Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Refreshing Change: New Jersey's Meadowlands

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Refreshing Change: New Jersey's Meadowlands

Article excerpt

An uninhabitable wasteland is transformed into a conservation area where more than 260 species of birds and wildlife thrive

The scene is common. A flock of Eurasian greenwinged teal keeps pace with a kayaker meandering around clumps oftall grass. The kayaker stretches ahead, leaving the ducks behind when they dive into the water to feed. In the background, a symphony of bird calls mark another morning in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

But such serenity didn't always exist here. About five miles from midtown Manhattan, the 30 square miles known as the Meadowlands District- much of which has been filled and paved over - was once a choked repository for indiscriminate dumping, where trucks lumbered into the wee hours with their putrid loads. Today, thanks to 40 years of stewardship by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC), it is transforming into a breathtaking oasis that promotes wildlife conservation, ecotourism of its wetlands, residential communities, green businesses, and a sustainable regional economy.

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun stepping out of its traditional role of granting permits, setting infrastructure regulations, and constructing flood control mechanisms. In 2002, the NJMC looked to the Corps of Engineers, New York District, for help in restoring the wetlands to their natural beauty. Its partnership with the NJMC is an ongoing effort to help the commission maintain the Meadowlands, restore its wetlands, and preserve its ecosystem by provid-ing research, studies, and tools to get the job done. Currently, the corps is heading up two studies, the goals of which are to determine what environmental areas of the Meadowlands have the most impact and what potential types of improvements can be made to those areas.

The Hudson Raritan Hackensack Meadowlands Study focuses on the improvement of current ecological sites while accommodating all the existing residential and commercial uses in the area. "In the '90s, the Meadowlands area was still suffering from the problems bestowed upon it by renegade dumping and inappropriate development," says Bill Sheehan, founder of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the natural resources of the Hackensack River watershed. "There was a lot of disregard for the wetlands and what they do for the community.

"We now have a state government whose focus is on restoration and preservation. …

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