that their communities set impervious cover reduction targets. But where to start? How could towns best prioritize resources for ICR and GI implementation?

To help LRW communities on this path the LRWP researched tools that would help with strategic location of ICR and GI sites. We found references to a process called “Natural Assets Mapping” that suggests not only a prioritization process, but also provides an approach to orienting community conversations around valuation of ecosystem services and the benefits supplied to human societies by natural ecosystems.

Working with input from the Middlesex County Department of Planning we shaped a speaker series for 2016 to guide development of a Natural Assets Map for the Lower Raritan Watershed (Watershed Management Area 9), and to prime municipal conversations regarding prioritization of GI and ICR.

Our goals for the project include:

  1. To evaluate, prioritize and map natural and cultural assets in the Lower Raritan Watershed.

2.  To support community stewardship of Green Infrastructure (GI) / Nature-Based Solutions, including:

-Informing development of GI Master Plans
-Identifying opportunities to add GI to capital projects
-Helping communities link to GI performance rates
-Helping develop design standards for GI related to identified assets.

3. To identify potential investments to optimize the existing system.

4. To advance and support stormwater management planning at County / municipal levels.

5. To improve administration of environmentalism in the LRW.

The 2016 Natural Assets Mapping kick-off

At the 2016 Natural Assets Mapping kick-off event on Tuesday January 26, LRWP Land Use Planner Angela Knowles gave an overview of the Natural Assets Mapping process as outlined by Karen Firehock at the University of Virginia. Angela provided highlights of the document we are using to guide our work (“Evaluating and Conserving Green Infrastructure Across the Landscape: A Practitioner’s Guide“) and described the various GIS layers the LRWP plans to discuss going forward.

Angela also explained how, using these layers, we will map environmental, cultural, historic, and human assets throughout the watershed in an interdisciplinary way. With GIS, LRWP communities will be able to see where particular features are found, what geographical patterns exist, and what changes have occurred over a given time period. We aim to identify the natural assets in the watershed and how they relate to other community assets so that we can conserve, and/or restore the natural features that are most valuable to communities. This further reduces the need to build engineered structures to deal with issues like stormwater runoff in favor of more cost effective, natural solutions.

At the kick-off, attendees brought attention to various environmental, cultural, historic, and human assets that they personally thought were valuable in a group mapping exercise. The LRWP will devote much of the year to reaching out to community members around the LRW to pinpoint certain areas that may be less known to many, but no less valuable.

Natural Assets Map kick-off

Speaker themes for 2016 include natural resource assets, cultural and historic assets, transportation and mobility assets, seeing brownfields as community assets for restoration, and economic assets, innovation, & regional planning. We are very excited for the opportunity to have state and regional experts on these topics join us for these presentations, and we hope you will join us as well! Please see our events page for more information.

 

January 26, 2015 – LRW Natural Assets Mapping Project Kick-Off

In 2016 the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, with input from the Middlesex County Department of Planning, is spearheading development of a Natural Assets Map for the Lower Raritan Watershed (Watershed Management Area 9). The year’s activities will be roughly divided into two phases. The first half of the year will include a series of presentations that will help us develop priorities for assets mapping. The second half of the year and running into 2017 will focus on how to use the LRW’s Natural Asset Map to prioritize GI initiatives at the municipal, county and watershed level.

The January 26 kick-off will orient participants to the Assets Mapping Project and to Karen Firehock’s “Evaluating and Conserving Green Infrastructure Across the Landscape: A Practitioner’s Guide” that we are using to structure the mapping effort and orient our work. Contact hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org for more information.

We will meet from 9-Noon in the Middlesex County Office of Planning located at 78 Bayard Street in New Brunswick, NJ  08901. Parking will be validated for those parking on floors 5 and higher in the RWJ Wellness Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ  08901.

January 19, 2015 – LRWP Strategic Planning meeting

Join the LRWP for a brainstorming session as we kick off 2016. We will share our draft strategic plan framework and look forward to your feedback!

We will meet from 9AM-Noon in the Middlesex County Office of Planning located at 78 Bayard Street in New Brunswick, NJ  08901. Parking will be validated for those parking on floors 5 and higher in the RWJ Wellness Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ  08901.

Contact hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org for more information.

January 16, 2015 – Johnson Park clean-up

The LRWP and Middlesex County Parks are co-hosting a clean-up in Piscataway’s Johnson Park on Saturday January 16.
We will meet at 1030 River Road in Piscataway in the lobby of the County Parks Headquarters Office. There will be signs up to direct folks to the office where there will be a table set up with sign-in forms, trail maps for County open space areas, etc.
 
Volunteers should dress for the weather, and be prepared to be outdoors. Middlesex County will provide gloves and garbage bags. Parking and bathrooms are on-site.
 
Everything will have died back off the forest floor at this time of the year so it’s a great time to remove refuse – please let us know if you can make it. Snow date: March 12.

The Johnson Family Chair in Water Resources and Watershed Ecology: Vision Statement

The LRWP thanks Professor Lathrop, the newly-appointed Johnson Family Chair in Water Resources and Watershed Ecology at Rutgers University, for sharing his vision for how Rutgers can provide academic leadership to improve the health of the Raritan River. For more information about the Johnson Family Chair and Professor Lathrop’s new position please see the Rutgers Today Press Release.

By Richard G. Lathrop Jr.

Modern society is increasingly coming to recognize water as a critical resource, on a par with oil and gas. Water scarcity, whether due to prolonged drought, political instability, regional conflict or any combination of the above, is at a crisis stage on the US West Coast, across the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe. Point sources of water contamination or more diffuse sources of pollution related to urban, suburban or agricultural land uses is also of increasing concern. Ensuring access to clean and abundant water to sustain both human society and healthy ecosystems over the 21st century will require a concerted effort on the part of government, academic, private and non-profit sectors. From an academic standpoint, addressing this challenge will require not only an interdisciplinary approach bridging the social, political and natural sciences but also a watershed perspective that links the land surface to downstream aquatic systems. The Johnson Family Chair in Water Resources and Watershed Ecology is intended to undergird such an effort here at Rutgers University.

In the heart of the most densely populated region in the nation, the Raritan River Watershed serves as a “natural laboratory” to study how human actions and policies both negatively and positively affect ecological health of a watershed system. One of my major focal areas as Johnson Family Chair will be co-leading the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative (SRRI). The objective of the SRRI is to work with various stakeholders in the watershed to balance social, economic and environmental objectives towards the common goal of restoring the Raritan River, its tributaries and its estuary for current and future generations. Since the founding of the SRRI in 2009, the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy has provided academic leadership in the policy realm and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in the scientific realm. The SRRI in turn partners with the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative (SRRC) representing a network of over 130 organizations, governmental entities and businesses in the Raritan River Basin. As Johnson Family Chair, I will provide strong scientific leadership to chart SRRI’s future direction and ensure that issues of critical significance to the Raritan watershed are addressed. In addition to my own research, I will coordinate with various individual scientists, departments and research centers to make sure that Rutgers University’s scientific and technical expertise is brought to bear. Working in concert, we should be able to achieve tangible results towards restoring the Raritan River and Bay to a vibrant and biologically diverse ecosystem for the benefit of present and future citizens of the state and region. Further, the lessons learned from the science and policy research conducted under SRRI’s rubric will transcend the local environs and have relevance elsewhere in the United States, as well as globally.

Within the University, as the Johnson Family Chair I will play a key role in developing and promoting an academic agenda centered on the Raritan River and its watershed. Such an academic agenda will seek to engage a variety of curricula, both on- and off-campus, to make greater use of the Raritan River and the Rutgers Ecological Preserve as part of their educational program. These places provide experiential learning sites where students can observe and collect data as well as get their “hands dirty” by undertaking experimental manipulations and be involved in hands-on restoration and enhancement, design or arts projects. Within the EcoPreserve or on the Raritan, students can put into practice classroom or online learning in a real world environment. These field experiences will be coupled with advanced information technology to integrate field data collection with real-time sensor networks and geospatial information systems to make the EcoPreserve and the River a natural classroom as well as a living laboratory. One great advantage of the EcoPreserve and the River is that they are right on campus and accessible to students via the campus bus system; thus making their use for instructional purposes both time and cost effective. While our alma mater celebrates the University’s location “on the banks of the old Raritan” the University does not have ready access to the river proper. To help rectify this situation, the Chair will spearhead a feasibility study for the development of a Raritan River Watershed teaching/research field facility to be able to bring classes to and out on the water.

The Rutgers New Brunswick-Piscataway campus is blessed to have 400 acres of open space right at its very core, the Rutgers Ecological Preserve and Natural Teaching Area. As Johnson Family Chair, I will serve as Faculty Director of the Ecological Preserve, building on past success to further integrate the EcoPreserve into the life of the University and the surrounding community. As outlined above, the University has the opportunity to build a world-class educational program around the EcoPreserve and lead the United States in the academic pursuit of natural areas/open space stewardship, ecological restoration and leadership training. As the “voice” for the EcoPreserve as the University moves towards implementing the recently announced Physical Master Plan, I will strive to ensure that the role of the EcoPreserve to enhance student instruction and community quality of life is more fully realized.

Personal Background: Richard G. Lathrop Jr.
I have 25+ years of experience working with a diverse array of federal, state, and local government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including watershed associations, land trusts, environmental NGOs, federal and state environmental agencies, and regional land/ocean management agencies. My interaction with these various groups has been to integrate insights from ecology and geography with the application of geo-spatial information science and technology to provide a “big picture” view that spans from an individual wetland or forest to the watershed to multi-state regions. More specifically, I have focused on measuring and modeling the how human land use activities and natural habitat change in the watershed affect downstream aquatic and estuarine structure and function. For example, as part of the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program, I have been investigating the spatial and temporal dynamics of salt marshes and seagrass beds, both key nursery habitats for a number of commercially important fish and shellfish species, as key indicators of estuarine health. Working with the above partners, I have attempted to translate that understanding into effective and appropriate approaches and policies to improve natural resource management and land use planning. For example, in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and other local partners, we have created the Restoration Explorer, an online tool that provides communities with a simple way to visualize where beneficial coastal restoration and enhancement projects are most appropriate based on ecological and engineering data. In my work, I have on multiple occasions assembled and lead multi-disciplinary teams to address water resources and watershed ecological issues. While much of my work has been conducted using New Jersey and MidAtlantic case studies, the implications of this research are relevant much more broadly, to elsewhere in the United States, as well as globally.

In 2009, Dean Robert Goodman appointed me as Faculty Director of the Rutgers Ecological Preserve with the charge to actively promote its teaching, research, active/passive recreation, and resource protection mission. I sought this position as a means to further my understanding of ‘on-the-ground’ natural resource management by being engaged personally in managing and restoring this 400 acre property, as well as an opportunity to further student engagement in learning and appreciation of the natural environment.

During my tenure:1) use of the Preserve has increased for academic purposes though a range of formal and informal instructional activities engaging middle and high school (including underserved youth), undergraduate, graduate and ROTC students; 2) use has increased for student research projects investigating such topics as the dispersal and control of invasive plants; 3) service learning opportunities have been provided to Rutgers courses (Principles of Natural Resource Management) and clubs (RU Outdoors Club, Naturalist Club) and outside groups (4-H, middle-high school environmental clubs); 4) natural resource values have been promoted though proactive meadow management, deer population control, riparian zone restoration, and wildlife habitat enhancements; 5) a forest vegetation inventory undertaken to provide a baseline on the forest community composition and health; 6) access has been increased by developing an extensive (7.5 miles), well maintained trail system and the opening up a new trailhead on Livingston campus; and 7) outdoor recreational opportunities have been enhanced through organized events that accommodate hundreds of participants (RU Muddy, Run for the Woods, Orienteering meets).

In closing, I grew up in the Raritan River Watershed and have lived 40 of my 56 years here. I hike its woods, paddle its waters and observe its wildlife. Thus I am personally invested in making the Raritan River Watershed a better place to live for its human inhabitants as well as its flora and fauna.

Meet Maya – the Green Floater Mussel!

by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor

Hello! I’m Maya, a green floater mussel (less commonly known as Lasmigona subviridis). I live in the Lower Raritan Watershed of New Jersey, but my relatives can be found as far south as the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina, and as far north as the Lawrence River Basin in New York. I am two years old, no longer a baby glochida relying on a host fish for food and safety. Now that I’m a juvenile I bury under the sediment at the bottom of the Raritan River for protection. My favorite foods are plankton and little bits of plant matter that drift through my filter.

Life cycle of the freshwater mussel

Green Floater Mussel Life Cycle (Image: Texas Parks & Wildlife)

I bet you are wondering what I look like. Well, I have a trapezoid bivalve and my outer shell is yellow and brown with many green streaks. My nacre (the inside, or lining of my shell) is white or blue and iridescent. I am also very small, just a little more than an inch now, but when I’m a grown up I’ll be almost 5 inches! It will take me another four years to get that big, and I can’t wait! Then I will be able to float around the Raritan River looking for food. Some of my relatives have lived until they were 100. If I’m lucky to live that long, I’ll be able to explore a lot of the River in my lifetime!

Green Floater Mussel

Green Floater Mussel (Image: New Jersey Conservation Foundation)

 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons why I might not live to be 3 years old let alone 100. I might be eaten by predators like raccoons, muskrats, bears, otters, heron, waterfowl, turtles or sturgeon. Or my species might go extinct for human-caused reasons. You careless humans are using my home as a trash can, dumping waste right into my river! You have also built a lot of dams, which had led to the removal of some of the host fish our baby glochida rely on to survive until we are juveniles.

Another huge issue is the introduction of foreign species like the Asian clam to our neighborhood. These non-native species compete with us for the same limited food supply and sometimes we don’t get enough to eat. Another problem I’m facing now as a juvenile is the erosion of the sediment on the bottom of the river. This sediment is supposed to be a cozy blanket of protection for me and friends, keeping us hidden from predators as we grow into adults. But erosion makes the silt move, threatening to reveal my hiding place. This erosion happens from things like building and farming, and the use of road salt on the roads in the winter. My corner of the Raritan River also has a history of people dumping not just sewage but toxic industrial waste. Yuck!

Unfortunately, a lot of the river habitat in the United States has been used as a trash can for centuries. Although the 1972 Clean Water Act has made a huge difference in reducing point source pollution, the erosion of sediment in my habitat contimues primarily because of non-point source (NPS) pollution. EVERYONE can do things to help stop NPS, and I would REALLY appreciate your help keeping me safe.

Some of the things you can do to help me survive include:

-Keep debris (litter, pet waste, leaves) out of street gutters and storm drains

-NEVER dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints or other household chemicals in storm drains or down the sink

-Eat less meat! Animal manure, and the impacts of agriculture (water, fertilizer and pesticide use) associated with animal feed, really does a number on aquatic ecosystems

-Landscape with native plants and plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticide

-Leave lawn clippings on your lawn

-Stabilize erosion-prone areas

-Use less water when showering, washing dishes or clothes, or brushing your teeth

-Drive less! Automobiles release a lot of pollution, which increases acid rain that ends up in my River

-Clean up after your pets!

Nice talking to you, but I have to hide quick! I just spotted a hungry sturgeon heading my way!

If you want to know more about me and how to protect my habitat check out this video by Maya and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership:

Click here to read more from the “Voices in the Watershed blog” series.

The Pine Barrens of Helmetta: A look back afield

By Joseph Sapia

Sapia - Holly at Cranberry Bog, Dec 2015

Holly at Cranberry Bog

As Timmy Mechkowski and I walked in back of Helmetta Pond, we came across a patch of Lycopodium.

“Look at all that ground pine,” I said. “It must like it just a little bit wet.”

The ground pine brought memories of his late mother, Catherine “Kay” Holsten Mechkowski. She used to make Christmas wreaths, using running ground pine as the foundation; common ground pine, as we were seeing on this day, to fill in the wreath.

Sapia - Timmy Mechkowski and ground pine, Dec 2015

Timmy Mechkowski and ground pine

“Every now and then, she would find holly (in the woods) and poke them in,” Timmy said.

On this day a year ago, between Christmas and the calendar changing from 2014 to 2015, Timmy and I walked afield in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, where we grew up. As one year turns to another, we may reflect on the general past or our reflections could turn afield, here, to a time when there was less development and, in turn, more open space.

“Many years ago, I used to know these woods,” Timmy said.

Sapia - Helmetta's Timmy Mechkowski, Dec 2015

Helmetta’s Timmy Mechkowski

Although Timmy, 54-years-old, lives adjacent to field, water, and woods, just as he did as a child, and works the land – in his case, gardening and cutting firewood on his property – he no longer ventures deep into the woods.

“I couldn’t even tell you,” said Timmy, speaking of the last time he explored the woods. “I was a kid, 17-, 18-years-old, had to be.”

So, on this day, Timmy and I hiked the woods.

We started about noon and walked counter-clockwise to places that locals would recognize, more so if they knew the woods, less so if they did not: the Ditch, Helmetta Pond, the Dance Pavilion, Jamesburg Park, Baron’s or Swing Hill (basically, the same place, but my mother’s generation knowing it by the former, those younger than me calling it the latter), Snuffy Hollow, the Pipeline, Cranberry Bog.

Not only do places afield have local names, but things in the woods, too, have names.

“What do they call that, a widow-maker?” Timmy said.

A massive widow-maker! An estimated 15-feet-or-longer part of a tree hung up 20 to 25 feet or so off the ground.

The typical view of Helmetta Pond is from the side of the former George W. Helme Snuff Mill, or from Helmetta looking toward the woods. Today, we had the other view, from the woods toward the Snuff Mill.

Nearby, a large oak had toppled thanks to the wind of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Its flipped root pan and clinging soil measured about 10-feet-tall, or well above Timmy’s approximately 5 feet, 8 inches.

Sapia - Timmy Mechkowski in front of uprooted tree, Dec 2015

Timmy Mechkowski in front of a tree uprooted, thanks to October 2012’sSuperstorm Sandy. The root pan is about 10-feet-tall

“Now, what is this, mountain laurel?” Timmy said.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“I know some things,” he joked.

Actually, Timmy knows a lot, a fine mix of his maternal and paternal farming roots and his town upbringing. By trade, a mechanic. One of my first picks if I had to choose a team to live off the grid.

A coating of ice on a small pond near Helmetta Boulevard, which slices through the woods, was evidence of the day’s temperature of about 32 degrees.

Invasive phragmites grew in the swamps on both sides of Helmetta Boulevard. Yet, not far away, one was in a classic Pine Barrens uplands ecosystem of oak and pitch pine.

“Another pristine area,” I said. “This is beautiful, right here.”

Where the Dance Pavilion stood about 100 years ago – apparently the idea being to bring people out for a good-time night in the woods to sell them lots here – we could still find remnants.

“This is pretty cool,” I said, “you could still see them, the steps,” leading to where the pavilion stood on the top of a small hill.

Here, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, there is a quick mix of nature and humans, some old, a lot current.

As we bushwhacked with Jamesburg Park behind us and Swing Hill ahead, swamp to our left, high ground to our right, a nearby path of white sand was hidden by the woods’s vegetation.

“You couldn’t even see the path a few feet away,” I said.

In the Swing Hill-Snuffy Hollow area, there was evidence of how this area of the woods is more accessible to the outside world: a stream washed out because of off-road vehicle riding and garbage dumped. But this walk was wrapping up, anyway.

On our walk, we passed swamp, uplands mixed with oak and pine, swamp hardwood forest and Atlantic white cedar swamp, sphagnum bog, a stand of baby pitch pines and invasive white pine, and what apparently was a coyote den, sometime the hum of the New Jersey Turnpike, only a mile or so away, in the background.

Sapia - Coyote den under the roots of an uprooted tree, Dec 2015

Coyote den under the roots of an uprooted tree

The woods is a funky place, a place to gather Mother Nature’s bounty. This Christmas, I did not get around to gathering materials for a wreath. Mrs. Mechkowski’s wreath is different than mine, which I make using pine boughs and inserting winterberry.

To next Christmas and, hopefully, a wreath. We are moving that way as another year has gone by.

On the way home, we saw winterberry, what I use for a wreath, and holly, what Mrs. Mechkowski used. For now, the outdoors is still here, but changing, too….

Sapia - Winterberry at Cranberry Bog, Dec 2015

Winterberry at Cranberry Bog

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@aol.com or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

 

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Sapia

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.

 

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