Tag: Lower Raritan Watershed

Race to the Sea

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Imagine a colorful fleet of canoes and kayaks gathered at the confluence of the north and south branch in anticipation of the start of a dash down the Raritan River to the sea. Described as a sojourn, dash, race and tour to accommodate all levels of experience, the finish lines for each class can be a different take out along the way. Classes for racers, timed for placement and simply celebration upon reaching any chosen finish line for the touring dashers. Distance or time become the personal feedback for participants who may wish to improve their last year’s performance. In that way the ‘race’ has the elements of developing into a tradition where dad’s and daughters, moms and sons, look forward to next year and maybe in anticipation, focus on improving their health and physical conditioning.

The paddler’s intimacy with the Raritan brings with it a deeper appreciation of the river, which has existed as more of a concept to most people who may only glimpse it at a distance, while passing over a bridge on the way to work. With intimacy comes consideration and concern about all things impacting the river and its watershed.

The possibilities to grow a network of support for the treasure that is the Raritan River, are limited only by imagination. Photographs and art work inspired by the river’s appearance through the seasons could be celebrated by riverside towns, restaurants, schools and galleries to be dispersed far and wide. Like seeds in the wind, the beauty and appreciation of the Raritan may be an inspiration to awaken distant communities to the riverine treasures in their backyard.

One example of a successful effort to market a once polluted river, is the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, held each April, in Maine. At one time salmon and eels returned from the sea via the Penobscot River to the Kenduskeag stream. By the time Thoreau walked he shores of the Kenduskeag in the mid 19th century, tanneries and flour mills blocked and poisoned the stream and continued well into the 1960s. A group of local canoeists came up with the idea for a canoe race to showcase the Kenduskeag and bring attention to its health. Eventually the race expanded to be televised and enjoyed by hundreds of viewers and attendees. The salmon run is making a comeback and even Sports Illustrated found room on its cover to celebrate the longest early season canoe race in New England. I participated in this race for eighteen years and carried the seeds of inspiration back to the Raritan. It is no small coincidence that Henry David Thoreau left indelible footprints along the Raritan River and the Kenduskeag for future generations to follow.

The crowd of streamside supporters bundled dry and warm, cheer on canoeists who await the countdown for the start of the Kenduskeag Stream Race. The countdown to the start of the race, 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.gets the adrenaline flowing. This is a scenario that may someday be played out at the confluence of the Raritan River.

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 jjmish57@msn.com.

Project Update: South River, NJ Ecosystem Restoration

On February 24, 2022 the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Princeton Hydro and Middlesex County Office of Planning hosted a Virtual Outreach Session to share concept plan development for the restoration of a 165-acre coastal eco-park along the South River in New Jersey.

During this webinar project partners discuss ecosystem restoration; contextualize the site and its historic and current conditions; provide drone images of the site; and discuss proposed public access opportunities, recreational priorities, ecological enhancement (including identifying optimal nest platform locations for Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons), and more.

This project is supported through a $249,639 in National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to:

“Conduct an ecosystem restoration site assessment and design for 165 acres of tidal marshes and transitional forest in New Jersey’s Raritan River Watershed. Project will result in an engineering plan with a permit-ready design to reduce coastal inundation and erosion along about 2.5 miles of shoreline for neighboring flood-prone communities and enhance breeding and foraging habitat for 10 state-listed threatened and endangered avian species.”

Raritan River Birthstone

Article and photos by Joe Mish

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.  

The spot for eventual placement of a “birthplace of the Raritan” marker

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 jjmish57@msn.com.

Raritan River’s “Swimways” are featured in BioScience!

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!

Interested in learning more? Read John Jengo’s wonderful essay series on dam removal in the Raritan Basin. Access tools and resources to better understand habitat connectivity planning in New Jersey in a blog post by LRWP intern Emily Koai. Learn about the LRWP’s non-dam-removal plans to simultaneously improve habitat connectivity and advance resilience planning in this article about our South River Ecosystem Restoration Project. And save the date Thursday May 12 for a special webinar presentation by Isabelle Stinnette, Restoration Program Manager, NY-NJ Harbor and Estuary Program. Ms. Stinnette will speak on Restoring aquatic habitat through climate-ready infrastructure in the Lower Raritan

Can You Imagine an Entire River System?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

An elephant is like a tree, No! an elephant is like a snake, No! an elephant is like a wall. So claimed the three of the six blind men from Indostan, when they were asked to describe an elephant. In this case their blindness is representative of a loss of perspective and in that way, reflects on our nature to define the world into segmented parcels.  

Being gravity bound to the earth provides a limited view and so, it makes sense to parse the world via man made contractions. For instance, take a local county road, built to traverse through several counties, towns and cities. To ensure continuity it was given a numeric designation. County route 514 is an example. However, as it crosses geopolitical borders it gets christened with a local name. Amwell Road, Hamilton Boulevard, Woodbridge Avenue and Main Street, etcetera, collectively are the same road, county route 514.  

It is human nature to tease out pieces of the whole to better grasp an extensive subject. Our education system has honed specialization of studies to create unique disciplines and professions, each treated as unrelated kin. 

Over time we have lost perspective of the whole and dismantled the larger puzzle into its component pieces, forgetting that all disciples are related and taken together, are additive and complementary. Formal education has handed each disciple of its hallowed halls a critical piece of the puzzle. Much like a treasure hunt, where a map is torn into pieces and handed out to individuals to ensure all participants must bring their scraps of paper together to find the hidden gold.  

When we look at rivers, our earth bound position shapes our view. We see the north branch of a river apart from the south branch, each stream that feeds into a larger waterway gets a name. As a watercourse passes a political jurisdiction, that flow of water may, in some unusual cases, get a name change, not unlike our numbered county routes. Trace a stream back to its source and discover it doesn’t get a name on a map until it crosses a roadway. 

I had the opportunity at the invitation of No Water No Life founder Alison Jones to accompany her and Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership president, Dr Heather Fenyk on a complimentary flight provided by LightHawk to photograph the entire Raritan watershed from its two main sources all the way to Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook. 

The transition from a ground dweller to eagle was as breathtaking as it was revealing. Instead of only seeing puzzle pieces, the entire picture of the watershed miraculously appeared. Each segment lost its defined edges as the resolution increased; as if going from a pixilated image to a crystal clear picture. 

Though intimately familiar with each section of the river, I was lost when asked where we were at any given moment. I tried to rely on referencing the last known position but the speed at which we travelled, and the new cloud high perspective was surprisingly disorienting. It takes about an hour and ten minutes to drive to Sandy Hook from the point of the confluence of the Raritan and its main branches, it took only a few minutes to fly there. That alteration of time and distance also serves to overcome the linear relationship of diminishing interest over increasing distance, a lingering, innate human survival mechanism focused on serving the moment to save the day.      

The value of gaining a new perspective, where the threads reveal the weave of the cloth, provided an avenue for a holistic approach to temper human impact on the watershed as an entity. A change to any geo-politically defined segment must now be considered as systemic rather than an isolated local impact. Impervious surfaces increase upstream from housing developments and parking lots to flush more water into the river and exacerbate extreme weather flooding. Crops planted in the flood plain right to the edge of the river, cause erosion and silt build up to force flood waters further from the main river course.  

A good lesson to remember is the literary relationship of the word river to rivalry. The word for people drinking from the same stream or river was rival in French and rivalis in Latin.  When a downstream village’s drinking water was contaminated by the village upstream, it created a rivalry. Even in early times, the wisdom of what flows downstream was well ingrained in riverine communities, a lesson somewhat lost today. 

In lieu of boarding a plane, fire up your imagination. Imagination is a magic carpet that transcends available opportunity, bad weather and poor visibility to deliver needed perspective. Imagine if you can the water in the entire Raritan River watershed replaced with blue injection molded latex as a giant hand reaches down and grabs the main trunk of the Raritan River, pulls it from the earth, and holds it aloft as if it were a giant oak tree, its crown represented by the ocean. The fine mass of hairy threads leading into primary roots and finally forming a main trunk.  See the river as a tree, its form and function more similar than different.

River’s watershed or tree, both a conduit for flowing water, perhaps an alternative way to grasp the concept of the extent of a watershedOverlay this image on a land map to visualize a watershed, whose dimensions are typically presented in incomprehensible numeric values. Original artwork by Richard Reo

Loss of perspective is a demon that transcends all issues and stunts efficient problem solving, leads to false conclusions, lost time, and energy.  

Perspective may be gained in several creative ways, though it takes imagination and an open mind to intellectually take flight to see the whole picture. Once we realize our world is one entity and the smallest change has a cascading effect far downstream beyond where we figured the ripples terminated, we are better prepared to approach business, technology, relationships, education and nature while promoting the sage advice of ‘first do no harm”.

New York City as seen from the lower Raritan river begs a hand to reach out and touch it, as opposed to driving for hours on congested toll roads and across bridges. When distance and time reduced, it brings a new perspective and increased interestFlight compliment of LightHawk and No Water, No Life.

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 jjmish57@msn.com.

Raritan River Pathogens Results for 8.12.2021

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County run a volunteer pathogens monitoring program from May to September every Summer. On Thursdays we collect water quality samples at 6 non-bathing public access beaches along the Raritan River, and report out the results on Friday afternoons. Our results for 8.12.2021 are a mixed bag. Numbers for the upstream sites (Riverside Park, Rutgers Boathouse, and Edison Boathouse) are high, whereas downstream toward the Raritan Bay the numbers improve (Ken Buchanan Waterfront Park, South Amboy Waterfront Park, Perth Amboy’s 2nd Street Park). As always, if you choose to recreate on the water this weekend, stay safe, and be sure to wash your hands!  See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

A few additional things to share:

#1 Holy smokes was it a hot day for monitoring yesterday! If you are out in this crazy heat, stay hydrated!

#2: LRWP volunteers and friends are AMAZING!!

Gratitude to: Dorina Cardinale, Janet Sacklow, Jason Acevedo, Andrew Gehman and Maya Fenyk for sampling yesterday. And special thanks to Jesse Stratowski with Rutgers Recreation for opening things up at the boathouse for us!

Thanks also to LRWP Water Quality Outreach Project Coordinator Jocelyn Palomino and Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program Steward Julisa Collado (and her father Jose) for coordinating a fun youth outreach event at our last stop in Perth Amboy.

We enjoyed catching up with friends who joined us for outreach: a pair of white swans, Elizabeth Pyshnik with Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, Renee Skelton with Perth Amboy SWIM, Raritan Riverkeepers Bill Schultz & Lorraine McCartney, and Michael DuFour with Sky Horse Tech LLC who brought the very cool “water drone” prototype, designed for in-channel sampling (see photos).

Pathogens Monitoring Results for 7.15.2021

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County run a volunteer pathogens monitoring program from May to September every Summer. On Thursdays we collect water quality samples at 6 non-bathing public access beaches along the Raritan River, and report out the results on Friday afternoons. Our results for 7.15.2021 look pretty good! See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

Happy Weekend!

We had a great team out for pathogens monitoring, and put all hands to work catching samples, documenting habitat, and recording data. THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!!

Scent by May

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The gentle month of May steps out of character to finally terminate winter’s lease on the land. May does what March and April were unable to do and does it with authority and grace. 

Winter has been served an ironclad, last frost warning, and nature celebrates. Delicate plant life now bursts from its dormancy to join their hardier kin who dared unpredictable early spring conditions. 

Floral scent now fills the morning air to conjure pleasant memories of warm weather suppressed by winter doldrums.  

Walking through the meadow grass, canoe balanced on my shoulders, the scent of multiflora rose fills the air. My path meanders around these thorny bushes and prickly eastern redcedar as if I were bouncing around in a pinball machine. 

As I walked into the wind, aromatic meadow grass replaced the floral scent of the scattered bouquets of wild rose. A three-strand barbed wire fence, intended to keep generations of dairy cows honest, now delineated the lush meadow, but could not contain the whimsical direction of the perfumed air. I slid the boat under the sagging bottom wire, laid face down on the grass and inched to the other side. 

The river was flowing gently, sun sparkling off its rippled surface which lay just beneath a parallel current of air which carried, intermittent quantums of the unmistakable perfume of black locust blossoms. 

Though my olfactory senses were immersed in the current of scent, I had to walk further into the river to set my boat in water deep enough to float, with me aboard. I had to walk-in ankle-deep water to the main channel and each step sent a cloud of muddy water downstream, while upstream, the water ran clear. A pickerel frog escaped my intrusion by lying motionless on the bottom of the shallow water. His spots blending in so well among the small stones. Fresh water clams showed telltale depressions in the mud that revealed their presence. I stopped for a moment to pull up a clam, check to see if it was alive and set it back down to watch it bury itself out of sight.

I had been dragging my boat by a short bow line through the shallows. As I near the main flow and deeper water the current swung the stern downstream. I pulled the boat back up to the center seat to set my paddle in against the forward thwart and snapped my spare into clips mounted on the seats’ pedestal. Then secured my pack behind the center seat with a figure eight knot and two half hitches. Swinging the boat around with the bow now facing downstream, I gingerly got in, sat down, picked up the paddle and just drifted for a long minute before I made a correction. I began to slowly paddle downstream, careful to take in a 360 view. The clear water, blue, cloudless sky, both lush overgrown river banks and the water ahead all held my interest.  

May is the time of year to see young creatures of all species and thier parents gathering food to feed hungry pups or kits freshly weaned.  

The first week in May I saw and photographed a mink transferring her kits to a new den. That was certainly unexpected. Fox will also move pups from one den to another.  One den with six pups, situated in the pasture, was abandoned after two weeks. The pups were moved further uphill and closer to human habitation. As the meadow was really a flood plain, the vixen made a smart move, perhaps for the wrong reason, but her pups did survive the next week’s flood.

A high vertical bank, perhaps constructed by a muskrat and remodeled by a groundhog, now served as harbor for a daydreaming raccoon. A masked face momentarily peered out as a face might be seen glancing out behind the sheer drapery of a window in a high-rise city building. Yellow, white and purple flowers screened the den’s doorway.  

Further downstream a flightless great horned owl perched in a tangle of a fallen tree beneath a red shale cliff. It was now old enough to ‘branch’. The stage where the owl leaves the nest and begins to walk, climb and flap its wings, strengthening them for a first attempt at flight.

The sights sounds and smells that appear in late spring under the banner of May, whether from the perspective of the rivers or backyard gardens, are the first floral wrapped gift box, filled to the brim with new life, to be opened after winter’s reign has ended. 

Be Prepared: March is Flood Safety Month

Although abundant snow fell in New Jersey’s Lower Raritan Watershed in January and February, March is still the wettest month. Good preparation and knowing what to do in a flood will increase your safety and chances of survival if it happens in your area. It can also help minimize potential flood damage and accelerate recovery efforts.

Flood Preparedness: Before, During, After a Flood

  1. Turn around, don’t drown!

As little as six inches of moving water can sweep an adult off their feet, and just 12 inches of it can carry a small car. A foot of swiftly moving water can also carry away an SUV or truck. Even if you think you know how deep a particular part of the road is, it is better to avoid driving or walking through it altogether. It’s not just the depth alone, either — there’s also the potential for hazardous debris or downed active power lines in or nearby the water. Especially at night after a significant rainfall or flooding event when your vision is not as strong, play it safe and find an alternate route until the water recedes.

2. Sign up for local news and community alerts

The Weather Channel provides free forecasts, radar, and severe weather alerts on their desktop site. The Emergency Email & Wireless Network and Weather Underground offer free email subscriptions of weather and other alerts. By signing up for push alerts to your cellphone, home phone, or email, you can get up-to-the-minute information about flooding. NOAA Radio also broadcasts weather alerts around the nation, and local meteorologists send out alerts when heavy rains or coastal flooding is possible.

3. Know the risks where you live

Ask neighbors about flooding risks. Visit your local library to find hyper-local topographical maps of your community, or use the USGS TopoView Viewer tool to get an idea of where nearby water bodies are so you can estimate your chance of being directly affected by flooding. Check your flood insurance policy to ensure appropriate coverage. The LRWP relies on the USGS flood gauge at Bound Brook to give us a sense for local conditions.

You can also take a page from the LRWP’s book of landscape decoding and #lookfortheriver by observing water flows, tracing land contours, and re-discover our buried streams using historic maps.

4. Prepare a “go kit” for flood season and other emergencies

Do you have an evacuation plan in place for your family and pets in cases of fire or other threats? Does it include a “go kit”? A “go kit” is a great way to always stay prepared. Some items you can keep in this waterproof kit are:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Water bottles
  • Sleeping bag and blankets for each person
  • A full change of clothes for each person, and an extra set of masks
  • Important documents sealed in a waterproof case
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Pet food
  • Baby formula
  • A 30-day supply of any necessary medications

You can find a full list of items that are good to have at the ready year-round here.

The actions listed above are just some of many actions each of us can take to prevent loss of lives, jobs and homes in the face of flooding. We also must start “thinking regionally” about preparedness, which will help us all be more resilient in a climate uncertain future.

COVID-19 showed what can happen when our states and nation is under-prepared for a pandemic. The recent storms in Texas give us insights into how we can prepare for future weather related crises. Regions that are not prepared for climate change will suffer lost lives, jobs, and homes. This is especially a concern for coastal communities, including many in our Lower Raritan Watershed.

For example, we do not yet have a true flood risk assessment for the Lower Raritan. FEMA flood maps are incomplete, and often inaccurate. And many homes in Lower Raritan communities like South River, Sayreville and Woodbridge are excluded from flood plains for political reasons. Not surprisingly, the maps and processes that communicate risks associated with flooding are often highly politicized. The risk maps often reflect the politics of property developers in flood plains, pressures to keep property values high, and fears of the overwhelming cost of adapting at-risk homes to rising seas and flooding, more than the actual risk.

As part of #ResilientNJ, the LRWP and regional partners are working to conduct an accurate regional risk assessment to understand the magnitude of flood risks and threats for our area. From there we aim to make plans to protect lives, homes and employment that may be vulnerable to flooding, and likewise seek to identify ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts. In coming months the LRWP and County and municipal partners will launch a website, outreach campaign, app and more to engage the larger Middlesex/Lower Raritan community in regional resilience planning. We look forward to working with you!

Weston Mill Dam Removal

Article and photos by John W. Jengo

The Weston Mill Dam and the former Weston Mill gristmill and sawmill site are located approximately 1.5 miles upstream of the Millstone River’s confluence with the Raritan River, and immediately downstream of the Weston Causeway (Wilhousky Street) Bridge in the Borough of Manville and the Township of Franklin, Somerset County, New Jersey. The dam crest length was approximately 112.5 feet long and there was a concrete approach apron that ranged in thickness from 5 to 6.75-inches that extended 17.5 to 18.5 feet upriver of the dam spillway. The location of the mill was depicted on early Colonial-era and Revolutionary War military field maps, and the mill and dam were picturesque landmarks that were often photographed by local residents, including images included in the book Franklin Township [NJ] – Images of America, published in 1997.

Through an intensive deed search, I determined that a gristmill and dam were established on the east bank of the Millstone River at the project area circa 1747, most probably built by Abraham Brokaw, and the mill was subsequently involved in a Revolutionary “Forage War” skirmish between British and American forces on January 20, 1777 while under the ownership of Abraham Van Nest.  Recovery of two cornerstones during 1983 salvage operations suggest major mill building and rebuilding efforts occurred in 1803 and 1844 by John M. Bayard and Isaac R. Cornell, respectively.  Though the mill remained active at this site into the early twentieth century (it was the most productive mill in the Millstone River/Stony Brook drainage), under various private owners and incorporations (Weston Mill Company, Inc.; Community Flour Mill and Grain Company; Union Mills Company, Inc.), and the dam underwent significant structural repairs between circa 1922 and circa 1948 by its last owner (Wilbur Smith), it ultimately fell into disuse and disrepair. On May 31, 1982, the mill building partially collapsed into the Millstone River. Mill artifact salvage operations were initiated on June 25, 1983 but were abandoned when arson claimed the collapsed structure on July 7, 1983.

When I first began assessing this dam in 2009 as a candidate for removal, the Weston Mill site included the brownstone and concrete foundation remains of a gristmill that had enclosed a turbine room (formerly the water wheel pit) and a tailrace room, and there were associated powertrain components scattered throughout the site, including multiple bevel gears, possible mortise and pin gears, sprocket gears, drive shafts, counter shafts, flat belt pulleys, and other mill-related power-train apparatuses. A concrete coring project conducted in August 2015 at five representative locations on the dam approach apron (the same effort that determined the thickness of the apron) revealed two concrete approach aprons, which suggested that the dam was reinforced or rebuilt with concrete in two different periods in the early- to mid-twentieth century and that this run-of-the-river dam may have been built on top of a timber crib dam of unknown age.

Routine visits to the dam site over the next eight years would indicate that beginning in 2015, the eastern 78 feet of the dam crest (i.e., the top of the spillway) and spillway began to noticeably subside and detach from the concrete approach apron, placing undue stress on the riverward mill foundation wall to the east.  By mid-2017, the collapsing dam crest and spillway had subsided almost to the level of the downstream pool elevation, had deflected outward some five feet downriver, and in doing so, the flow of the river was redirected toward the mill ruins on the east bank, potentially causing adverse effects to the mill foundation and complicating the dam removal.

The dam removal and the engineering plans were re-designed to include emplacing scour protection around the Weston Mill foundation walls to arrest the damage to the ruins and preserve the remaining fabric of the site for future study.  The first step in the dam removal process, which commenced on August 14, 2017, was to initially breach a portion of the dam to reduce the differential head between the upstream and downstream pools. The initial breach width of 35 feet, located near the center point of the dam, produced the desired upstream pool drawdown and a relatively low current velocity through the breach. Once the upstream impoundment had drained, the contact between the concrete approach apron and the riverward mill foundation wall was accessible to be saw cut to isolate the apron from the mill wall prior to further demolition. This was done to ensure that neither the weight of the demolition excavator or the vibration of the hydraulic hammer would destabilize the riverward foundation wall.

After the saw cut was completed, the concrete approach apron, an underlying concrete sub-apron, and dam spillway were carefully detached and removed.  Imported rip rap was then emplaced around the mill foundation walls. My experience working on the rivers of this watershed indicated that natural sedimentation from storm events would eventually blanket and in-fill the rip rap, enhancing the stability of the scour protection armament. Finally, a restored river channel thalweg were excavated and contoured appropriately.  It was during these excavations that segments of a timber crib dam, secured to the river bed by using 17.5-inch to 20.5-inch long, 1.125-inch square iron spikes, were extracted that clearly indicated that the pre-concrete dam structure was a timber crib construction.  Three primary types of roughly square timbers believed to be part of the timber crib dam were identified: 13-foot long lap jointed foundation logs with iron spikes, 9.25- to 9.75-foot timbers with two mortise joints (some with intact dowels), and 3.8-foot timbers with tenons at one end.  Several timbers of this historical structure were saved and donated to the Borough of Manville, Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, and NJDEP, who had purchased the dam site in 2013 from a private owner, an acquisition that allowed the dam removal to proceed.

Monitoring of the river reach above the former Weston Mill Dam in spring 2018 following the August 2017 dam removal found definitive evidence of successful American shad spawning, an astonishing and long-awaited result given this river reach had effectively been blocked to migratory fish for over 270 years.  Five juvenile shad averaging 4.3 inches in length were found 4.5 miles upstream of the dam at the base of Blackwells Mills Dam during a monitoring visit, highlighting yet again the dam removals can yield near-instantaneous positive results even after centuries of impeding fish migration and spawning.

Video of the Weston Mill Dam removal can be viewed here:

Endnote: Because of the archaeological discoveries made before and during the dam removal, and the rich cultural history of Weston Mill, a standalone video on the History of Weston Mill was developed and can be viewed here:

John W. Jengo, PG, LSRP is a licensed Professional Geologist in several Northeastern and Southeastern states and a Licensed Site Remediation Professional in New Jersey. John works as a Principal Hydrogeologist in an environmental consulting firm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He has degrees in geology from Rutgers University (1980) and the University of Delaware (1982). Over the last 30 years, he has conducted the characterization and remediation of large, complex contaminated industrial sites throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. He played a key role in Natural Resource Damage (NRD) assessments that led to groundbreaking legal settlements to remove numerous low head dams on the Raritan and Millstone Rivers to restore historically significant migratory fish spawning runs. As technical project manager, he planned, permitted, and successfully managed the removal of the Calco Dam, the Robert Street Dam, and the Nevius Street Dam between 2008-2013, and the removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River in 2017, along with leading the archaeological investigation of the former Weston Mill in the Borough of Manville and Franklin Township.

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