Preserving History, Protecting Habitats

By Castagna, JoAnne | Parks & Recreation, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Preserving History, Protecting Habitats

Castagna, JoAnne, Parks & Recreation

A U.S. Corps of Engineers project restores wetlands to create a public park.

In the summer of 2006, a volunteer from the Somerset County Historical Society warmly welcomed Army Corps visitors at the historic Van Veghten House in Somerset County, N.J. He enthusiastically explained that the very room they were standing in was where Gen. George Washington danced the night away at a dinner party during the Revolutionary War.

The Corps visitors were there to perform the Finderne Wetlands Mitigation Project on the house's property. It was evident to the team that the state is proud of the property's history-something that was taken into account when the Corps' New York District decided to collaborate with the state in 2000 to enhance and restore the land around the house to create wildlife habitats and a public park.

The Corps often deals with projects concerning waterways and land use. The goal of land management helps to keep water where it belongs and maintain the sanctity of ecologically valuable locations.

This particular wetlands mitigation project is part of the Green Brook Flood Damage Reduction Project designed to reduce flood damage in New Jersey's Raritan River Basin in north central New Jersey-in Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties. The Finderne project is located on 130 acres of land along the Raritan River.

"Flood damage reduction is one of our major missions at the New York District," says John O'Connor, project manager, Green Brook Flood Damage Reduction Project. "This is one of the district's largest flood damage reduction projects. The Green Brook Sub Basin is continually subject to severe, and sometimes devastating, flood damage. In 1999, floodwaters from Tropical Storm Floyd caused two deaths and approximately $80 million in damages."

Another major New York District flood damage reduction project preserving historical property and the environment is the Ramapo River at the Oakland, N.J. Flood Damage Reduction Project. The Ramapo River, from Pompton Lake upstream to West Oakland Avenue, frequently floods. In 1999, Tropical Storm Floyd caused approximately $5.3 million in damages.

The Oakland project involves the construction of features for flood damage reduction along the Ramapo River from Pompton Lake in Wayne Township and the Borough of Pompton Lakes, upstream through the Borough of Oakland to West Oakland Avenue, a distance of 3.3. miles. The construction includes channel modification of 5,800 feet of the Ramapo River, the creation of an eight-acre wetland in Potash Lake and the relocation of the historic Doty Road Bridge. In addition, flood control gates were installed at the existing Pompton Lake Dam. Construction of the dam began in March 2004 and is scheduled to be completed in February.

Megan Grubb, biologist and coordinator for the Corps district says that the Finderne project has a similar mission. "The project is enhancing existing wetlands, forested land and grassland habitats on the site and creating more than 20 acres of man-made wetlands to sustain wildlife and create an educational public park." she says.

The land was used for farming crops and livestock from the late 1600s to just a few years ago when Somerset County purchased it for open space preservation and park development. Years of farming had caused erosion problems on the land.

One of these farms is the historic Van Veghten House. By 1699, the Van Veghten family farmed a huge tract of land that included all of the property now under construction at the mitigation site. The 18th-century red brick Dutch farmhouse still stands on the bluff above the floodplain with a view to the Raritan River.

The house that's presently occupied by the Somerset County Historical Society has a rich history that includes sheltering Gen. George Washington's Quartermaster General, Gen. Nathaniel Greene, during the Revolutionary War, while his soldiers camped nearby.

"Corps projects all have the potential to encounter historic resources such as archeological sites, but it is not often that they involve working with such a great historic structure as the Van Veghten House," says Lynn Rakos, archaeologist, New York District, U. …

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