Exploring Secaucus Mill Creek Marsh!

Welcome to Mill Creek Marsh!

Welcome to the Secaucus Mill Creek Marsh!  Mill Creek, a tributary of the Hackensack River meanders through the marsh. The estimated 209+ acre marsh was purchased from Hartz Mountain Industries in 1996 by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission for preservation purposes.  The marsh was previously slated for a 2,750 unit housing development.

Mill Creek Marsh

Though the marsh had not experienced direct industrial activities, habitat for wildlife was limited. The marsh had layers of fill and consisted of a monoculture of Common Reed which limited tidal inundation. The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission began enhancement of the marsh in 1998. The purpose of the enhancement was to create an intertidal brackish marsh, upland habitat, mudflats and shallow sub-tidal areas. Islands were created from fill in the marsh and were planted with salt tolerant flora such as Spartina (aka Salt Marsh Cordgrass).  Spartina tolerates salt water by excreting excess salt. Two impoundments of Mill Creek  (North/South) were created in addition to re-establishing tidal flow.

Stand of Gray Birch next to Mill Creek Marsh Trail

The term “enhancement “is used rather than “restoration” because there is no evidence to support that an intertidal marsh ecosystem with both mud flats and raised islands ever existed naturally in the meadowlands.

Mill Creek Marsh NYC Background

During the enhancement activities, removal of fill exposed old stumps of Atlantic White Cedar which had been buried for many years. It’s estimated that 1/3 of the Hackensack Meadowlands were once covered in Atlantic White Cedar. The decline of these majestic trees in the meadowlands began in the mid 18th century when the durable Atlantic White Cedar wood was used to make roads and houses. Later, swaths of the cedar forest were burned to eliminate hiding places for pirates. The last of the cedars died out with the completion of the Oradell dam on the Hackensack River which severely slowed the influx of freshwater pouring into the swamp and allowed an influx of saltwater into the marshes.

Atlantic White Cedar Stumps in Mill Creek Marsh

Over a short period of time former freshwater marsh became a brackish estuary.  These stumps are all that is left of the once extensive Atlantic White Cedar forest in the meadowlands.

Mallards, Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret

While the eco-system is certainly healthier than it was prior to the enhancement, water quality still has a long way to go. The creation of  water channels has allowed for oxygen exchange and greater tidal flushing which has improved water quality. However, coliform bacteria is still present in Mill Creek at elevated levels most likely due to the proximity of a municipal sewage treatment plant near the marsh.  Samples of macro invertebrates taken from Mill Creek primarily consists of pollutant tolerant species which is an indicator that water quality is not as healthy as it could become in the future.

Trail

Mill Creek Marsh Trail Map (Trail in Green)

Mill Creek Marsh Trail

A 1.5 mile handicapped-accessible trail was created during the NJMC enhancement activities at Mill Creek Marsh. The trail traverses both the south and north impoundments and ventures near Least Tern Island (one of the artificially created islands) and consists of a gravel footpath and footbridges. The trail offers a multitude of opportunities to view wildlife. Educational signs have been placed throughout the trail providing information to visitors of Mill Creek Marsh.

Example of Educational Signage found along Mill Creek Marsh Trail

The trail can be walked in a looped fashion around the southern impoundment (for a shorter walk) or in a loop around the northern impoundment (for the full 1.5 miles).

Fauna

Monarch Butterfly

Over 280 bird species have been documented in the NJ Meadowlands. Birds such as Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Black-Crowned Night Heron, American Bittern (a state endangered species), Terns, Tree Swallows and Double-crested Cormorants have all been spotted in Mill Creek Marsh among others. Of special note, a Eurasian Green-winged teal has been seen in Mill Creek Marsh both this year and last.  Black Skimmers make an appearance in the summer.

Snowy Egret on Ancient White Cedar Stump

Yellowlegs

Fiddler Crabs and different species of fish populate Mill Creek in addition to turtles such as Diamondback Terrapin. Diamondback Terrapin are the only turtles adapted to life in brackish waters.  Muskrats also make their home here.

Flora

Hibiscus

In addition to Common Reed, (which is still present in many locations), Gray Birch, Saltwater Cordgrass, rushes, sedges and other flora flourish in Mill Creek Marsh.

Sunflowers

Mill Creek Marsh

Today the Mill Creek Marsh is an oasis of nature in a sea of overdevelopment. There is no place else that I can think of where you can view ancient stumps of Atlantic White Cedar with the NYC skyline as a backdrop.

Check out Plant Communities of New Jersey.

NJ’s geology, topography and soil, climate, plant-plant and plant-animal relationships, and the human impact on the environment are all discussed in great detail. Twelve plant habitats are described and the authors were good enough to put in examples of where to visit!

Click here for more information!

Be sure to click here to check out additional great photos of Mill Creek Marsh! (Thanks Hope)

Driving Directions (as stated in the  NYNJ Trail Conference Mill Creek Trail Description)

Take the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 16W and follow signs for Route 3 East. Cross the bridge over the Hackensack River and follow signs for “Secaucus/New Jersey Turnpike South/Exit Only.” Continue past the Turnpike exit and take the next exit (just beyond the underpass) for “Harmon Meadow Blvd./The Plaza/Mill Creek Mall.” Follow Harmon Meadow Boulevard to the third traffic light (Sam’s Club is on the left) and turn left onto Mill Creek Drive. Cross over the New Jersey Turnpike and continue straight ahead (do not bear left) at a sign for “Mill Creek Mall.” Park on the right, at a sign for “Mill Creek Trail.”

Feel free to e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestion! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Great Books on the Meadowlands

1. The Nature of the Meadowlands – The Nature of the Meadowlands illuminates the region’s natural and unnatural history, from its darkest days of a half-century ago to its amazing environmental revival.

Click here for more information!

2. The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City – Author Robert Sullivan proves himself to be this fragile yet amazingly resilient region’s perfect expolorer, historian, archaeologist, and comic bard.

Click here for more information!

3. Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story – Slowly but surely, with help from activist groups, government organizations, and ordinary people, the resilient creatures of the Meadowlands are making a comeback, and the wetlands are recovering.

Click here for more information!

4. Fields of Sun and Grass: An Artist’s Journal of the New Jersey Meadowlands – The book has three central parts, respectively called “Yesterday,” “Today,” and “Tomorrow.” Each covers a different time period in the ecological life of the Meadowlands.

Click here for more information!

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About NJUrbanForest

Love to explore, photograph and learn about NJ (and NY) urban forests

10 responses to “Exploring Secaucus Mill Creek Marsh!”

  1. Michael says :

    Great article. I grew up near the site but have never taken the time to walk in it. I just glance out over the expanse from the shopping area. If the bird is close I look at it but walk a mile to see it, I don’t think so. Besides I just saw it here online. To me it is still just a swamp, A nice swamp but a swamp.

  2. Pamela says :

    Mill Creek Marsh is located in Lyndhurst,NJ on the border of North Arlington. I live in Lyndhurst and go there almost everyday.

  3. Pamela says :

    Sorry for the mistake in the above post…that trail is in Secaucus. I was thinking of Saw Mill Marsh Trail, which is in Lyndhurst. It is part of DeKorte Park of Lyndhurst (the Meadowlands Environmental Center). Saw Mill Marsh Trail is temporarily closed right now, but the other trails at the Envronmental Center, with great views of the marshes, mudflats and Manhattan are still open. It is one of my favorite places to do informal bird and animal watching, to experience the beauty and ugliness of NJ–the combination of nature and the NJ Turnpike clattering out in the distance. There is nothing like watching the sun rising on the tidal wetlands with its egrets, mute swans, hawks, turtles and all other manner of creatures and also seeing the Empire State building rising out of the horizon like a huge phragmite reed. .

    Love to our Meadowlands!

  4. Paul says :

    Great article! Is bike riding allowed?

  5. NJUrbanForest says :

    Thanks Paul!

    Regarding your question regarding bike riding: The Meadowlands Commission generally discourages the use of the trail for bike riding and encourages passive recreation such as birding, hiking and nature study.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

  6. geralyna says :

    We usually go to De Korte and it’s quite lovely, but I never see as many egrets, herons, finches, etc there as I saw on the short loop. It was so amazing. the midges were a bit much, but we loved watching the birds darting around to feed on them. Thanks for this post. I’ve been to the mall a million times and never knew this gem was so near by.

  7. Pete says :

    Was this a pirate hideout at one time? When? Who?

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  1. Mill Creek Marsh – INCHOATE - February 19, 2017

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