This is a tale of human alteration of the natural world that is leaning towards having a happy ending. Anyone who grew up, as I did, near the Hackensack River and the adjacent Meadowlands knows that even in our lifetimes, it has been permanently altered. I had the opportunity this week to go on a river tour of the area. The eco-tours are run by Hackensack Riverkeeper, part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, whose efforts and education on behalf of the river are instrumental in saving and preserving the Hackensack for future generations.
Although the water in the river is getting cleaner, what used to be a largely freshwater river basin is now brackish due to damming upstream, draining of marsh land for farming, and building up the sides of the river with fill (much of it of dubious origins). The mounded land in the top photo above is a toxic landfill of unknown contents. There was a time when garbage dumping in and around the river was commonplace. The cycle of environmental abuse is ending. We treated (in some cases still treat) and permanently altered this waterway for what we thought was our own benefit for centuries. 8700 of the original 30,000+ acres of the meadowlands are now protected. Birds, fish and other species are returning. 110 species of birds were officially counted this past spring and Osprey and Peregrines are finding nesting opportunities and plentiful food. Spartina alterniflora–a native salt marsh plant–is fighting it out with the ubiquitous Phragmites communis.