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The Nation

Fowl Play ... With the Nets and Devils

Environmentalists say that wildlife is making a comeback at the New Jersey Meadowlands despite decades of development.

October 05, 2003|Steve Strunsky | Associated Press Writer

SECAUCUS, N.J. — Canoeists paddle peacefully under the New Jersey Turnpike. Stumps of an extinct cedar forest jut out of the water, paralleling the Empire State building in the distance. Swans float silently on the Hackensack River, the gentle slope of a landfill rising behind them.

These are the compelling juxtapositions of the New Jersey Meadowlands, a huge swath of wetlands and wildlife now making what environmentalists say is a strong comeback after decades of harmful dumping and development.

The Meadowlands, 10 miles west of Manhattan between the turnpike's eastern and western spurs, is perhaps best known for the sports complex where the Jets, Giants, Nets and Devils play.

It also has a history as a repository for millions of tons of garbage in what are now grassy, capped landfills, the last of which stopped receiving household trash more than a year ago.

But the Meadowlands is also home to countless species of fish and fowl, including striped bass, bluefish and flounder, fished by boaters who launch from a Hudson County park at Snake Hill in Secaucus.

The skies are alight with swooping black cormorants, soaring osprey and great blue heron.

Terrapin turtles that would be crushed crossing the turnpike are now diverted by fences to marshy underpasses.

The local congressman, Rep. Steve Rothman, has secured $4 million toward the creation of an 8,400-acre state park to preserve the remaining third of the Meadowlands that has not been developed.

The idea is supported by some formerly pro-development mayors and business people, who now recognize the area's enviro-marketing potential.

Depending on the water level, Manhattan and Newark are visible above the reeds and bright green marsh grass.

"It really brings it home how urbanized this estuary is," said Bill Sheehan, a former rock drummer who heads the Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental group that guides boaters through the Meadowlands.

"And yet, when you're down here on a boat or a canoe at low tide, you could be anywhere on the planet. 'Who would have thought this was here!' or 'I go past this every day on my way to work and I never thought there was this much wildlife.' These are the things I hear."

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