Category Archives: Hackensack Meadowlands

Exploring Secaucus Mill Creek Marsh!


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

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

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

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

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

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 Map (Trail in Green)

Mill Creek Marsh Trail

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.

Tidal Bays The lungs of the Hackensack

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

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

Snowy Egret on Ancient White Cedar Stump

Yellowlegs

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.

Fauna & Flora

 

Flora

Hibiscus

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

Sunflowers

Mill Creek Marsh

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 comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Check out the latest bird sightings at Mill Creek Marsh Here!

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!

Walking DeKorte Park!


NJ Meadolands Commission Richard W. Dekorte Park

NJ Meadowlands Commission Richard W. Dekorte Park

DeKorte Park is an amazing environmental story. The 110 acre park is a former landfill that has been given a second chance and features trails, butterfly garden, observatory and an environmental education center.

meadowlands

Marsh View Pavilion

Kiosk

 

Near the Environmental Education center is the Jill Ann Ziemkiewicz Memorial Butterfly Garden. The garden is named after the youngest crew member of TWA Flight 800 which crashed off of Long Island in July of 1996. The centerpiece of the gardens is a bird bath hand carved to look like a sunflower.

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Sunflower Bird Bath

After I visited the butterfly garden, I took a stroll to the Lyndhurst Nature Reserve.

Transco Trail

Trail Head for Transco Trail and Lyndhurst Nature Reserve

The Lyndhurst Nature Reserve is a 3 1/2 acre island that is made entirely out of old garbage that was illegally dumped between 1969-1971.  The island is now a nature preserve covered with native grassland meadows and young woodlands. The island is surrounded by mudflats.

Black Eye Susans

Black Eye Susans

Atlantic White Cedar

Ancient Atlantic White Cedar

The mudflats surrounding the reserve at one time contained an extensive Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. Due to factors such as the construction of the Oradell dam to create the Oradell Reservoir in 1921 the water became too brackish for Atlantic White Cedar to survive. Today there are only ancient stumps remaining of the once extensive forest.

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Transco Trail

After leaving the Lyndhurst Nature Reserve, I took the eastern portion of the Transco trail which is roughly 3/4 of a mile in length.  The trail is built on a dike constructed in 1950 which contains a buried natural gas pipeline. Some flora along the trail includes Thistle, Milkweed and Pokeweed. Check out below for some pictures of the fauna found nearby.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Mallards and Canadian Geese

Forster Terns

Forster Terns

Crab

 

 

I also walked the Kingsland Overlook which offers view of the surrounding Kingsland Impoundment. The overlook was once a productive salt marsh which was turned into a dump. The former dump was turned into a park for wildlife starting in 1989. The landfill was capped with 400,000 recycled plastic soda bottles and covered with top soil. Thousands of plugs and 20 foot trees were planted. A dike was built to prevent leachate from going into the impoundment. The area is now maturing and many animals make the park their home.

DeKorte Park offers hope for all blighted areas. It is living proof that brownfields really can become greenfields with enough effort. The trail map (taken from NJSEA) is listed below:

DeKorte Park Trail Map

For more information and the official website click here. You can also check out the Meadowlands blog.

Don’t miss Jim Wright of the Meadowlands Commission’s new book “The Nature of the Meadowlands“!

Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

Hackensack RiverKeeper Meadowlands Eco-Cruise!


Hackensack Riverkeeper!

After doing some research online, I decided to do the Hackensack Riverkeeper Meadowlands Discovery Eco-Cruise. It was  worth it. The eco-cruise takes place on a pontoon boat and visits wetlands like Kingland Creek, Berry’s Creek Canal and a trip to what is known as the jewel of the Meadowlands, the Sawmill Creek Wildlife Management Area which is home to birds and other wildlife.

Pontoon Boat

Most people see the Hackensack Meadowlands from the NJ Turnpike and think of it as a vast wasteland. The eco-cruise takes on a different perspective and makes you realize that the Meadowlands is a true urban treasure.

Our captain was Bill Sheehan, the Riverkeeper himself.  He was great, pointing out wildlife and the happenings of the Meadowlands including enhancement efforts such as replacing Common Reed with native species such as Smooth Cordgrass. The picture below is a good example of the enhancement effort and shows an island which is virtually free of Common Reed.

Enhanced Island

The eco-cruise also made it past Laurel Hill (aka Snake Hill) which is said to have been infested with black water snakes during colonial times. Prudential Life Insurance Company was inspired by the formation of the rocks which was said to be similar to the Rock of Gibraltar and is still used in Prudential advertising to this day.

Laurel Hill

Kudos to Hackensack Riverkeeper for providing this fun and educational experience of the Hackensack Meadowlands. Be sure to check out http://www.hackensackriverkeeper.org/ for more information.

Feel free to comment below with questions memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!