Improvements to the Meadowlands’ unique urban ecosystem are supported by the work of the Natural Resources Management Department. The Department conducts surveys on area wildlife and looks for ways to enhance and preserve the environment by protecting wetlands and native plants and animals, and by finding ways to eliminate or reduce invasive flora and nuisance fauna. The research performed by the Natural Resources Management Department furthers the NJSEA’s ongoing commitment to exploring ways to improve and protect vital natural resources in the Meadowlands District.
In the endeavor to protect the ecology of the Meadowlands the Natural Resources Management Department has assisted and collaborated with multiple outside agencies and organizations:
• Natural Resources supports the US Army Corps of Engineers by providing local sponsorship to the Corps’ Hudson-Raritan Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.
• Natural Resources staff serve on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Interagency Review Team, which advises the Corps on wetland mitigation.
• Natural Resources assisted the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in the development of a Wildlife Action Plan for the Meadowlands.
• NJ Department of Agriculture provides assistance on biological control of invasive plants
• Meadowlands Conservation Trust receives technical support from Natural Resources.
Natural Resources also collaborates on studies with faculty and students from various academic institutions. The Department has participated in cooperative projects of common interest with non-governmental organizations including the New Jersey Audubon Society, New York City Audubon Society, Bergen County Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited and the Wetlands Institute.
One of the NJSEA’s goals is to protect wetlands. Wetlands protection in turn benefits Meadowlands District residents by reducing storm water runoff and flooding and providing passive recreation space.
Wetlands are lands that are flooded or saturated at or near the ground surface for varying periods of time during the year. Wetlands generally are found between uplands and deep water. Based on their characteristics wetlands are further referred to as marshes, swamps, bogs and wet meadows.
Wetlands provide habitats and breeding grounds for many species of animals and vegetation, filter pollutants and temporarily hold rainwater and runoff, which reduces flooding and soil erosion. Most of the wetlands in the Meadowlands District are brackish and tidally inundated. Wetlands and open waters receive particular attention because of federal and state regulations pertaining to the federal Clean Water Act.
Prior to occupation by European immigrants, the Meadowlands contained more than 21,000 acres of undeveloped wildlife habitat, most of which were wetlands, including approximately 18,600 acres that were estuarine tidal and about 1,500 freshwater. At one time people perceived no direct need for wetlands in the Meadowlands. Early settlers and 19th century residents sought to fill in the swamps and dike the creeks to make the land suitable to their purposes. This began the process of wetland loss and degradation. Today, more than 8,400 acres of wetlands remain in the District.
The enhancement of drained or altered wetlands re-establishes and adds important ecological functions to the landscape, including the restoration of degraded wildlife habitat, increased flood storage and improved water quality.
One of the NJSEA’s goals is to preserve or enhance the more than 8,400 acres of wetlands and open water in the Meadowlands District. The Authority to date has acquired or holds management rights to more than 2,500 acres of wetlands for preservation. About another 1,400 acres that are not owned by the NJSEA have also been preserved. These include 587 acres at the Richard P. Kane Natural Area in Carlstadt and South Hackensack, a property owned by the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, and 257 acres of enhanced wetlands in Carlstadt owned by Marsh Resources Incorporated.
The intent of wetlands enhancement is not to restore the site to the conditions of a particular time in the past. Rather, enhancement usually involves improving the site’s ecological value This is often accomplished by increasing tidal flow by removing past fill and otherwise modifying the topography; removing invasive plant species; planting desirable native vegetation; and following enhancement management practices for invasive species and nuisance wildlife. Under these improved hydrological and vegetative conditions, a greater diversity of wildlife utilizes the sites.
The Authority’s preservation and enhancement of wetlands within the Meadowlands District is an important initiative that improves the environment and the quality of life for humans and wildlife.
Richard P. Kane Natural Area (Carlstadt)
The Meadowlands Conservation Trust (MCT) took ownership of this 587-acre site in 2005. Much of the site, then known as the Empire Tract, was slated for commercial development. The Mills Corporation, the site’s former owner, transferred full title and ownership of the land to the MCT as part of a wetland mitigation agreement.
Mill Creek Marsh (Secaucus)
On Sept. 17, 2005, the Empire Tract was officially renamed the Richard P. Kane Natural Area in honor of Mr. Kane, a former Vice President of Conservation and Stewardship for the New Jersey Audubon Society and a tireless advocate for Meadowlands preservation.
As part of the preservation agreement, a 235-acre portion of the Kane Tract wetlands were preserved, with the remainder of the tract available to be enhanced into a wetland mitigation bank that could be used only for unavoidable wetland impacts due to transportation projects occurring within the Meadowlands District watershed.
In January 2009, the MCT leased a 237-acre portion of the Kane tract to Earthmark NJ Kane Mitigation, LLC. During 2009 and 2010, Earthmark developed plans for and obtained State and Federal wetland permits for a 19.85-acre freshwater wooded wetland mitigation site in the northeastern portion of the Kane tract, and a 217-acre tidal wetland mitigation bank between Moonachie Creek and the Hackensack River.
The goal of the freshwater mitigation site was to enhance a 19.85-acre portion of the wetlands dominated by the invasive Common Reed (Phragmites) to provide a seasonally saturated forested wetland bordered by a riparian forest along Losen Slote Creek and enhance an existing early successional forest stand.
This work was done for the purpose of providing effective, off-site compensatory wetland mitigation for authorized wetland impacts by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The primary wetland system planned for the 217-acre mitigation bank was a tidal emergent marsh, mudflat and open-water ecosystem dominated by native salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alerniflora). These wetlands provide habitat for a wide variety of wetland-dependent and terrestrial wildlife species.
Construction and planting at the freshwater mitigation site was completed in October 2010. Construction and planting at the 217-acre tidal mitigation bank was completed in September 2012.
This 209-acre marshland was purchased by the former NJMC for preservation in 1996 from Harts Mountain Industries. A development of 2,750 town homes had been proposed for a portion of the site and it was choked by a dense monoculture of the invasive form of the Common Read (Phragmites), with very little open water and reduced tidal flow. In its former condition, there was little habitat diversity.
Secaucus High School Wetlands Enhancement Site (Secaucus)
During 1985 and 1986, Hartz Mountain performed a wetland enhancement on an approximately 63-acre portion of the Mill Creek Marsh in an area known as the Western Brackish Marsh. The Western Brackish Marsh is bounded on the north and south by the Cromakill and Mill creeks, to the east by the NJ Turnpike Eastern Spur, and to the west by the Hackensack River. In 1998 and 1999, the NJMC performed wetlands enhancement activities on the remaining approximately 140-acre portion of the site, including the re-establishment of tidal flows, creation of open water impoundments, grading to create low marsh and upland areas, and planting of native species to attract a diversity of aquatic life and birds.
Wetland enhancement at Mill Creek included grading of the marsh surface by creating additional meanders and tidal channels and the excavation of shallow pools to provide open water habitats. The result was low marsh habitat flushed daily by tides; lowland scrub-shrub passerine habitats; creation of dabbling duck, shorebird, and wading bird breeding, wintering and migratory habitats; greater fishery access; and some degree of mosquito control.
Mill Creek Marsh today is an important area for breeding wildlife, migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, and is used by recreational paddlers.
The tide will affect what you see at Mill Creek Marsh. At high tide, the marsh shoreline is covered by six feet of water; at low tide wide mudflats are exposed. Channel width and depths will vary depending on tidal flow. If the tide is low, the channel will be narrow. If the tide is high, the channel will be broad. At mid-to-high tide, additional channels are available for exploration.
The Secaucus High School Wetlands Enhancement Site is located between Mill Creek Point Park and Secaucus High School. In 1999, the former NJMC leased the 43-acre site from the Town of Secaucus under a 99-year agreement. In 2007, the former Commission ecologically enhanced 31 acres of wetlands at the site. An additional 6.5 acres of undeveloped and unenhanced wetlands lies between this lot and the high school property.
Harrier Meadow Wetland Enhancement Site (North Arlington)
Prior to enhancement, 83 percent of the site was covered by the invasive form of Common Reed (Phragmites). The enhancement design included a diversity of wetland habitats and planting with a variety of native emergent marsh plant species. Other species of vegetation have colonized the location.
A combination of remote sensing and ground-level fieldwork by the former Commission has produced sophisticated representations of the vegetative cover. A survey in 2012 found 27 species of plants at the site. Big Cordgrass and Virginia Glasswort are found at only a few marshes in the Meadowlands. Big Cordgrass was planted at the site and is flourishing. The site is managed to prevent invasive species from taking over again.
The total number of bird species using the site for breeding, wintering, or during migration continues to grow. There were 55 species observed during a baseline study in 2000, with 76 species currently recorded. Eleven of these are classified as NJDEP State endangered, threatened or special concern species, with six of being observed only following enhancement of the site. The number of breeding species also continues to increase, with 14 species in 2012 seen nesting at the site. Cooperative research projects between the former Commission and academic institutions have been carried out at this site following enhancement.
A 1,500-foot elevated boardwalk is used by visitors to walk along the marsh and peer down into a restored urban wetland. The walkway includes observation benches and award-winning wildlife signage on the rails.
The 69-acre Harrier Meadow wetland enhancement site is located within the Saw Mill Creek basin. The former NJMC acquired the property in 1996. Harrier Meadow was initially part of a much larger marsh system influenced by the Kingsland and Sawmill creeks. The wetland has been cut off from full tidal inundation due to the construction of the Transco pipeline and the New Jersey Turnpike Western Spur. In the 1960’s, Harrier Meadow was the disposal site for shot rock from the construction of US Route 280. The location of Harrier Meadow lies in the shadow of the 85-foot ridge of exposed red shale to the west that stretches from North Arlington to Lyndhurst. Immediately north of the site is the closed Erie Landfill, which was primarily a repository of municipal waste. Access to Harrier Meadow is limited to NJSEA guided tours.
Skeetkill Creek Marsh (Ridgefield)
The former NJMC acquired this 16-acre parcel for preservation in 1996. The Skeetkill Creek Marsh sits along Bellman’s Creek and is adjacent to an industrial section of Ridgefield. Prior to enhancement work the invasive form of the Common Reed (Phragmites) was the predominant vegetation, forming a dense monoculture throughout the property. The site had limited suitability for wildlife use.
Saw Mill Creek Wildlife Management Area (Kearny and Lyndhurst,)
An enhancement project at Skeetkill Creek Marsh was conducted in 1998 with collaboration on the design from Ducks Unlimited that included the management of Phragmites, increasing the available open water habitat and the creation of scrub-shrub habitats. Excavation of several shallow pools has provided open water habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. There is a small park on-site for the public to enjoy that includes benches and an informational kiosk.
In 2008, the former Commission transferred the ownership of Skeetkill Creek Marsh to the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, which works to preserve, protect, and enhance environmentally sensitive lands in the Meadowlands region and the Hackensack River Watershed.
The 741-acre Saw Mill Creek Wildlife Management Area is jointly managed by the former Commission and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. It stretches out on both sides of the New Jersey Turnpike Western Spur in Lyndhurst and Kearny. The Saw Mill Creek Wildlife Management Area may be accessed only by boat, via the boat ramps at Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus or the Commission’s River Barge Park in Carlstadt.
Kearny Freshwater Marsh (Kearny)
Portions of the Saw Mill Creek Marsh were diked for agricultural purposes as early as the 1820s. Additional ditching and diking occurred in the 1860. Between 1912 and 1950 this marsh was completely diked and drained for mosquito control. As a result, the marsh was cut off from tidal flows and its biodiversity declined as it was colonized by Phragmites.
In November 1950, a nor’easter destroyed the Saw Mill Creek tidegates and dikes and reopened the marsh to tidal inundation from the Hackensack River. As a result of the increased tidal flow from this “natural restoration” event, Phragmites eventually died off in much of the marsh as native Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) replaced it.
With its tidal flow restored, a greater diversity of wildlife uses this area, including Striped Bass, Fiddler Crab, Diamondback Terrapin, Great Blue Heron, Gadwall, Common Moorhen and American Bittern. Several State-listed endangered species, including the Black Skimmer and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, can be seen here. The NJSEA has been conducting a multi-year study to estimate the population of Diamondback Terrapins in this marsh.
The Kearny Freshwater Marsh is a 344-acre impoundment that stretches in the east from the New Jersey Turnpike Western Spur and Belleville Turnpike (Route 7) to the Keegan Landfill and Gunnell Oval Complex in the west. The former NJMC acquired the marsh in 1999. Historically, this portion of the Meadowlands was an Atlantic white cedar swamp. Human disturbance over the past 300 years had converted this area from a cedar swamp to relatively dry fields consisting of the invasive form of the Common Reed (Phragmites). Rainwater and runoff from the surrounding uplands drain into the impounded marsh.
Kearny Brackish Marsh (Kearny)
Over many years rising water levels have reduced the extent of vegetative cover. Though referred to as “freshwater,” it is brackish with a very low salinity around 1 or 2 ppt. Freshwater wetlands are uncommon in the Meadowlands. Completion of containment of the Keegan Landfill in 2008 prevents further contamination by leachate.
Superstorm Sandy blew numerous vegetated peat islands that had been scattered throughout the marsh to the far western side, where they impede access to the water from the park at the Gunnell Oval Complex.
The former NJMC acquired a 116-acre portion of the Kearny Brackish Marsh in 2005 for preservation and management purposes. The Kearny Brackish Marsh lies south of the Sawmill Creek Wildlife Management Area and sits between the Belleville Turnpike (Route 7) and Amtrak Northeast Corridor railroad tracks on the west and south, and the Cayuga Dike along the Hackensack River on the east. Similar to what happened in the Kearny Freshwater Marsh, emergent vegetation has been mostly lost over the past 10 years and replaced by open water. Tidal flow and hydrological connections have been restricted due to surrounding development.
Riverbend Wetland Preserve (Secaucus)
This 54-acre site was purchased by the former NJMC for preservation in 1996 from Hartz Mountain Industries. It is bounded on the north by the Amtrak Northeast Corridor railroad, on the south and west by the Hackensack River, and on the east by the closed Malanka landfill. The marsh has been used as a reference native high marsh study site by Rutgers University.
Berry’s Creek Marsh (Rutherford)
Eastern Brackish Marsh (North Bergen)
Berry’s Creek marsh consists of 146 acres. The site was purchased by the former NJMC in 1999 from the Rutherford Land Company. It is bounded on the south and west by Berry’s Creek and on the northeast by the New Jersey Transit Beren Line.
The site is divided into three sections by the old Rutherford landfill access road. Most of the Berry’s Creek Marsh is landlocked between the railroad and the landfill access road. The marsh is dominated by the invasive Common Reed (Phragmites
). Fish Creek meanders through the site. A 40-acre parcel within this marsh is occupied by the WOR radio tower array, and a portion of this marsh lies between the landfill access road and Berry’s Creek. Some enhancement was carried out at this part of the site along Berry’s Creek. The remaining areas are open water with mudflats and isolated pockets of native Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora
). In its current condition, the site supports limited habitat diversity and opportunities for passive recreation.
Oritani Marsh (East Rutherford)
This 75-acre site was purchased by the former NJMC in 1999 from Hartz Mountain Industries for preservation and management. At its time of purchase the marsh was undeveloped and had experienced no direct industrial activities. Prior to enhancement, the area supported a dense monoculture of the invasive form of the Common Reed (Phragmites) with very little open water and supported limited habitat diversity and opportunities for recreation.
Wetland enhancement at this site included the control of Phragmites, grading of the marsh surface, planting of native vegetation, the re-establishment of tidal flow and the creation of open water areas. This resulted in a mostly mud flat habitat that is flushed daily by the tides; lowland scrub-shrub passerine habitats along the marsh/upland ecotone; creation of dabbling duck, shorebird, and wading bird breeding, wintering, and migratory habitats; greater fishery access; and some degree of mosquito control.
Wetland enhancement at this site included the control of
Phragmites, grading of the marsh surface,
planting of native vegetation, the re-establishment of tidal flow and
the creation of open water areas. This resulted in a mostly mud flat habitat
that is flushed daily by the tides; lowland scrub-shrub passerine habitats along
the marsh/upland ecotone; creation of dabbling duck, shorebird, and wading bird
breeding, wintering, and migratory habitats; greater fishery access; and some
degree of mosquito control.
Anderson Creek Marsh (Secaucus)
The former NJMC purchased this 220-acre site in 1998 from Sisselman Israel Associates. It is bounded on the southwest by the New Jersey Transit Bergen Line, on the southeast by the New Jersey Turnpike and on the northeast by Berry’s Creek Canal.
The northern portions of the tract along the Berry's Creek Canal received spoils from the original dredging of the canal in 1911. The northeastern half of the site received hydraulically broadcast spoils removed during the construction of the New Jersey Turnpike during the mid-1950s. Together, these activities eliminated much low saltmarsh, burying it beneath several feet of fill material. This site is dominated by the invasive of the Common Reed (Phragmites
The Anderson Creek Marsh consists of 52-acres and is bounded on the northwest by the Hackensack River, on the northeast by the NJ Transit Bergen Line and on the southwest by wetlands owned by the Town of Secaucus.
Riverside Marsh (Lyndhurst)
Restoration of the Anderson Creek Marsh was being contemplated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the former NJMC as part of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary (HRE) Hackensack Meadowlands Ecosystem Restoration Study (HMERS). To prepare the site for restoration, the site was sprayed with herbicide over a three-year period, which was successful in eradicating almost all of the invasive form of the Common Reed (Phragmites) at the site. After the Phragmites was eradicated, federal funding for the project did not materialize.
The southern portion of the site has been colonized by native Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), while the central and northern portions of the site are dominated by mudflats.
This 40-acre site was acquired by the former NJMC in 1999 for preservation and management. The area is undeveloped and is adjacent to an area where the emergent marsh had been enhanced. The site consists predominately of the invasive form of the Common Reed (Phragmites).