It was a good week for the environment.
Incorporating both Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 25), the fourth week of April saw a wide selection of activities in Secaucus to improve the environment and promote eco-friendliness.
Clarendon School celebrated Arbor Day on Friday morning. Singing groups from each of the schools entertained the kids between brief comments by school and town officials.
On Earth Day, 25 volunteers from Schneider Electric cleaned up the highway embankments on Paterson Plank Road by Mausaum Indian Restaurant. Mausaum provided food to the volunteers as a thank you for the clean-up. Altogether the volunteers carted away about 40 bags of garbage.
Also, volunteers from MetLife Stadium came and cleaned up the Secaucus duck pond. They also planted three trees and 12 shrubs, spread mulch, and collected trash and compostable materials.
Secaucus is lucky enough to have not only a Shade Tree Committee to oversee the greenery in town, but an official environmental coordinator. Together they arranged for the volunteer activities.
“You guys are really our future leaders, and the generation that we’re going to depend on.” –Michael Gonnelli
Nesheiwat, a former Secaucus student who graduated from Ramapo College and returned to town with a fistful of ideas to make the town more environmentally friendly, was hired part-time to work on the town’s first Green Festival in 2011.
Since then it has turned into a career. This year she applied for seven state mini-grants for clean-up projects around town during Earth Week: the two on Tuesday and five more on Friday, Arbor Day.
Clarendon and Huber Street Schools both conducted onsite clean-ups, while the High School Science Club ventured into Schmidt’s Woods to round up and dispose of carelessly discarded household items, including a ladder and a wheelbarrow they found abandoned.
Meanwhile the Middle School environmental club spent a portion of the afternoon planting 40 trees along the berm at the back of the school.
More planting was done throughout the week by the DPW. “Last year we did about 75 trees all over town,” said Assistant Supervisor Public Works John Dubiel. This year they have planted about 50 so far, with 15 more coming.
Funding comes in part from the town budget, supplemented by donations. “Public Service [PSE&G] donates I think $1000,” he said. “Then other people donate money. Home Depot will donate trees. And then we have a program every year where people can buy trees and we plant them.”
Secaucus has gotten much more savvy about the environment over time. “Years ago the town had a history of planting the wrong tree in the wrong spot,” said Dubiel. “So they were planting trees that lifted up sidewalks. They were putting Sycamores in, which are great for shade, but they’re not really sidewalk-friendly. Nobody really did any research on what tree should go here. So a lot of people had bad experiences.”
Nowadays things are different. “We go down to the New Jersey Shade Tree Federation in October. It’s a two-day class. Five or six of us go every year. They bring professors in from all over the country. One guy will be a specialist on roots, one guy will be a specialist on leaves, one guy will give you ideas on how to replace sidewalks.”
Shade Tree Commission is 21 years old
Dubiel is one of 10 members of the Secaucus Shade Tree Commission, founded 21 years ago when the town first applied for and was granted the status of Tree City USA. Then-DPW Superintendent Michael Gonnelli was instrumental in forming the committee and pushing the environmental agenda.
“The mayor actually developed this on his own, the Shade Tree Committee, because he loves nature and plants and respect for the land,” said committee member Anna Conklin, a retired school teacher.
She describes the mission of the committee as “to teach the population of Secaucus, the children, the seniors, the true value of why you should keep the green in our community.”
Catherine Carabott has been chairperson of the Shade Tree Committee for the past three years. “We are an advisory committee to the town of Secaucus,” she said. “We advise the town on trees, their locations, what needs to be planted.”
They also planned and organized the Arbor Day event at Clarendon School.
Arbor Day festivities
Mayor Gonnelli provided opening remarks at the ceremony, telling students that Arbor Day was his favorite day of the year. “Better than Christmas, better than Easter, better than Thanksgiving,” he said, talking about the importance of being environmentally aware in a world of dramatic climate change, with events like Hurricane Sandy now occurring locally.
“You guys are really our future leaders, and the generation that we’re going to depend on,” he said. “Be conscious of your environment every day. Be conscious of what happens in this town and when you’re on vacation and everyplace else. Don’t look away when you see somebody doing something that’s wrong like littering or damaging the environment. Always speak up. Speak to your teachers, speak to your parents and your grandparents, and let them know what you see. Because it’s so important.”
Superintendent of Schools Robert Presuto read the “Arbor Day proclamation,” explaining the genesis of Arbor Day and its significance.
The event concluded with Councilman James Clancy, the official liaison to the Shade Tree Committee, dedicating a tree to event host and retiring Clarendon School Principal Pasquale Cocucci after 37 years of service to the Secaucus school district.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.