By Anthony J. Machcinski
Area residents searching for a way to shed winter’s cabin fever don’t need to search far and wide for an opportunity to surround themselves in nature.
At DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, headquarters of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, nature-lovers from near and far can enjoy the wonders of nature, without having to travel far from their homes.
“DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst is really wonderful,” said NJMC Public Information Officer Brian Aberback. “It’s a true urban ecosystem.”
The NJMC was created in 1969 as an organization that sought to clean the meadowlands and clear the Hackensack River area of orphaned landfills and pollution.
Nearly 45 years later, the NJMC has advanced the cause, with the Hackensack River showing signs of revitalization.
“It wasn’t a pretty place,” said Aberback of the meadowlands in 1969. “This was a time when the Meadows was a wasteland. A regional organization was needed to do the proper cleanup.”
DeKorte Park itself, located at the eastern end of Valley Brook Ave. off Disposal Road, was created in 1982 to give the NJMC a headquarters that would draw “a line in the sand” to save more open wildlife space.
“We saved all this wonderful space from becoming a dumping ground,” said NJMC Communications Officer Jim Wright. “This was the line in the sand where you couldn’t build anymore.”
In total, DeKorte Park spans 110 acres of open wetland, filled with the unique mesh of ever-expanding wildlife and the constantly-growing New York City skyline.
“It’s an urban ecosystem,” Aberback explained. “If you’re driving on the Turnpike, you don’t catch the image (of the Meadowlands). It’s really neat because you’re in the middle of nowhere. You can see the Turnpike in the distance but you can never really hear it.”
Over the past few decades as the river has transitioned “from wasteland to economic jewel,” the park has grown, both in design and in wildlife.
“When the landfills got cleaned, the Hackensack River started getting cleaner,” Aberback said. “Over time, that brought back fish, birds and other wildlife back to the area.”
He continued, “You would never see all the animals that are here today, even like 15 years ago. Things just keep getting cleaner. Compared to what it used to be, it’s really incredible.”
According to Aberback, the park is home to over 280 different species of birds, many that have recently returned to the area with the river’s revitalization.
“DeKorte Park – like the entire Meadowlands District – is located along the Atlantic flyway, one of three major routes used by migratory birds in North America,” Aberback explained.
Wright added, “This is a great place to go birding. Recently, we had 20 people out here looking for the Yellowheaded Blackbird.”
Throughout the years, the park has received dozens of awards for its design, including a Merit Award for Communication from the American Society of Landscape Architects, New Jersey (NJASLA) for signage throughout the park and a Merit Award for Design for the World Trade Center Memorial at the park.
Aberback credits the park’s designers on the awards and the park’s consistent beauty.
“The award-winning park was designed by the NJMC’s certified landscape architects, who worked closely with wetlands scientists, wildlife specialists, and solid waste engineers,” Aberback explained. “Six distinct areas have been developed over 20 years using native plants, recycled materials and sustainable techniques to support the agency’s environmental mandate.”
The park features over 3.5 miles of trails, allowing parkgoers to delve deeper into nature, either by themselves or in guided tours.
However, walking through the park isn’t the only way to experience nature at DeKorte.
During the summer, the NJMC runs boat trips out of River Barge Park in Carlstadt that take visitors throughout the Meadowlands including past DeKorte Park.
“It’s a great way to explore the river,” Aberback said. “We mostly do them during sunset on weekdays throughout the summer. It’s just a great way to see the river.”
Even after sunset, the park continues to provide natural entertainment, with the William D. McDowell Observatory.
The observatory allows stargazers to study planets, constellations and other celestial bodies through a research-grade, highpowered telescope and staff explains what the viewer is seeing.
Aberback said that, regardless of the season, he enjoys being in the park.
“It seems like I always discover something new when I’m out in the park,” Aberback explained. “It can be a bird I’ve never seen before or a flower that I may have passed dozens of times but caught my eye.”
Aberback’s not alone in enjoying the park, as he noted that more than 50,000 people – including 15,000 schoolchildren – visit the park on a yearly basis.
Above everything else, Aberback believes it’s the park’s blend of rural and urban visuals that attracts many of the park’s visitors.
“Overall, it’s the beauty and tranquility of the place,” Aberback said. “When you look and see the Turnpike and the Manhattan skyline in the distance, it’s hard to believe you’re so close, yet so far removed from the daily hustle and bustle. It’s a truly amazing place.”
For more information on DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, or any of the other NJMC parks, visit www.njmeadowlands. gov. The park is open from dawn until dusk every day. The William D. McDowell Observatory is open in the evenings, from 8 to 10 p.m. in April, 8:30 to 10 p.m. in May; from 9 to 10:30 p.m. in June and July; and from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. in August.