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).
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.
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.
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.
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.**
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
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.
Article and photos by “Voices of the Watershed” Contributor Joe Mish
Long before President Eisenhower signed the interstate highway bill into law in 1956, The Atlantic, Central and Pacific flyways served as major superhighways for migrating birds.
The primary exit ramps for these super flyways are the rivers which radiate out along the north-south migration routes to distribute the migrating birds far and wide.
New Jersey sits directly on the Atlantic flyway, bounded by the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean. Within the state’s interior flows the Raritan River, the longest inland river in the state which serves as a major migratory off ramp.
The confluence of the North and South Branches may then be considered the prime visitors center and rest area, as birds funnel down the Raritan to disperse inland.
Look at a colored distribution map in any bird book and discover that many species are specific to defined regions.
You might not expect to see a rufous hummingbird from the northern Pacific coast, sipping nectar in central New Jersey. However, in 2012, a rufous hummer showed up in our midst and stayed the winter, surviving by the kindness of human intervention. Marlene Scocco reached out to this wayward hummer providing food and shelter, causing a stir in the birding community which gratefully documented this migratory anomaly.
Checking the records for rare hummingbird visitors to New Jersey, other hummer species like the calliope and green violet eared were also documented.
How these birds end up on the east coast is pure speculation. The point is they do and they are here for you to discover.
Feathered visitors from faraway places to the Raritan valley are not just limited to hummingbirds. In 1963 I was handed a small owl taken from a guard tower in the Raritan arsenal. It died shortly after. I mentioned this to a friend’s dad who was an avid bird watcher. Told him it was a boreal owl. He smiled and assured me it was probably a saw whet owl. We ended up at the Newark Museum and showed it to the curator, Irving H. Black. Confusion ensued and experts from across the country were consulted. The experts concluded the bird was indeed a boreal owl. It set a new record for the southernmost sighting in the US. The boreal owl, briefly known as the Richardson owl, is a fulltime resident of the coniferous forests of the arctic region. The owl is preserved as a study skin at the Newark museum.
The visitors keep coming. In mid March of this year I noticed an inconsistency in the color pattern of a flock of grazing geese, as I drove by. The geese blended together in one giant mosaic, painted with repetitive splashes of black, white and brown. I pulled over and focused on the colors that didn’t belong.
I was looking at a white fronted goose, another bird that was obviously unfamiliar with distribution maps found in bird books.
The white fronted goose is rarely seen east of the Mississippi river, the main artery of the central flyway. To see a white fronted goose in central NJ is therefore an unexpected surprise and evidence that nature has a tendency to violate scientific generalizations.
The following week, a Canada goose with an orange and white collar marked OHOX was observed along rt 22. It also had a metal band on its left leg. While editing images, I was shocked to see the goose standing next to it also wore a leg band. Reporting this goose to the USGS bird banding website I was provided with a certificate noting that the goose was a female, banded as a flightless gosling near Varennes, Quebec, Canada on the Fourth of July, 2016.
Adding to the distinguished list of local visitors was the osprey I observed April 7, 2016, just upstream of the confluence of the North and South branch. The osprey had a blue plastic band on its left leg, with stacked letters, DV, visible on one of the images taken. Again, making a report to the USGS banding website, a certificate soon arrived, stating the osprey was born on a bulkhead in Portland, Maine and banded on July 27, 2011. To report a banded bird, visit the USGS bird banding website, firstname.lastname@example.org
The spring migration is now in full swing. And along with colorful warblers, ruby throated hummingbirds, woodcock and osprey, come the errant travelers.
Diverging from their evolutionary migration patterns, these intrepid winged visitors explode the myth that, “birds of a feather stick together”.
Migrating birds that nest in our region, along with birds just passing through, are now appearing along our waterways. The confluence that forms the Raritan River is the staging area that hosts a feathered extravaganza of unimaginable variety.
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 email@example.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.
Thirty years ago, my husband and I moved into a house down at the end of a quiet street in Highland Park. Beside the house, in a low area, ran a little stream, nameless as far as I knew. I imagined making a garden beside it until I saw the muddy water that rushed through after heavy rains, rooting out vegetation, clawing away at the stream banks, and depositing all manner of storm debris. I came to think of the stream as nothing but a source of problems. Years went by. I sought advice from various experts and made some progress in resolving some problems, though others remained.
Eventually, in the Rutgers Environmental Stewardship program, I learned that the problems of urban streams are predictable and can, at least in theory, be mitigated. I learned that, with active community involvement, even large rivers have been significantly restored. The RES program led me to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and a plan to document the stream that I now knew was called Mill Brook.
I took pictures and made lists of storm sewer outfalls, eroded portions of stream banks, retaining walls in various states of disrepair, and multiple types of litter, wondering how this information about predictable problems might be useful. Increasingly, my attention was caught by the magnificently tall trees in the Mill Brook stream corridor, the bird song high above me, the calming gurgle of the water at my feet, and the sense of being far away while actually only a few yards from the hubbub of one of the most densely populated regions in the United States. I have learned that Mill Brook has been a source of much happiness for others, too, over the years.
I composed this Story Map Mill Brook: Portrait of an Urban Stream to invite you, the reader, to experience for yourself this valuable natural resource that runs like a ribbon through our community. I hope that a virtuous circle may arise in which the value of Mill Brook is acknowledged in our communities so that we willingly do what it takes to resolve problems created by developments that include our own homes. In return, Mill Brook will increase in value to us because it is a healthier natural resource and because we will have the satisfaction of caring for it.
Article and images (except as noted) by Sanja Martic, Rutgers Department of Landscape Architecture Graduate Student.
“Man wants to take the river’s natural storage reservoir and make no compensation for it. The river contends it is against Natural Law and cannot be done. The river is right.” James P. Kemper, New Orleans, 1927.
The Dutch Room for
the River Program (RfR) was conceived in 2007 as an integrated river basin
management strategy for the low-lying flood prone and densely populated areas
of the Netherlands. As part of this Program, water management is conducted via
a specialized regional “Water Board,” working in partnership with the Dutch
National Ministry and the Ministries for Transport, Public Works and Water
Management. Through RfR the Dutch Water Board takes a four-pronged approach to
water management. The four key characteristics of the RfR approach include: 1)
large scale river region landscape architectural design thinking; 2) a focus on
collaboration, with landscape architecture playing a facilitating role; 3)
considering the landscape as a system of layers; and 4) anticipating that
natural processes will change and enhance the design over time.
As in the
Netherlands, significant portions of New Jersey’s Lower Raritan River are in
low-lying densely populated areas. Flood protection is of paramount importance
and a matter of human safety and economic security. However, the Home Rule
focus of New Jersey’s local governance limits the potential for thinking in a
landscape context, no comparable “Water Board” serves as coordinating entity
for water management, flood control prioritizes human land use layers, and
engineering controls trump considerations of natural hydrological processes and
flows. There is much to learn from the Dutch RfR example. In what follows we provide
background information on RfR, and consider the Dutch Water Management approach
in the context of New Jersey’s Raritan River and Lower Raritan Watershed.
Historic Approach to River Basin Management
In riverine areas
around the world, the industrial revolution demanded capitalization of the river’s
territory and its water. As a result, many river basins were heavily
engineered: rivers streamlined, river basins minimized, and creeks and small
streams culverted or replaced by canals.
These practices, in combination with development over time, resulted in
floodplains that restricted the river and required repeated heightening of
There was no appreciation for the river ecosystems, and water was seen as a
threat and as something that needed to be controlled. Over time, conflicts arose
regarding use of the floodplain and the its water. And the Industrial
Revolution and subsequent development left behind a lasting pollution legacy:
abandoned infrastructure and degraded water and soil quality. Meanwhile, the
expanding population’s need for potable water and space for a safe habitation increased,
causing a decline in the river basin surface. In recent years, rising intensity
and quantity of extreme precipitation events associated with a changing
climate, coupled with increase of the impervious surface cover, further
complicate water management issues.
Room for the River (RfR) Emergence and Approach
In the Netherlands, traditional water management methods were challenged following destructive floods in 1995, caused by record extreme precipitation events. It was clear that new flood levels required a different approach towards river management. Different approaches to water management call for different methods: many rely heavily on engineering while others emphasize a more natural approach. Room for the River Program (RfR) finds a middle ground. Instead of gradually reducing the area that rivers occupy, this approach allows the river to expand over a larger territory. RfR brings together the worlds of water management and spatial planning, engineering and ecology. Tools are varied and include dredging at one extreme, and measuring spatial quality on the other, and they are put into service of two main objectives: improving safety by reducing flooding of riverine areas, and “contributing to the improvement of spatial quality of the riverine area”. Although hard to quantify, this second goal is particularly interesting from the landscape architecture perspective as it considers quality of the space.
within the RfR approach is defined as “a property of the resulting landscape
after a plan has been implemented.”
A good design is further judged by three criteria: hydraulic effectiveness,
ecological robustness and cultural meaning and aesthetics. Cultural meaning and
aesthetics criteria call for enhancing the scenic beauty, tailored to a range
of sites that could be classified as natural, urban or countryside. Ecological
robustness endorses designs that are long lasting, self-sustained, build upon
natural processes, and are low maintenance. This is achieved through combining
natural hydrology with morphological and biotic processes to achieve stability
in riverbed and floodplain.
This means that plans have to be functional in the case of floods, but at other
times must accommodate livability, wildlife habitats and areas usable as a public
good. Design is informal and natural while providing maximum access for recreation,
with spaces intended to reveal the spirit of each individual site of
Room for the River (RfR) Implementation and Practical Measures
In the Dutch
model, spatial quality assessment requires development of a special Q-team
(quality team) composed of members from different but complimentary
disciplinary backgrounds. The Q-team’s role is to produce an independent
recommendation on enhancing spatial quality through coaching designers and planners,
peer review of the designs and plans, and regular communication to the
Ministries of Transportation, Public Works and Water Management.
This calls for significant transdisciplinary cooperation between planning and
design, with an equal role for the landscape architect, urban planner, river
engineer, ecologist and physical geographer. Practical measures (Figure 1) are
applicable at large scale and fall into three categories ranked by complexity
of integration of flood risk measures with spatial measures. These categories
include technical measures (deepening the river bed, lowering groynes,
strengthening dikes), measures within the banks (lowering the floodplains,
removing obstacles), and measures beyond the banks (high-water channel
building, dike relocation, water storage). In addition to evaluating project’s outcome,
the team also evaluates the quality of the integrative collaborative design
Precedent for RfR in the United States
The RfR approach
is not entirely new to the United States. An early similar effort was forwarded
in New Orleans in 1927, following devastating flooding events in the
Mississippi River delta. Like the Dutch who relied on dikes for flood
protection, the Mississippi delta community relied on constant raising and
enforcing levees, increasingly restricting the surface size of the natural
flood plain. The 1927 flood prompted a reevaluation of the Mississippi River
management approach. Official Congressional hearings were held and involved the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River Commission and expert
witnesses such as Gifford Pinchot.
Discussion revolved around engineered control of the river proposed by the Army
Corps of Engineers, and an approach in which nature would be allowed more
supported by Pinchot, James Kemper and others. The latter view resembles the
RfR approach as it calls for allowing more room for the river through widening the
1. Large-Scale Design (Entire river region)
The large scale landscape architectural design approach considers “not only detailing of small-scale elements, but also at the scale of the river system as a whole”. 
The landscape architect plays a central
role of coordinator between planners, architects and other partners. Fliervoet
and Den Born studied and evaluated the RfR’s collaborative process from a
stakeholders’ perspective. They concluded that the success of the approach is
highly dependent on the cooperation and collaboration of multiple entities
occupying the watershed with emphasis on the local knowledge. The biggest
obstacles to collaboration stated by the participants, were the lack of an
overarching, integrated maintenance vision and a lack of coordination between
3. Considering the Landscape as a system of layers
o Basis of Landscape (soil, water,
o Network Layer (roads, waterways energy
o Occupation and Land Use (living,
o Time Layer (all layers develop within their
own time scale)
4. Creating Conditions: Responding to natural
are expected to change and enhance design over time.
Applying the RfR Methodology to the Raritan
Large-scale Design of the Raritan River Floodplain and
The first characteristic,
the large scale of design as applied to the Lower Raritan, requires creating a
comprehensive masterplan with projects spanning the entire Raritan watershed. RfR
site plans would become small parts of a large Raritan Watershed Masterplan. The
masterplan would be guided by a comprehensive vision of integrated water
management, with a regional greenway connection as an integral part. Directly
connecting the City of New Brunswick to the greenway network would be a key
component of the masterplan, as New Brunswick is the largest settlement on the
banks of the Raritan River. Collaboration between many governing bodies is
essential. At the federal level the governing bodies to involve include USACE,
USCG and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. At a state level
governing bodies to involve include NJDOT, NJDEP and Land Use Regulations and
Ecological Services Field Office. Regionally the Delaware and Raritan Canal
Commission and counties such as Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and others
should be involved. At the local level the municipalities along the Raritan
River banks including New Brunswick, Piscataway, Franklin Township etc. would
Large scale design requires examination of large-scale network connections. Analysis in the Raritan River context reveals several greenway network opportunities (Figure 2). Metropolitan areas of New York City and Washington D.C. are roughly framed by the Appalachian Trail to the North and the proposed alignment of the East Coast Greenway to the South. They are further enclosed by the major East Coast rivers that bisect the Trail and the Greenway on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson River Valley to the East, the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canalto the west all form a regional trail system matrix. This blue and green matrix provides unique opportunities for cross connections of the corridors and interactions with nature and culture to one of the world’s densest contiguous urban populations.
The East Coast Greenway is an aspiring walking and
biking route stretching the length of the US East Coast with southern terminus
in Key West, Florida and northern Maine. Once actualized, the East Coast
Greenway will be 3000 miles long and epitomize the bond between communities and
nature by connecting the exist green open space along its route into a unique
linear corridor. Initiated in 1991, with forming of the East Coast Greenway
Alliance, the vision of Greenway designers, “represents a commitment to public
health, environmental sustainability, economic development, and civic
The existing Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which
partially passes along New Jersey’s northern border, is currently the longest
hiking footpath in the world at 2190 miles long.
It was first proposed by a regional planner Benton MacKaye in a 1921 document titled “An
Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning”. MacKaye’s vision initiated the idea of land
preservation for the purposes of recreation and conservation. The idea started to materialize in 1925
and was actualized in 2014 when the last stretch of the Trail was formally
acquired and protected. Today, the trail
is visited by over 3 million visitors a year as it bisects fourteen US States
from Georgia to Maine.
The East Coast Greenway’s proposed alignment crosses
the narrow waist of New Jersey using the D&R Canal Park as a major
junction. Canal Park’s Masterplan recognizes the most important quality
possessed by this linear park to be the role it can perform as a connector.
Canal Park no longer links New York City and Philadelphia, but it does join
central New Jersey communities, different land forms and different kinds of
natural areas, and connects New Jersey with its heritage.
Extending the Canal’s connection back into the city of New Brunswick would
align with the Canal Commission’s Masterplan and benefit New Brunswick’s future
The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor
runs along the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side, parallel to the D&R
Canal Park. It is an indirect connection between the proposed East Coast
Greenway, through the D&R Canal Park to the Appalachian Trail. It is also an
example of a linear park run by a nonprofit organization, while Chesapeake and
Ohio Canal is a linear park that is part of the National Park system. The Chesapeake
and Ohio Canal is another significant connector between the Appalachian Trail
and the East Coast Greenway close to a major metropolitan area.
When the Delaware and Raritan Canal was built in the
1930s it permanently linked the Delaware and Raritan watersheds, creating opportunities
for connection. Since that time, construction of Route 18 through New
Brunswick, which established a several mile stretch of roadway immediately
adjacent to the Raritan, severed this historic network connection, in
particular in the area between Buccleuch Park and the Landing Lane Bridge. Today,
the City of New Brunswick’s unique geographic position could once again benefit
future development should access impediments to the D&R Canal Park be
removed, resulting in expanded access to not only Canal Park but regional
networks like the East Coast Greenway. There would be many mutual gains: the local
community would have better access to nature and everyday recreation and
day-hiking without having to drive to the trail. New Brunswick’s rich local
history would add to the richness of the trail’s experience. The local economy
would benefit from hiking and biking traffic generated by the Greenway.
Finally, being a part of the future East Coast Greenway’s shared vision could
be an invigorating driver of the nature stewardship and future community and
Collaboration of Local, Regional, National and State
coordination, conducted by a landscape architect, may include working with a
variety of professional partners on a local level. In addition to planners and
architects, other professions to engage include social scientists, geographers,
ecologists, river engineers, biologists, historians, archeologists and civil
Considering the Raritan River Floodplain and Watershed
Landscape as a system of layers
The RfR “system of
layers” approach consists of a base layer, network layer, potential for use
layer and time layer (Figure 3). Layers provide a basis for site evaluation within
the Lower Raritan. Expanding the original RfR methodology, we have conceived of
each of the four categories of layers as worth 25 points for a total of a
100-point evaluation system. The lower the score for specific site, the better
the opportunity for enhancing it.
For example, considering New Brunswick in relation to the regional greenway network, the four areas identified as having the best opportunity for creating connections between the New Brunswick and regional greenways are the Key Connector Streets (Urban Core Green and Blue Corridors), Waterfront Access Points, Raritan Bike Path, and the “D&R Canal Link”(Figure 4). These] specific sites should then be evaluated for their soil, water and air quality within the base layer, and for the existing roads, railroads, bridges/tunnels, walking and biking paths and green networks within the network layer. The Network Layer evaluates the existing networks presence and connectivity. Points (0-5) are given for the presence of the networks within the site and more points for their current connectivity. All the sites have a presence of at least one network, however in some cases those networks are enhancing and in others reducing walking and biking connectivity. Increasing connectivity becomes a goal for this layer.
The Base Layer
evaluates the soil, water, air, plant and animal life conditions of the
landscape. 0-5 points for soil quality are allocated depending on its
permeability as well as its ability to support life. In the urban environment
soil is often covered by pervious surface or is heavily compacted resulting in
a low rating. Water movement is evaluated based on the speed of its movement
within the site. Faster movement (poor infiltration) is rated lower. Water
quality is associated with the ability of site to treat the stormwater runoff.
Water that leaves the site cleaner results in higher points. Air quality
depends on the site’s micro location. Sites near major roads with little
vegetation are rated lower. Finally, existence of plant and animal life is
rated depending on a level of presence. Based on the rating, design goals that
emerge are: increasing surface permeability, slowing down runoff by retaining
water in the landscape for longer periods, decreasing soil compaction, and creating
conditions that support more plant and animal life.
Our addition to
the methodology also includes expansion of the “potential for use layer” by
which each of these sites are evaluated for their potential to support any of 25
different activities that could take place within the area once it is
redesigned. The Potential for Use Layer allocates one point for each activity
that can currently take place within an area. The goal for this layer becomes
increasing the number of future potential use of the space.
Finally, the time
layer evaluates presence of historic and cultural artifacts on one end and a
potential for future ecosystem health improvement on the other. Sites that
contain historic and cultural artifacts are rated higher, as well as the sites
that will be able to, over time, enhance the ecosystem health. Ecosystem health
is prioritized over the existence of historic and cultural artifact. For
example, a city street has less potential for the improvement of the future
ecosystem health than the river bank.
The redesign of
the existing key connector streets within the City of New Brunswick enhances
the biking and walking experience, while leading to the waterfront access
points. Commercial and Joyce Kilmer Avenues are green corridors, chosen for
their proximity to the local schools, green open space, highest population
density and wide traffic lanes. These two thoroughfares have a great potential
for “road diet” interventions, such as narrowing traffic lanes and adding
bumpouts at street crossings in order to calm traffic and thus enhance safety of
pedestrian and bicyclists. They would further create opportunities for bringing
nature closer to the local communities by becoming way finders for the Raritan
River as well as the green corridors with more pervious surface and vegetation
Route 27 or French
Street and Hamilton Street are already main routes of access that are further
enhanced by adding new and improving existing bike lanes, and improving
pedestrian experience by adding bump outs and lowering curbs. Similar
interventions could be applied outside of the immediate study area. Franklin
Township’s Franklin Boulevard is the next such opportunity. The existing Mile
Run stream corridor, in conjunction with the key connector streets, forms a
matrix of river connections. The Mile Run stream corridor is now accessible
through this matrix, offering further opportunities for engagement with water
Access to the waterfront
is strengthened using various traffic calming techniques such as raised,
textured crossings, lowered speed limit and narrowed traffic lanes. These
approaches ensure safety and an enhanced pedestrian experience. Redesigning the
Raritan bike path by adding access points, widening its surface, and adding
small, localized interventions helps create a sense of place and wayfinding.
Materials and forms chosen for intervention help to further connect community
to the unique industrial and postindustrial history and ecology of the place.
Finally, the “Canal Link” links fragmented biking and walking paths ending
within the area of the River Road, Landing Lane, Buccleuch Park and Spillway,
through an elevated walkway bridging the impediments. This walkway becomes the
final interlocking link restoring connection to the D&R Canal Park, East
Coast Greenway and the Raritan.
A final key characteristic of the RfR program requires considering how including natural change over time can be integrated in the designed system, so that it could start functioning as a natural system. Within the landscape architecture field, time is always an important element considered in designing a landscape. The question: “How will a landscape change throughout the years?” is a core design consideration. However, change is usually considered as it relates to human use and needs. In the RfR case the emphasis is on the health of the entire ecosystem, and the ability of landscape to be “managed” by natural processes, thus making it self-sustained and supportive for all living beings. Choices of materials and forms should be made considering this final concern.[
Expect the unexpected when you look up into the leaf bare November woods. Here a red fox walks up a leaning tree to rest 30 feet high in the crotch of an adjoining tree. Red fox are not known to climb trees as are gray fox., but this fox channeled his inner gray fox to climb to dizzying heights.
November is the far side of autumn, a time when the colorful drapery of October is taken down to reveal the bare structure, upon which fluorescent orange leaves once hung.
The change in scenery is quite dramatic, as we pass through the colorful curtain that decorated the first full month of fall. I imagine standing behind a waterfall where colorful autumn leaves flow like cascading water to create a transparent wall of scarlet, orange and yellow. As I reach out to part the flowing colors, I step forward into November.
Linear brush strokes of gray and brown now dominate. Light and rain play with intensity of tone as the bare trees alternate between tans and gray to darker shades of brown and black. Rain saturates the branches to shift subtle earth tones to the bold end of their color spectrum.
The fading light of dusk and early light of dawn erase all color to turn trees into black silhouettes. The interlaced network of branches and solitary trees become one dimensional, as any perception of depth is lost against the stark contrast enhanced by the loss of daylight.
A dynamic lightshow in the sky then commences with a pale yellow glow as the sun departs over the horizon to melt into a pool of fiery orange. When the unmoving silhouetted trees are viewed against the ever changing celestial color spectrum, the still scene becomes a cinematic event.
Stars begin to appear well before the sun’s aura fades. Their sparkling silver brilliance is held against an even colored, dark blue night sky, making the perception of depth impossible to detect. Here, the background is static and the stars sparkle with energy. Just the opposite occurs where trees appear one dimensional and static, while the sky is alive with changing color.
All these theatric opposites combine in a single scene to create an inspiring, though brief preface, to the end of a November day.
A walk through the November woods cannot be more dramatically different than experienced a month before.
Strolling within the woods, beneath the canopy of trees, now without their leafy crowns, the lattice work of a branched arbor is apparent. Since late spring, a cloud of leaves dominated the view, banning shadows and sunlight.
A day time stroll on a sunny day or moonlit night, allows light to play with trunk and limb. Gnarled branches, which fought for their place in the sun, form grotesque figures that groan in the wind. The source of the sounds impossible to locate, lend a ghostly atmosphere even in the light of day. Shadows that begin to arise from a subterranean prison at the base of large trees, appear as immovable as the tree from which it escaped.
Turn away and back to find the shadow has imperceptibly moved, as it circles the tree to close the distance between you.
Walk along silently on the rain and color soaked carpet of October and let your imagination run wild. Animals and portions of human like figures, frozen in the transition of creation, hang like spare parts growing from trees.
While November is no one’s idea of autumn, given the cold, frost, barren landscape and introductory snowfalls, the month ends 21 days short of winter.
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.
The LRWP is pleased to be part of Jersey Water Works, a collaborative effort of many diverse organizations and individuals who embrace the common purpose of transforming New Jersey’s inadequate water infrastructure by investing in sustainable, cost-effective solutions that provide communities with clean water and waterways; healthier, safer neighborhoods; local jobs; flood and climate resilience; and economic growth. The LRWP is active on the Green Infrastructure subcommittee.
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is looking for volunteer weather observers in the Raritan Basin. CoCoRaHS is a nationwide volunteer precipitation-observing network, with over 15,000 active observers in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, the Bahamas, and the US Virgin Islands, including over 250 in New Jersey. The NJ program is run out of the Office of the NJ State Climatologist at Rutgers University. Working with the Rutgers Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, NJ CoCoRaHS is looking to enlist volunteers of all ages within the basin. Volunteers take a few minutes each day to report the amount of rain or snow that has fallen in their backyards. All that is required to participate is a 4″ diameter plastic rain gauge, a ruler to measure snow, a computer or cell phone, and most importantly, the desire to report weather conditions.
Observations from CoCoRaHS volunteers are widely used by scientists and agencies whose decisions depend on timely and high-quality precipitation data. For example, hydrologists and meteorologists use the data to warn about the potential impacts of flood and drought within the Raritan Basin.
“Weather matters to everybody –meteorologists, car and crop insurance companies, outdoor enthusiasts and homeowners,” according to CoCoRaHS founder and national director Nolan Doesken. “Precipitation is perhaps the most important, but also the most highly variable element of our climate.”
As Dave Robinson, NJ State Climatologist and NJ CoCoRaHS co-coordinator, notes, “The addition of new observers in your community will provide a detailed picture of rain and snowfall patterns to assist with critical weather-related decision making.”
“Rainfall amounts vary from one street to the next,” says Doesken. “It is wonderful having large numbers of enthusiastic volunteers and literally thousands of rain gauges to help track storms. We learn something new every day, and every volunteer makes a significant scientific contribution.”
CoCoRaHS volunteers are asked to read their rain gauge or measure any snowfall at the same time each day (preferably between 5 and 9 AM). Measurements are then entered by the observer on the CoCoRaHS website where they can be viewed in tables and maps. Training is provided for CoCoRaHS observers, either through online training modules, or preferably in group training sessions that are held at different locations around NJ.
“Anyone interested in signing up or learning more about the program can visit the CoCoRaHS website at http://www.cocorahs.org,” says Mathieu Gerbush, Assistant NJ State Climatologist and program co-coordinator. “We’re looking forward to welcoming new volunteers into the NJ CoCoRaHS program.”
For more information, contact the NJ CoCoRaHS state coordinators:
We are just a few days shy of July 1, 2018, which marks the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act’s failure to meet it’s “fishable-swimable” goals for our nation’s waters. What does this mean for New Jersey’s waters? The most recent published report (2014) on New Jersey’s water quality tells us that only 16% of our waters fully support general aquatic life. That is, the vast majority of our waterways are not clean enough for drinking water, aquatic life, fish consumption, or even recreation.
The Clean Water Act was about more than the protection of recreation, and fish and wildlife propagation. It was an “interim goal of water quality” intended to lead to “fishable and swimmable” waters by July 1, 1983, and to “the national goal that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.” But more than a third of a century later the quality of our waterways, especially waters in our urban and historically impacted areas, are far from meeting fishable and swimmable goals.
Why? Because existing laws don’t ban pollution. They allow for polluters and developers to secure permits to pollute. The Clean Water Act is especially weak in terms of regulating the number one source of pollution in our national (and notably our New Jersey) waterways: stormwater.
Urban non-profit environmental organizations, like the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership that I run, go about the daily work of advocating for local watershed management strategies like stormwater utilities and Green Infrastructure to address the water quality and quantity problems in our watersheds. And state-wide collaborative efforts like Jersey Water Works are making tremendous strides to transform New Jersey’s water and wastewater treatment and delivery infrastructure. But without a wholesale shift in thinking around pollution in our waterways, our local waters will never meet the “fishable, swimmable” goals as set out by the CWA, no matter how many Combined Sewers we take off line, or how many rain barrels and rain gardens we install.
What else should be on our radar? How should we be rethinking water pollution policy in New Jersey? On the anniversary of the 35th year of the failure of the CWA to meet it’s goals, we offer you our top 10 ideas for effective change:
Fund major research and development for innovative water treatment and water quality monitoring technologies;
Offer economic incentives to polluters who perform beyond the minimum requirements of the law;
Add public health objectives to our water pollution control laws;
Prioritize clean-up and restoration of polluted waterways, especially in our economically disadvantaged communities;
Establish new target dates for achieving fishable, swimmable waters in New Jersey;
Establish target dates for completely eliminating the discharge of pollutants in our waterways;
Develop real-time monitoring technologies that protect water consumers and recreational users;
Increase enforcement of existing laws;
Establish mandatory monitoring for emerging pollutants including micro-plastics, pharmaceuticals and hormones;
Develop a central repository for information and resource sharing on best management practices in the state.
We welcome comments, additions and suggestions. Email us to share yours: firstname.lastname@example.org
Active CSO Discharge, Perth Amboy – photo credit: Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz