Someone out there is expecting this to be a purely Jersey post, I’m sure. If you know my and my Jersey Pride you would be well withing the realm of reason to get that. And, it was the initial insight into why I might be writing.
The other night I was beginning to draft this watching Discovery Channel’s North America. It was a little insulting to pitch the commentary to the “frontiersman” considering that cavalier attitude nearly crushed many of the showcase species, but it also made me realize how amazing some of the local efforts were reclaiming lost species are.
Over the years my hiking and fishing travels have taken me across some of the most interesting places among the Eastern Seaboard and within about an hour and half of my old home just west of midtown Manhattan I’ve frequented some so much so I knew as many of the subtleties as well as or better some of the Rangers that patrolled them having probably been to them more over a greater length of time than many of the Rangers ever could.
one would think that in a life where no two snowflakes are alike that one would have a brilliant rhyme for each and every bit of time – Clutch
When I think about the success of some of the reclamation projects in the greater New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area (sorry, CT, I’m just not well versed to do that tri-state that direction) it leaves me speechless. Where once was a landfill or a former petro-chemical plant or industrial waste afflicted zone or mine are now parks beginning to flourish with flora and fauna species long expected to be lost forever in the region’s identity. It’s beyond words. Maybe for some even beyond comprehension.
The beauty of reclaimed East Coast lands should be a lesson for the rest of the United States and yet, it is not. The cost of reclamation to public and private resources, to individuals, to species and to the greater good of humanity and nature is still in a very, very subtle balance where the legacy of social arrogance, industrial progress and the demand’s of “job creation” outweighing the greater good of common sense continues to sometimes win at the expense of the humans and wildlife living within the region. What plays out on a small scale here to preserve what little we do have left for the health and well being of all of us repeated throughout the US where the affects of urbanization, suburban sprawl, industrial expanse are still in their youth and progress (read: money) commands more than mother nature (or our own longer term well being).
For every wetlands and meadows reclamation project along the Hudson, Passaic and Hackensak Rivers in the north east’s heavily urbanized Piedmont or along Staten Island there’s similar stories of reclaimed mines, dig sites and industrial plants through the highlands and skylands region in the Ramapos, Catskill, Musconetcong, and essentially greater Atlantic Appalachian region down through the Delaware River Gap and the western NJ watershed, and this trend of reviving continues along the cedar swamps, pine barrens, coastal meadows, barrier islands and the inter-coastal waterways of Atlantic back bays and inlets, brackish kills and river systems like the Raritian, Toms and Swan along the 136 miles of following the Garden State Parkway / Rt 9 corridor or the work still being done along the the lower Delaware from Trenton / Camden and Philadelphia southward through the south west marsh systems of the Maurice and Cohansey Rivers to the bay and Cape May.
Over the years as a hiker, fisherman, photographer and honestly someone who just needs to unplug from society from time to time, I’ve spend a lot of time in the parks, on the trails, and along the waterways over the years … so many of which represent the results of just such preservation and reclamation attempts that have thankfully become the success stories they have.
When I was a kid I was fortunate enough to have parents that enjoyed the nature the region had to offer enough to spend time at the lakes along the I-80 corridor and in the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge as well as in the township and small county parks in in the north east. I remember coming home with “pet” tortoises, frogs, garter snakes, making acorn and fall foliage collections and generally being intrigued with the fact that where I lived I could almost shake hands with my neighbor through our respective kitchen windows but that only a short (well, as a child on a humid summer day, maybe not soooooo short) drive there could be so much outdoors to explore. The impression it made on me as a child is precisely why I cherish it so much as an adult.
During my teen years in Central Jersey it was the same way with trips to the shore and through the park and preserve systems where we lived to hike and fish and it really began to cement my interest in not just reading about conservation efforts but getting involved in participating. I joined a fishing club and got involved in local projects with the county parks and preserves in the area. Some of my friends family’s were local farmers and it was my first real introduction to U-Pick for all seasons. Although I was never fortunate enough to land a record catch-and-release fish I have some good documentation of my successes over the years and great memories to go with them and I watched the local populations of not only aquatic life but everything else adjust to the housing boom that happened in the area. Some of it was shockingly disappointing in the damage to ecosystems but there were some bright spots too. Through all the stress of moving to the area mid-High School, subsequent transition into college and the typical adolescent angst I had, it was these excursions that helped me find zen moments beyond what being an avid percussionist had already given me.
More recently, during my years living back up north post-undergrad I traveled the region extensively to hike and fish. It’s where I really got into photography and into journal keeping (which for a while even resulted in some posts on my explorations here, perhaps someday I’ll go back and transcribe even more). This connection with the beauty of the local scenery got me through the chaos of grad school, through the disappointments of unemployment, through the tribulations of a divorce by providing me with ample reasons to celebrate life, which is why I also went to them in euphoric states like post-graduation, getting a new job and so on. The forests and lakes and shoreline beaches weren’t just there as consultation, they became part of my identity. The views from hill peaks or along the shore or cooking after visits to the many farm stands and U-Pick farms made for some really great memories.
As of late I haven’t been out as much as I’d like to be living in the vast metropolis of Manhattan but I still take advantage of all the area green space as often as possible because even in the concrete jungle of the boroughs there’s still so much to see that isn’t paved over.
Through this time, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch osprey, peregrine Falcon and red hawk’s nest, experienced the return of striped bass, terrapin, horseshoe crab, black bears, white tailed deer and Canadian Geese (though for some people, maybe the resurgent populations don’t appear as quite a good thing) to the region and even seen bald eagle. Pretty amazing considering how far on the brink some of these were (and still are). There’s been a dramatic change in the number functioning self-sustained regional farms from the monoculture that used to dominate of Jersey corn, tomato and eggplant specific growers resulting in even better tasting Jersey Fresh produce. I’ve been to reclamation sites like DeKorte Park that was part of the sprawling northeast New Jersey landfill system and Long Pond Iron Works and along the Palisades that are reclaimed from mining which when you experience them now as preserve lands are but a shadow of the destruction their former selves once displayed. It is inspiring to see how far it’s come with the other Meadowland’s salt marsh restorations as well as the Fresh Kills project in Staten Island, along the Hudson valley and Raritan rivers that were previously chemical dump sites and the work being done along the shore to reclaim easements along both the ocean and bayside of the barrier islands and interior inlets.
I am lucky to have experienced this bio-diversity, particularly in an area as densely populated and paved over as this is. And, I am infinitely grateful that it is here, it’s supplemented my life in ways I can’t even begin to find the words to sometimes. There’s still lots of work to be done. In the aftermath of hurricane Sandy there’s an obligation to continue the wetlands and meadows preservation projects and potentially expand them, to increase the petrol-chemical and waste disposal regulations to protect our regional waterways and to really show pride in our state and our region that despite the perception it lives up to the slogan Garden State & Jersey Fresh as opposed to succumbing up to the slanderous Dirty Jerz.
Maybe I’m not so speachless after all.