Tag: New Jersey

The Lawrence Brook and its Mills: Introduction

Author: Richard Walling

From its headwaters in the Devil’s Brook Swamp at Monmouth Junction, to its outlet on the Raritan, Lawrence Brook once powered six mills from Deans to New Brunswick. Over the next few months local historian Richard Walling will share his research (including photos and maps) into the history of the Lawrence Brook Mills sites and their relationship to our Raritan River and Lower Raritan Watershed.

Richard is pictured here at the Farrington Lake step-dam, the site of a mill dating to the 1750s. He writes: “By the way, if the Brits had continued their 1778 withdrawal from Philly towards New Brunswick, what developed as the Battle of Monmouth could have taken place along the Lawrence Brook.

This is the first in a series about mill sites along the Lawrence Brook.

Let us begin at the beginning: Geologically speaking, the Lawrence Brook generally separates two types of land forms in central NJ: the Piedmont & the Inner Coastal Plain. Brunswick shale is to the north of it, and loam to the south of it. The famed Middlesex County clay district extends westerly along the southern bank of the stream, at least as far west as Farrington Lake. Many of us remember digging gray clay from the shoreline near the broken dam in present-day Bicentennial Park (East Brunswick).

The Lenape called the stream, piskëpekw [-w is a whispered voiceless w], meaning “dark water”. Whether this alluded to the water’s color, to the shadowed waterway caused by steep banks, or even possibly from it’s headwaters at Devil’s Brook Swamp (did the Lenape call Devil’s Brook by the same connotation in their own language?). The land form of a neck, where Rutgers Village is located, was called ramawùnk (Ramawon in English), meaning “under the hill” or “under the bank”. Translations are provided by Lenape linguist, Ray Whritenour.

Native American artifacts are found all along the stream’s course and a path still runs along its eastern portion in the vicinity of Rte. 18 near the NJ Turnpike (Westons Mills). When a parking lot was being constructed on the Cook College campus, a cache of projectile points was found. The high ground at places like von Thun’s farm in South Brunswick, and Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick once hosted villages. I know many folks who picked up artifacts in East Brunswick along Farrington Lake.

The earliest land transfer was from Native leaders to Thomas Lawrence, The Baker, a NY city merchant. As you can see from the circa 1685 map of the area, his holdings were affirmed by the East Jersey Board of Proprietors.

Map from 1685 showing the Lawrence Brook in relation to the Rariton (sic) River, South River, and land holdings of the time, source: https://www.loc.gov/item/97683564/

Early East Jersey Proprietary Period

June 7, 1677 Conveyance Record (see copy below).

TO: Thomas Lawrence (Baker) (of New York)

FROM: Indians; Isarick; Kesyaes; Metapis; Pehawan; Queramacke; Turantecos

CONVEYANCE. Land called Ramawon on the south side of the Raritan River. [East Jersey].

Tract of land called Ramawon bounded by the Raritan and Pisscopeck Rivers.May 1, 1678

TO: Thomas Lawrence (Baker) (of New York; [Lawrence the Baker])

FROM: George Carteret (Sir) (Lord Proprietor); Philip Carteret (Esquire) (Governor of the Province)

PATENT. 1300 acres. South side Raritan River; a creek called PiscopeckIn 1693, the creek, now called Lawrence Creek (Brook), was granted to Peter Sonman, running from near Rocky Hill, all the way to Thomas Lawrence’s grant along the Raritan.

Oct. 20, 1693 TO: Peter Sonmans (Merchant) (of London; Proprietor; Son of Arent Sonmans, deceased, and Frances Sonmans; Brother of Johana Sonmans and Rachell Sonmans)

FROM: Proprietors of the Province of East New Jersey

CONVEYANCE. 38600 acres. Between Milston and Raritan Rivers; beginning at the Partition Line between East and West Jersey; opposite the foot of Rockie Hill; on both sides of Lawrence Creek; to the South River; Middlesex County.

June 7, 1677 Conveyance Record. NOTE: Isarick may have been the father of Wequeheela, who resided in present-day Spotswood.

The 1781 map below, drawn by a British Army cartographer, is a general depiction of the stream, and of George’s Road (present-day Rte. 130 in part), George’s Road led from George Rescarrick’s Tavern (circa 1686) in Cranbury to New Brunswick. Below Cranbury, it led to Hightstown, Allentown, Crosswicks and points south. Longfield’s Mill is where Rte. 18 crosses the stream, a stretch known as Westons Mill.

Rich’s next installment will be on the Headwaters of the Lawrence Brook.

Eastern Potash: A Chimney in the Woods

Article by Walter Stochel, President Edison Greenways

As you travel on the New Jersey Turnpike and cross the Raritan river on the Basilone Bridge, look to the south along the Edison riverfront. You will see a large masonry chimney sticking up out of a forest. How that chimney got there is the story of an ambitious industrial project that started during World War I and was never completed as planned. Then World War II took the plant in a new direction.

In 1917 the lower Raritan River in Edison (then Raritan Township) had not changed much since the first settlers arrived in the 1660s. It was still mostly salt hay marshes that flooded twice a day with the tides and a few docks, for clay and sand mines to ship their excavations to brick plants in Sayreville, Woodbridge, and elsewhere.

World War I changed the riverfront in Edison forever. In the winter of 1917/18, the US Army acquired thousands of acres along the Raritan, and built the Raritan Arsenal. The Arsenal property was diked and ditched. A huge dock was built so that munitions could be loaded on barges and ships and sent to France for the American Expeditionary Forces. Upriver, a proposal to build a large industrial complex was announced in 1918 to great fanfare by the New Brunswick Board of Trade. The Eastern Potash plant was to be located off of Meadow Rd on former Callard farm, a 55-acre tract of land in the Piscatawaytown section of Edison.

The Eastern Potash plant was huge. A barge canal 100’ wide and 1600’ long was dug on the north bank of the Raritan to access the site. A $150,000 traveling crane was built over the canal so barge loads of greensand could be scooped out and moved to the plant for processing. The main building was 2 stories tall, 300’ wide, and 600’ long. A powerhouse was built along with 12 digesters. The biggest kilns in America would be in the plant. A brick plant was built on the site to produce bricks for the plant’s other buildings and for sale. Waste sand and clay from potash production would be used to make bricks.

The plan was to produce 1,000 tons of potash daily, using 2,000 tons of lime per day. In October the company expected operations to start by the first of the year in 1919. To access the plant, the Lehigh Valley Railroad laid two miles of track. The freight station at the plant was named “Greensand”. Greensand is a natural soil amendment also known as glauconite and is a great source of potassium that helps plants grow. The greensand that they were going to mine in the Matawan area contained 7-9% potash. Why build this plant at all? Prior to WWI, Germany shipped large amounts of potash to the US. With this supply cut off, American potash sources needed to be developed. In March 1919 ground was broken for the $2,000,000 plant. A man named C.R. Blood was placed in charge of plant construction. Excavators began digging out the canal on the north shore of the Raritan River.

Due to the war and shortages of materials work was slow on the plant. It was not until July 1919 that building supplies started to arrive, and in November 1919 Bethlehem Fabricators were hiring laborers to build the plant at .60 per hour. Little did they know, that the plant was doomed from the start. World War I ended in November 1918, much earlier than American military planners anticipated. When the conflict ended, trade between the warring nations resumed. By 1921 Germany had started shipping potash to the United States at a much lower cost than it took to produce it here.

Potash production at the Eastern Potash plant along the Raritan River required a massive effort of transporting tons of greensand by barge from downriver and tons of limestone by rail from North Jersey, then unloading and processing all of it. When the process was complete, bricks would be made from the tons of waste from the potash production process. A powerhouse with a large chimney was built in order to power potash production. The original plan was to bring in tons of coal, but the new rail line lacked the capacity to move the coal to the site, in addition to the limestone, and ship back out the finished potash. So, the developers of the plant came up with the idea of using oil to power the plant. An oil tank farm was built further up Meadow Road behind the plant, and tankers full of oil from Mexico would dock at the plant and unload. This operation became known as the Raritan Refining Company, a subsidiary of Eastern Potash. However, the Raritan River was not deep enough for the tankers. So, they had to dock at Bayway on the Arthur Kill, and oil was to be barged to the plant.

Billed as the “largest potash plant in the world,” the plant was highly touted in the New Brunswick newspapers with 58 articles mentioning the plant in 1920 alone, including large advertisements asking New Brunswick residents to invest, and promising their investment would yield heavy returns on stock. Artistic renderings of the plant were shown. Shortages of housing for workers were projected. Construction of the plant was progressing, with opening promised in mid-year, then late year.

1921 began with continued positive news about Eastern Potash. In February there were prospects for early operation of the plant, and work on the refining plant continued. In July the refining plant was ready for operation. The powerhouse generated electricity which was sold to Granton Chemical next door. By August there were complaints about oil pollution from the plant at the Tea Pot Inn beach just up the river. By the end of 1921, the lime kilns were completed and the plant cost $4,000,000. It had been three years since the plant was proposed, and not one ounce of potash had ever been produced.

The end of the Eastern Potash Plant began in 1922, with the appeal and non- payment of property taxes to Raritan Township. Contractors began to sue to get paid, and finally large stockholders sued, calling Eastern Potash a “stock swindling operation.” In 1923 Eastern Potash went bankrupt. One lawsuit by a stockholder said that the plant never “turned a wheel” and the president of the company was making over $100,000 per year. C.R. Blood, the construction superintendent of the plant, resigned and moved to Florida. Eastern Potash went into receivership, and a successor company called Building Materials Corporation acquired the plant with the plan to make bricks.

Bricks Will Save the Plant
Brick making operations started on August 17, 1925 at a rate of 100,000 bricks per day, with the bricks being used for buildings on the plant site. The Home News reported that the plant produced 150,000 bricks per day in 1927. The Aero Corporation announced in 1928 that they would be making airplane engines in the old potash plant, but this did not happen. Aerial photographs from 1931 show a barge in the canal, a pile of materials on the dock, and a loop railroad track around the plant. The powerhouse and chimney are also visible.

Thomas Edison Company Steps In

In 1932 the plant was bought by Metropolitan Concrete Co., a subsidiary of Edison Portland Cement. Plans were to use the plant to make 1,000,000 barrels of Portland Cement per year. In 1933, Edison estimated it would cost $500,000 to adapt the buildings for the manufacture of cement. In April 1935 it was anticipated that the plant would open in 3 months, but it never did. Despite nine years of planning work, the company did not produce any cement at the plant. In 1941, it was announced that the plant would be sold to the Chilean Trading Company for $134,000, who had plans to dismantle the plant and ship it to Chile.

Sailing away to Cuba

America entered World War II on December 7, Suddenly, there was a great need for steel and nickel for the war. The main source of nickel for US war industries was in Canada, but it was not enough. In 1942 a new source was developed in Cuba, but there was no plant to process the nickel. The Defense Plant Corporation financed Nicaro Nickel Corporation to build a processing plant in Cuba, but there was no steel available.

Along the Raritan there was the abandoned potash plant with over 1400 tons of structural steel in it and a large gantry crane. So, the Defense Plant
Corporation bought the old potash plant for $71,000, dismantled it, transported it by rail to Florida, and then shipped it to Cuba where it was used in the nickel processing plant. Even the giant gantry crane was moved to Cuba.

The new plant produced nickel, a material vital in armor plating in ships, tanks, and airplanes for the US war effort, and remained in operation until 2012. While back in Raritan the only thing they did not take was the chimney, which is still visible today sticking out of the woods along the Raritan River, a silent memorial to an industrial dream of the early 20th
century. To view a movie of the construction and operation of the plant, including the gantry crane in Cuba, go to:

https://archive.org/details/nicaro_nickel_company

Copyright 2020 Metuchen-Edison Historical Society go to www.mtuchen-edisonhistsoc.org for more information

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.

Nevius Street Dam Removal

Article and photos by John W. Jengo

Nevius Street Dam before removal

The Nevius Street Dam at Raritan River Mile 27.0 was located just south of the Borough of Raritan, Somerset County, New Jersey.  This dam, also referred to as the “Duke Dam,” was constructed in 1901 by James Buchanan (Buck) Duke, the tobacco and hydropower industrialist, for aesthetic and recreational purposes as part of his development of Duke Farms, a 2,740-acre estate in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey.  Careful examination of the dam indicated that it was constructed of dressed stone blocks arranged in a stair-step fashion set into a concrete core foundation that was 195 feet long, approximately 2.5 feet high from sill to crest, and approximately 6.5 feet in width. The picturesque dam and dam impoundment were often photographed in its early years, and some of these photographs were reproduced in the book Raritan [NJ] – Images of America, published in 2003.

The Nevius Street Dam was subsequently converted into an essential part of the Duke Farms water supply system when water pumping withdrawals from the adjacent Raritan Water Power Canal were discontinued in the early 1970s (this Canal water supply system was the original source of water that was pumped up to Duke Farms for irrigation and for circulation through a series of man-made lakes and waterfalls).  This conversion was accomplished by retrofitting a water intake grate on the north side of the dam, and installing a 205-foot long, 30-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipeline that conveyed surface water downriver into a subterranean chamber under the Duke Farms Powerhouse building, which was then pumped up to the Duke Farms reservoir (from there, the water cascaded through the numerous lakes and waterfalls on the property).  This modification allowed Duke Farms to utilize the same infrastructure that had previously provided both hydroelectric power and water supply to the property, although now that the surface water was flowing into the river-level penstock of the Powerhouse rather than falling from a substantial height from the Raritan Water Power Canal, the turbines of the Powerhouse were bypassed and, thus, fell silent.

In the runup to its removal, the Nevius Street Dam was still providing a vital service and with the pending removal of the dam, Duke Farms would be without a water supply for their renowned lake system.  As part of the arrangement to remove the dam, I performed a hydrogeological study at the property in 2012 to determine if new groundwater supply wells could be installed to replace the Raritan River surface water supply.   This alternative proved to be feasible, although it would not be possible to replace the approximately 750,000 to 1 million gallons that was typically pumped up to the Duke Farms reservoir each day.  The tradeoff of a lower volume of groundwater was that the groundwater would be free of high concentrations of total phosphorus, ammonia-N, and nitrate-N that are present in the Raritan River, an impairment caused by runoff of fertilizer and manure from agricultural fields, suburban lawns, and golf courses.   The Duke Farms Natural Resources team were expectant that the introduction of groundwater without excess nutrients might curtail the growth of curly-leaf pondweed and filamentous mat algae that has afflicted the lakes in the modern era.  

The installation of two groundwater water supply production wells was conducted in 2012 and 2016 and befitting Duke Farms’ commitment to the concept of “adaptive reuse,” I and the Duke Farms team conceived of a plan to repurpose underground pipelines that were built in 1909-1910 to connect the new production wells to the reservoir rather than excavate and install thousands of feet of new pipeline through the beautiful and pristine landscape of the property.  Detailed analyses of an original 1911 as-built construction drawing revealed an elaborate underground pipeline network not only leading from the Powerhouse to the reservoir that the current dam pumping system was utilizing, but also a second, intertwined pipeline network that formerly conveyed water from a long-lost Recirculation Plant along the Raritan River that had recovered water after it had flowed through the lake system and recirculated it back to the reservoir.  This pipeline was relocated in the field, flushed along its re-purposed length to remove accumulated sediment from its original operation, had its various values replaced, and was then connected to the new groundwater well field.  This reconfiguration of the water supply system has proven to be a great success and it allowed for the removal of the Nevius Street Dam, which was accomplished between July 24-July 31, 2013.

Nevius Street Excavator – Initial Breach
Nevius Street Excavator – Final Breach

In closing, I would like to acknowledge former Executive Director Michael Catania, Jon Wagar (Deputy Director), and Thom Almendinger (Director of Natural Resources and AgroEcology), and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Board for their cooperation and consent to remove the Nevius Street Dam.  Implementing this consequential water supply exchange from surface water to groundwater was not without risk so I am truly grateful for their trust, financial support, and steadfast resolve to implement this project, proving yet again that Duke Farms is a leader in environmental stewardship and an inspiration for citizens to become informed stewards of the land.

Nevius Street Dam After Removal

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.

Lower Raritan Pathogen Results for 10.15.2020

The LRWP and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County monitor for Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus at six non-swimming public beach access sites along the Lower Raritan during the warmer summer months. Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus are indicators of disease-causing bacteria in our waterways.

The EPA recommends that a single Enterococcus sample be less than 110 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/100mL for primary contact. Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Below are our pathogens results for October 15, 2020.

Field notes for 10.15.2020

What a beautiful day for monitoring! Americorps Watershed Ambassador Caitlin DiCara helped us out with monitoring. We were also joined at our Piscataway and New Brunswick sites by our Windows of Understanding 2021 artist Marcia Shiffman. Marcia’s work for 2021 will focus on communicating the “hidden” social justice issue of inequitable access to nature.

Caitlin DiCara and Marcia Shiffman at our Riverside Park (Piscataway) site

We talked with Marcia and Caitlin about social barriers and physical obstacles to enjoyment of blue or green spaces or parks. In preparation for our listening session on Social Justice and Access to Nature, we identified a number of barriers to accessing nature. All of the below we observe as issues at non-bathing public access beach pathogens monitoring sites. These include:

-Difficulty in accessing green/blue or park space because of landscape design

-Difficulty in accessing green/blue or park space because of cost

-Not feeling welcome in a natural blue/green space or park because of economic status, or ethnic or cultural difference

-Cultural and/or language restriction present other barriers to enjoyment of time in natural spaces

-Bullying behaviors or material obstacles limit enjoyment of time in natural spaces for persons with disabilities

-Fear, anxiety, or feelings of helplessness in the face of crime limits time in natural spaces

What obstacles or barriers have we missed?

Our Thursday “regulars” fishing at the Edison Boat Launch
Not much tugging at these poles, Edison Boat Launch 10.15.2020

City of Water Day on the Raritan!

On Saturday September 12, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership will join groups throughout the New York New Jersey Harbor Estuary in bringing attention to climate change and the resilient nature of our waterfront neighborhoods.

This year we focus on our New Brunswick, NJ community and landscape and will offer programming in New Brunswick’s waterfront Boyd Park from 9 am to 3 pm. Please join us!

In addition to appropriately social-distanced in-person activities, a portion of our programming for the day (from 11am – noon) will be shared virtually via Facebook live. Log-in details will be sent to those who preregister.

City of Water Day events in New Brunswick will include:

  1. #lookfortheriver: FRAMES sculpture installation – ENGLISH AND SPANISH (9am – 3pm)

Event participants will observe sculpture artist Tobiah Horton (Rubble R & D) during a “work day” as he installs a new sculpture #lookfortheriver: FRAME in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park Raritan River riverfront.

Participants will have a chance to speak with Toby and members of the LRWP board about flooding and resilience along the Raritan River, and about the #lookfortheriver: FRAMES project. New Brunswick’s Boyd Park floodplain suffers repeat flood inundation, and serves as a protective “sponge” for other parts of New Brunswick. The #lookfortheriver: FRAME sculpture tells the story of infrastructure that is at-risk of flood inundation due to climate change and sea level rise. The sculpture is a living symbol of how removal of structures (in this case a house) from our floodplains allows for ecological restoration and regeneration, and fosters resilience.

Participants will also learn how the FRAMES sculpture functions as a data gathering tool. Through repeat digital photography uploaded to social media, passersby participate in civic science data collection about sea level rise, land use change, and resilience. Data gathered will allow for prioritization of resilience and restoration planning.

2. Water quality monitoring demonstrations – ENGLISH AND SPANISH (9:30-10 am and 11-11:30 am)

The LRWP and EARTH Center of Middlesex County collect weekly samples of Raritan River water for analysis of disease-causing bacteria. We will provide demonstrations of these activities and information about our findings thus far. Learn how and why we do this work and how you can get involved!

3. Raritan River Resilience info sharing – ENGLISH AND SPANISH (9am – 3pm)

This will include discussion of the regional BlueLine Initiative, flood hazard mapping, New Brunswick’s Municipal Public Access Plan, South River Ecosystem restoration proposals, and discussion of the LRWP’s NJ DEP-funded regional resilience planning grant

DUE TO COVID CONCERNS PREREGISTRATION IS APPRECIATED. ONLY THOSE WHO PREREGISTER WILL RECEIVE ADVANCE INFORMATION TO LINK TO THE FACEBOOK LIVE EVENT.

LRWP @ Middlesex County Chapter of State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs

Calling all sportsmen and sportswomen!

The LRWP and the Middlesex County Chapter of the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs welcome you to join us at 7:30 pm on Wednesday March 4 for conversation about the environment, fish and wildlife in the Lower Raritan. The LRWP will share our presentation on the “Top 10 Issues in the Lower Raritan Watershed,” focusing on water quality concerns in particular.

Meeting location:

Polish American Citizen’s Club

66 Adirondack Avenue

Spotswood, NJ  08884

Lower Raritan Parks – Ours to Enjoy

Article and photos by Gisela Aspur Chavarria, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2019 Environmental Communications course

Are you bored at home?  If so, go to one of our local parks along the Raritan River and enjoy the outdoors. Highland Park offers various parks and abundant open space and recreation for residents and visitors. One amazing place to visit in Highland Park is the Native Plant Reserve.  The reserve has a collection of native flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees, with educational signs for each species (1). The reserve is a fantastic place to drop by and explore nature. It’s also a great place to bring children of all ages to teach them about plants and their importance.

You can also visit the Eugene Young Environmental Education Center in Highland Park which uses art to raise awareness about wildlife and the significance of the Raritan River. In 2014, a mural was unveiled at the Eugene Young Environmental Education Center as part of a project to create artwork to highlight the river, and to make people aware of its beauty, and value (5).

Highland Park’s Eugene Young Environmental Center

Another extraordinary recreational place along the Raritan River is Donaldson Park which is located in the Borough of Highland Park. The park has boat ramps, kayaking, fishing, sports fields, biking trails, playgrounds, and paved trails (2). The picnic groves in the park are a great place for families to eat and spend quality time with each other.

Donaldson Park picnic groves

Similarly, Elmer B. Boyd Park in New Brunswick is an amazing recreational space for community engagement. It provides walking and biking paths, a playground, and a boat launching space. Boyd Park also hosts many community events during the year, including the autumn River Festival, the Hispanic Festival, and the city’s Fourth of July celebration (3). You can also learn about the history of the river through the signage through the park. All of these parks are great recreational places for individuals and families to connect with the river and enjoy the outdoors.

New Brunswick’s Boyd Park during the annual Raritan River Festival & “Duck Drop”

Promoting River Access

But our local parks are important for more than just recreation, as they provide vital access to the Raritan River.  River access encourages individuals to develop a relationship with the river and connect to our local environment. By connecting the community with the river, people develop a sense of ownership and care about the river and its future. Visual exposure to natural resources like the Raritan River prompt people to understand the importance of the river and the value it provides for the community.

Recreational activities by the river are wonderful ways in which individuals can connect with the river. Whether you canoe, fish, or walk along the river, access to river recreation inspires people to protect nature and wildlife. Furthermore, recreation creates a caring constituency for healthy rivers, lands, and resources, inspiring the preservation of important places. Thus, it can encourage communities to help control pollution and ensure natural resources are preserved.

Nature and Mental Health

Aside from the pleasure of enjoying activities along the river, recreation by the river can also improve your quality of life.  Researchers have shown that exposure to nature is beneficial to people’s mental health, suggesting that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world (6). Exposure to nature can improve your mood and self-esteem, help you feel more relaxed, reduce anxiety, and help with depression (7).  Significantly, a lack of nature experiences may contribute to a range of issues in children.  In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv described how children are spending less time outdoors and how it could influence not only their health, but also their connection to and support of the natural world.  The book spurred national dialogue about the importance of nature.

Ultimately, regardless of where you go along the river, and the park you choose to visit, you can find many ways to connect with the river: you can learn about the importance of plants, have a family picnic, go to a river festival or just take a walk.  Our local parks can help you stay fit both physically and mentally while connecting with the river.  So, if you are bored at home, go spend some time along the Raritan.  See you out there!

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

8.22.2019 Pathogen Monitoring Results

Raritan River Enterococci results for 8.22.2019, for six non-swimming beach public access sites. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL.

**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**

The Influence of Landscape Context on Native Plant Species in Stormwater Detention Basins

By Kate Douthat, third year PhD candidate in the graduate program of Ecology and Evolution at Rutgers. Kate’s research is examining the plant communities that have formed in urban stormwater systems. She is interested in the extensive stormwater infrastructure network in New Jersey and how we can use plants to improve water quality. Kate loves to share her enthusiasm about plants and to teach the public about the stormwater systems in our backyards. She has agreed to develop a series of informative blogs for the LRWP’s readers and will also lead our #booksfortheriver book club starting Fall 2019. You can see more of her writing about plants and water resources at katedouthatecology.com

This map shows the location of each site and the percent native species in each basin. The map shows a trend for lower percentage native species at more northern sites, so location matters!

During the summer of 2018, I surveyed plants in stormwater detention basins throughout an urban and suburban area of central New Jersey. This study is aimed at improving water quality and wetland habitat by choosing the right plants for the job. Selecting appropriate sites for renovations and the choosing the best species to plant depends on many factors. Two important factors are the plants’ ability to survive in basin conditions and the natural tendency for certain plants to colonize basins regardless of what we plant there. One question I am addressing is how survival and colonization change depending on the surrounding landscape. Because catch basins at various locations receive different amounts of pollution and seeds, I expect to see different plants in different settings.

How does the surrounding landscape influence the plant community in a stormwater detention basin?

The adjacent land use and land cover influence wetland properties, including plant communities. Land cover is the type of stuff on the site, such as forest or roads. Land use is the activity that humans do on the site. Both factors affect plant communities. The surrounding landscape influences the plant community by the quantity and type of seeds available and by dispersal routes. One of the basic ways that plant communities are quantified is by the number of different species on a site, termed “species richness.” Paved roads around a wetland affect plant species richness and roads are particularly important dispersal routes for invasive plants. The proportion of native plants increases with forest cover in the surrounding area.

In this analysis, I am using the land use and land cover within 500 meters of each catch basin to explore relationships between adjacent land and the proportion of native species in the basin.  I used a computer program to do exploratory regression. That technique takes each possible explanatory factor and tests the strength of the relationship between that factor and the factor of interest. In this case, the factors are land cover types and the percent native species at a site. I found that more adjacent commercial and service area leads to a lower percentage of native species in a catch basin. Transportation and utility areas, such as power line right-of-ways, also contributes to a lower percentage of native species. On the other hand, the percent of native species increases when a basin is surrounded by recreation area and wooded wetlands.

The following series of maps shows the areas around each catch basin. The maps are arranged from lowest percent native species to highest. In some cases there were two basins next two each other, so there are two numbers shown for the percent native species in each one individually. The land cover types with the strongest relationship to percent native species are colored. The reds and pinks are commercial or transitional areas, the light blues are wetlands, and the green is recreation area. (The names in the legends are the specific technical terms.)

The maps show that the amount of commercial or recreation area that surrounds a catch basin makes a big difference to the plants that live there. This result can help land managers decide which restoration goals are appropriate in different settings. For example, by the roadside, where there are more non-native species, a basin may be redesigned to filter pollution. Non-native species can perform this service as well as native species. However, in a park or recreation setting, where there are relatively more native species, a catch basin may be restored to include rare and sensitive native species. This analysis still needs fine tuning, but shows promise as a way to predict plant community characteristics based on the surrounding landscape.

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