A Promise Kept

Kearny Marsh gets a much needed clean-up.

By Karen Zautyk

In 2008, Jim Wright of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, held an informational session at the Kearny Public Library, updating the public on the NJMC’s projects, programs and progress. Then, during the question-and-answer portion, one audience member confronted him, asking: “When are you going  to clean up the Kearny Marsh?”  Wright assured the resident that this would be done. “But it kept being postponed,” he said. Then this

Kearny NJ Marsh gets clean up

Photo by Karen Zautyk Into the reeds: Two of the scores of volunteers who helped clean the Kearny Marsh on Sunday.

when discussion began on how to  mark National Trail Day Weekend, June 5-6, Wright made a decision: “We’re doing the Kearny Marsh. Period.”

“I had promised we’d clean it up,” he told The Observer. And Wright is a man of his word. Which is why, on Sunday morning, he and some 40 volunteers showed up to work for two hours in the heat clearing debris from the marsh area bordering the Gunnel Oval in  Kearny. The project was co-sponsored by the commission,  the Bergen County Audubon Society and the Northern New Jersey Cachers.

The NJMC provided canoes, paddles, life vests, trash bags and bottled water  (and some Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, thank you). The volunteers provided work gloves and tremendous enthusiasm for the task at hand.

Some walked the trails alongside the marshland, picking up litter and clipping weeds. The paddlers went out into the swampy reeds, filling the canoes with whatever trash floated by or could be fished out. And there was a lot. As Wright noted, when one team returned to shore with their gatherings, the canoe “looked like a garbage scow.”

Out on the water, where you could get up close and personal with the problems, one could see just how nasty things can get.  Some of the junk and gunk comes from storm sewer  overflow, but a lot is simply stuff that people who don’t give a damn about the environment – or acting like decent human beings – throw into the marsh because they’re too lazy to dispose of it properly. Like walking to a trash can.

Then, also, there are the bird lovers who cast bread upon the waters to “feed” their feathered friends. “I know they mean well,” Wright said, “but they shouldn’t do that.”  Evidence of why not was floating about in a massive, doughy mess of waterlogged loaves. But no fishes; neither fish nor bird wants this gook that’s stinking up the water.

There was a blight of plastic bags, and the expected abundance of plastic bottles and aluminum cans. (Why recycle when you can just throw it into the marsh and mar the landscape and threaten wildlife?)  Among the debris volunteers found, there also was the completely unexpected. A fire extinguisher. A lawn chair. A length of railroad track.  Plus, the ubiquitous tires, including one from an 18-wheeler. At least the other 17 were not in the marsh, too.
“I felt like I was on a treasure hunt!”  said one paddler with a uniquely positive outlook on life.

By the end of the cleanup, Wright expected that at least a ton of debris would have been removed. In a mere two hours.

The project started at 10 a.m., but at 11:30 volunteers were still showing up. “They just keep coming,” Wright said. “It’s wonderful.”

Among the workers were Gail and Herman Morchel of Nutley, whose participation was a spur-of the-moment thing.  At 8 a.m., while having breakfast, they heard an interview with Wright on WCBS radio and  decided  to be part of the project, so across the river they drove.

Also helping out was Darlene Landati  of Kearny (she of the “treasure hunt” comment), who grew up near the Oval and, thus, has a personal interest in  preserving the Kearny Marsh. Landati spent much of her childhood playing at this area off Schuyler Ave. She remembers walking the railroad tracks from Harrison to Lyndhurst. She remembers the one-man “putt-putt train” that ran the same route.  She remembers the horses that someone kept nearby. And she remembers the beauty of the marsh.

“This was the best backyard in the world,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade growing up down here for anything.”

If you’re not familiar with the Kearny Marsh, do yourself a favor and check it out. The “entrance” can be found at the northeast edge of the Oval. Walk under the trees, and you’ll see a vista to rival the Everglades.  It could be the Everglades, except for the electric towers and the Manhattan skyline in the far distance. But, especially in early morning, all is peace and quietude – the only sounds, the chirping of the birds and sighing of the wind. Why careless people would despoil this is a mystery.

But then, there are, thankfully, the environmentally conscious. On Sunday, a fisherman approaching the marsh noted, “We bring in our own trash bags.”   (By the way, the marsh is home to some biggies. One of the men casting a line Sunday recently caught a 10-pound bass.)

The NJMC holds regular environmental cleanups, but the most effective protection is for people not to litter in the first place. We can hope.

For information on the marsh and NJMC activities, check njmeadowlands.gov, meadowlandsblog.net, or wildlifetrails.org

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