Category Archives: Old Growth Forest

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, Little Blue Heron

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.

Little Blue Heron 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 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!

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Borg’s Woods Update 4.10.10


Received an e-mail from Eric M. showing good will to the county on Borg’s Woods:

TO:     Ray Dressler
Bergen County Parks Department
Dennis McNerney
Bergen County Executive
I wish to thank you for the following good work in managing the Borg’s Woods property.
(1) It appears as if the large uprooted trees will be left undisturbed for nature, and for scientific study
(2) Your recent removal of large limbs and small fallen trees on the Main Trail, from same 3/13/2010 storm
(3) Your recent clean-up of several large bags of yard waste dumped near Allen Street entrance by local homeowners
(4) Also a few months ago, Park’s staff evidently cut the half-fallen mulberry along Fairmount Ave that was hanging on an electrical wire. I had pointed that out to you on the city’s last cleanup day
(5) Since the volunteers removed and disposed about 300 feet of barbed wire fencing along Fairmount Ave (a few years ago), there been slow clearing of the invasive multi-flora rose, and invasive Mulberries (some fallen) in the former vegetable garden area. Unsure who is doing it, the County or other parties. It hasn’t been me.
There’s nothing wrong with “thank you” emails. Most people do nothing but complain, and never extend their thanks when things go well.  Let’s hope things continue to go well.
It’s a beautiful time of year in Borg’s. The Spring wildflowers bloomed 2 weeks ahead of their normal schedule. Tree leaves are coming out now, as if it was already May 1st.   On both counts, it’s the earliest I’ve ever seen.  A little extra rain, a little extra warmth….
– Eric Martindale

Borg's Woods Map


Borg’s Woods Statement from McNerney


Received an e-mail from Eric M which included a statement from McNerney regarding the recent “tree avalanche” and Vernal Pond issue in Borg’s Woods. Please see below.

FALLEN TREES — Dennis McNerney states that the County will not cut or touch the trees which fell during the March 13th storm. Presumably this means that major limbs and small fallen trees will be removed which are blocking the main trail which runs from Allen to Byrne Streets.

MOSQUITOS — McNerny stated that the County Parks Department will let the Bergen County Mosquito Control Commission continue their current practices regarding the water level and the mosquito issue at the vernal ponds.

This is not good news, but it is not unexpected. However, it should be noted that McNerney was called to other business and did not finish his statement. McNerney was copied on the e-mail.  A new blog will be posted regarding this matter if a response is received.

Borg’s Woods After the Storm Pictures


I will let these pictures speak for themselves of the March 13th storm devastation in Hackensack’s Borg’s Woods.

Eric Martindale, who helped preserve the preserve stated in the Bergen Record on April 2, 2010 that “Trees blocking major trails should be cleared, but otherwise, fallen trees are characteristic of an old growth forest.  “The trees aren’t blocking the trails. In addition, large fallen trees provide habitat niches for various types of wildlife.”

Hackensack Riverkeeper’s own Capt. Bill Sheehan stated in the April 2, 2010 Bergen Record that “Bugs and other small critters will take care of the trees in good time, and that’s how you replenish the soil of the forest,” Sheehan said. “Things die, they fall down, they biodegrade, and new things grow up. If a tree falls in the woods, it should probably stay there.”

 

Borg's Woods Map

 

 

Borg’s Woods Update 3.18.2010


Sad news to report. I received an e-mail stating that 5% of Borg’s woods or nearly an acre was destroyed during the storm Saturday March 13th.

The e-mail, received from Eric M. who helped edit the Borg’s Woods blog here on NJURBANFOREST stated:

“As far as the Blowout of trees is concerned, the fallen trees should simply be left in place. Except of course those that fell from the County’s land onto homeowner’s property. The event was a natural event, an act of God / act of nature. This is a nature preserve.  This is something that would have happened if no humans existed on the planet.  Just leave it be. Don’t cut them up into small logs, that would be unnatural.  We don’t want anything unnatural in the woods. The purpose of a nature preserve is to experience and to learn about nature.  As upsetting as it is, a blowout of trees is part of nature. And it is part of what an old-growth forest is about.  Therefore it is part of what visitors should see.”
Most of the trees that fell were mature 200 year American Beech Trees.  It appears most of the damage occurred in the southeast corner of the preserve.
More on Borg’s Woods:

Borg’s Woods After the Storm Pictures

Hackensack’s Borg’s Woods-A Living Museum