Join LRWP Board Member Professor David Tulloch as he leads our second “Watershed Highlights and Hidden Streams” walking tour of 2019!
Professor Tulloch will help us connect 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.
Many area residents are likely familiar with individual pieces of these recreation spaces. Fewer have made the walk to connect them all. That’s what we’ll do from 9-11 AM on Saturday May 18.
For the LRWP’s inaugural “Watershed Highlights and Hidden Streams: Walks of the Watershed” Rutgers Professor David Tulloch will help us trace connections between Buell Brook and the Raritan River, starting at Johnson Park in Piscataway and traveling to Rutgers’ Eco Preserve.
Many people visit Rutgers’ Eco Preserve and don’t think of its connection to the Raritan River, even when they are only a few hundreds of yards away from it. This walk will look more at the connection and what it means.
We will travel from Johnson Park and Raritan Landing to the EcoPreserve, making the connection between the Raritan and this special campus feature.
Johnson Park/Raritan Landing – 1890s
Meet promptly at 3 PM in the Easternmost Parking lot at Johnson Park, near the Raritan (40.505693, -74.444186). Coming from Highland Park on Raritan Ave, go under the railroad trestle, make a left into Johnson park, and the meeting place is the 1st parking lot, on the right.
We will start with a gentler exploration of the riverbank and mouths of the Mill and Buell Brooks (and maybe more) and then head up into the Eco Preserve.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, clothing appropriate for the weather, and bring water. We expect the walk to run from 3-5 PM.
The LRWP is often asked to identify top environmental issues facing our Central Jersey watershed communities, and every year we develop a “Top 10” list of concerns. Through 2019 we will feature one concern a month on our website, exploring that issue (and potential solutions) in more detail. This month we consider the problems caused by culverting, piping, developing over or otherwise “hiding” our streams, and provide strategies through which we can find them again.
The Lower Raritan Watershed is full of ghost streams. Entrepreneurs, town councils, industry, and home owners have long buried streams to develop their land and businesses, to expand their towns, to build their homes, and to address public health concerns. The result is centuries of piping, culverting, construction, and development that have hidden the vast majority of streams and rivers in our urban landscape.
The impact of “hiding” so many of our streams is devastating. Lower Raritan communities are alienated from our waterways and historic ecologies, habitats are degraded, water quality is compromised, and stormwater runoff and flooding intensify. Not only in the Lower Raritan, but throughout the United States and globally, these impacts are most acutely felt in areas with low socioeconomic status and vulnerable populations. In the face of climate change and increased precipitation and runoff, these communities bear disproportionate risk and adaptive burden.
We know that healthy, open streams play an important role in stormwater management. In a healthy stream, stormwater gets absorbed and gradually released by soil and plants. An open stream not only slows and controls stormwater surge, it also provides habitat for wildlife, and provides the aesthetic benefits of cool spaces and greenery.
Streams, especially small ones, also play an important role in improving water quality. A healthy stream ecosystem can remove excess nutrients, sediment, and other contaminants from water before it flows into our Rivers, Bays or Oceans. Recent research by the Environmental Protection Agency found that nitrates—nutrients that can become pollutants—travel on average 18 times further in buried urban streams than they do in open streams before they are taken out of the water column. This means that in areas with many buried streams like the Lower Raritan Watershed, larger water bodies including Raritan River and Raritan Bay receive more pollutants than if the waterways upstream were open and healthy and serving to filter pollutants as stormwater runoff travels its course.
Of course the best first action with respect to keeping streams healthy is to avoid culverting, piping, constructing over or otherwise developing them. However, in already heavily developed areas like the Lower Raritan Watershed, much damage has already been done. In some of our Lower Raritan towns more than 50% of surfaces are paved over, including all waterways that were in evidence on maps from the 1800s.
Walk down most any of our main streets and you are likely to “walk on water” without any awareness of what is beneath your feet. If you pay careful attention however, as students did during our 2018 summer camp, you can hear the streams and trace their course, even if you cannot actually see them. Learning about our landscape, and “finding” our hidden streams is the next best action to take in protecting them.
Learning to decipher our landscape, and trying to “find” our hidden streams are central to the LRWP’s new #lookfortheriver campaign.
The LRWP is building the #lookfortheriver campaign to bring attention to the problems of “hiding” or disappearing our streams, and to identify ways of finding them again. In addition to teaching folks about the landscape in fun ways, this involves collecting stories by volunteers and contributors who take the time observe and document their area streams, and who highlight the great benefits of landscape connectivity. Joe Mish’s most recent February essay is a great example: Along the South Branch Connected. Margo Persin’s year of blog post’s about Ambrose Brook is another.
#lookfortheriver activities include our newly launched “Watershed Highlights and Hidden Streams: Walking Tours of the Lower Raritan Watershed,” to be led by Rutgers Professor and LRWP Board Member David Tulloch. These walks will look at landscape connections to our waterways and what this means. The series kicks off on Sunday March 16 close to the Rutgers campus, with exploration of the connections between Buell Brook and the Raritan, connecting Johnson Park and the historic Raritan Landing with the Eco Preserve.
#lookfortheriver includes working with volunteers to understand how our landscape works, where it doesn’t, and how to fix the problems we observe. Susan Edmunds’s research into the history of Mill Brook, and her careful study and documentation of the stream (see her online Storymap Mill Brook: A Portrait of an Urban Stream) lends tremendous insight into landscape functions of a relatively forgotten stream. Susan will present on this project in at the Highland Park public library on Sunday March 24. Joining Susan will be Rutgers student Jillian Dorsey, who will highlight findings from her thesis research on Mill Brook that shows how property owners can protect their urban streams. We hope these efforts will further mobilize municipal action to restore local streams, and that they will inspire homeowners in proper maintenance of waterway-adjacent homes. In fact, this work has already inspired the Highland Park Council to partner with the LRWP for a multi-site clean-up of Mill Brook, scheduled for Sunday May 12 – please save the date!
The legacy of development, culverting and piping that has hidden our streams exacerbates flooding and pollution transfer. It has disconnected us from our waterways and from our land. This is disastrous for our communities, but we are learning new ways “find” our streams again and fix these problems. Join us in online to discussions, at meetings, or for our “Hidden Streams Walking Tours”. Or simply start exploring the watershed on your own. Give close attention to landscape cues – the sound of rushing water in a storm sewer, collections of sediment and debris in low lying areas, and dense growth of trees and weeds. In this way we connect to our landscape and waterways, imagine their past, and can begin to plan for a future of “finding” and restoring them.
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.
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.
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.