During one, six thousand year moment, in the eons of glacial expansion and retreat, the Queen of Rivers was born. So described by an early nineteenth century writer, inspired by the bucolic Raritan River. The beauty of the river’s pastural floodplain dotted with colorful native flowers and grasses, stood in contrast to the intermittent high, red shale cliffs. Spring floods scrubbed the red shale soil from its banks to turn the raging river into a semi solid crimson torrent. The contrast in color is dramatic where gravel lined upland streams tumble into the main river current.
From sweet water freshet to the brackish tide water of its bay, the Raritan’s unimpeded flow expressed its seasonal moods in uninhibited water-colored brush strokes across the landscape, as if it were a living canvas.
So, the Raritan River proper, as it is defined today, deserves the recognition of a natural wonder, a reference point in geological history, worthy of attention in a state marked by an ever changing manmade landscape.
The Raritan’s headwaters arise from two major sources in the north, the South Branch from Budd Lake, and the North Branch from a swamp in Chester. The confluence of these two rivers join (in Branchburg) to form the Raritan River.
Facing upstream at the confluence, the river on the left enters from the south and is so named the South Branch, despite its origin in the north. The river on the right comes in from the north and is aptly named the North Branch.
If ever a natural wonder needed to be celebrated it would be the Raritan River. Toward that end I always imagined a rough stone marker of an age befitting the river queen’s origin be placed at the confluence, “the meeting place of waters”, Tuck-ramma-hacking”. Informal and primitive to match the uninhibited behavior of this ancient watercourse, a perfect partner to mark the celebrated river’s place of birth: a monument that will be submerged during spring floods and bear the scars of ice flows.
I imagine a bronze plaque bearing the name of the river and its birthdate set among petroglyphs of animal tracks and wild flowers carved into the stone by local artists to represent the community the river serves.
Bringing a dream to reality often turns to fantasy. At least now an attempt is being made to explore the possibility of placing such a stone at the apex of the North and South Branch Rivers. Through a network of well-placed friends, we have approached the state with this request to determine feasibility. A labyrinth of permits and permissions remains to be navigated if given conditional approval. At the very least, the ship has left the dock and we will soon learn if it is seaworthy.
A stone, not yet chosen, has been promised and placement will be included. The river deserves to have a name and birthstone. Erroneously, the North Branch has official signage that declares it to be the Raritan River. If nothing else, it would be a worthy accomplishment to establish the correct identity.
“Like a pine tree linin’ the windin’ road, I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name…..” go the lyrics to a song. What is in a name is respect. It is our nature to treat anonymity differently than familiarity. Walk through a field, not knowing one plant from another, go from point A to point B and we naturally take a straight-line course. Eyes planted on the far side, anything in the way gets stepped upon. Guarantee that if a plant is identified to the trekker, whether it be fleabane or little bluestem, the path will be adjusted to avoid stepping on the now identified plant. So it is with names that emerge from anonymity, they project some kindred link that brings conscious thought to bear. A good reason to identify the Queen of Rivers and engender some new found respect for a natural wonder that will be here after we and our kin are long gone.
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. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Balance open space purchases using County funds with housing offsets to address affordable housing crisis
The OSRP calls for acquisition of land zoned for residential development to preserve farmland and open space, however it does not contain provisions for the off-setting of these purchases with requirements for participating municipalities to increase their residential zoning density or extent. We are concerned that if adopted as currently configured, the OSRP will lead to additional upward price pressure on remaining residentially-zoned undeveloped land, ultimately translating into even higher housing costs and exacerbating the ongoing housing crisis already documented in Middlesex County’s Destination 2040 Master Plan.
We suggest that to mitigate this unintended consequence of two Destination 2040 objectives working against each other the OSRP should require those municipalities receiving Middlesex County Open Space to densify or expand their residential zoning to completely compensate for the reduction in potential buildable units resulting from farmland and/or open space purchases. These offsets should consist of at least a ratio of one created zoned housing unit for every purchased developable housing unit, but with additional credits extended toward housing set-asides for affordable housing, micro-housing, homes for veterans, and age-restricted units.
Contextualize recreational connectivity within the larger region
Any County Greenway considerations should include examination of large-scale network connections for recreation, specifically opportunities to link to multiple East Coast greenway networks via the Middlesex Greenway, the Delaware & Raritan Canal, and the Intracoastal Waterway. The larger metropolitan areas of New York City and Washington D.C. are roughly framed by the Appalachian Trail to the North and the potential alignment of the East Coast Greenway to the South. In addition, the Hudson River Valley to the East, the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to the west all form a larger regional trail system matrix. The Middlesex Greenway and Delaware & Raritan Canal could serve as major junctions for these larger regional networks. Likewise, supporting Blueway access from the Intracoastal Waterway up the Raritan River inland to Middlesex County could strengthen a weak link in the East Coast Blueway system.
Contextualize habitat connectivity within the larger region
Any analysis of ecological habitat and habitat needs must start with a larger perspective. No mention is made within the current OSRP of watershed level planning, migratory behavior linked to flyways and swimways, or other larger ecological planning efforts like those developed by the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program.
Similarly, as the Middlesex County border is so often defined by natural landscape features including watershed ridges and waterways that serve as habitat connectors, opportunities to enhance habitat connectivity must be examined within the additional contexts of neighboring County conservation and preservation efforts.
Present more detailed analysis of use of Middlesex County Conservation/Preservation areas
The current OSRP provides solid summary and analysis of Middlesex County Parks system usage and amenities. However, the network of hiking trails within County and publically owned conservation and preservation areas is under theorized. Considerable opportunities exist to enhance access to areas like Plainsboro Preserve, Ireland Brook, Heathcoate Meadows etc. for passive recreational activities including hiking, cross-country running, and snowshoeing.
Consider the role of Open Space Planning in addressing Pollution Reduction, Flooding and Erosion from an impervious cover reduction perspective
The primary cause of pollution, flooding, and erosion problems in Middlesex County is the quantity of impervious surfaces draining directly to local waterways. To repair our waterways, reduce flooding, and stop erosion, stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces has to be better managed. Through the OSRP Middlesex County has an opportunity to strategically prioritize impervious cover reduction in areas at risk through Open Space planning and other interventions. Middlesex County might consider an additional metric related to impervious cover reduction in their open space and recreation planning activities.
The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership Board of Directors
Science writer Cheryl Lyn Dybas features the Raritan River and the dam removal work of Hydrogeologist John Jengo in her article “Birds Follow Flyways, Fish Navigate Swimways” published this week in the journal BioScience. Ms. Dybas also highlights research by Rutgers biologists Olaf Jensen and Anthony Vastano, who track the impact of dam removal on local fish populations in the Raritan, and cites additional research by Rutgers ecologist Julie Lockwood who is using eDNA (environmental DNA) to monitor the comeback of river herring and American shad in the Raritan. Cool stuff!
Ms. Dybas’ piece provides a fascinating global perspective on habitat connectivity, and contextualizes our local-to-the Raritan dam removal and fish passage efforts in a larger movement to save migratory fish species (World Fish Migration Day is May 21, 2022). We are so grateful for her attention and reporting on this work!
The New Jersey Watershed Watch Network’s Road Salt Impact Study is running for the 2022 winter season. Now in its third year, the NJ Road Salt Impact Study employs the help of hundreds of volunteers across the state of New Jersey to collect water quality data on chloride levels as they change throughout the season. Chloride is a constituent of road salt and tends to increase in fresh waters as salt washes off the roads into our streams and lakes.
To participate in this community science project, pick an accessible spot on a freshwater stream or lake near you. You will return to this spot six times before the end of March to measure how chloride levels change in response to road salting events. Testing takes about 10 minutes, including the time it takes to post your results to the online data portal.
Visit njwatershedwatch.org/roadsalt to learn more about the program and to request your free chloride test strips. Test packets will be mailed out in a few days.