The students joined staff from the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission for a canoe ride into the area waterways to remove trash and other debris.
"We must have brought out a ton of debris," said Mike Gonnelli, who serves as the Secaucus commissioner to the NJMC.
The students worked with Gonnelli and the commission's Angelo Urato, in picking up litter and other junk that found its way onto the wetlands' trail. At the end of the morning, Robert R. Ceberio, executive director for the Meadowlands Commission and Mayor Dennis Elwell stopped by to praise and thank the students for their hard work and civic pride.
"While there were some very large pieces - truck tires that came in with the tides - the park was relatively clean from the work done there last year," Elwell said. "I told them that I admired their service to the community and hoped they would come back and use the kayaks and canoes that the commission would supply."
This park, which will be open from dawn to dusk in spring, summer and fall seasons, was once destined for housing. Hartz Mountain Industries had proposed to build 3,000 units on the site, later reducing that number to 2,000. In a deal worked out by former Mayor Anthony Just the town, in conjunction with the NJMC, agreed to purchase the property for open space.
Of 203 acres of the Mill Creek project purchased in conjunction with the town of Secaucus in a $5 million deal in 1996 from Hartz, 140 acres are being restored to a wetland state by the HMDC. Stricter federal wetland laws and shifting market conditions made a 2,000-unit housing development a less attractive investment to Hartz, although the development project had been in the planning stages since the 1980s.
The land, which is not held in trust for preservation, will eventually be opened up to river water allowing the area to function as a wetland again. Construction of the New Jersey Turnpike and other factors had largely dried out the land over the years.
This is pristine land, never developed, but it was subjected to an encroachment of common reed that had reduced the tidal flow. By controlling the growth of reeds and re-establishing tidal flow, as well as the creation of open water areas and the planting of native vegetation, the HMDC hopes to create an environment that will result in low marsh habitats that are flushed daily by the tides; lowland shrub habitats along the marsh/upland ecology; creation of dabbling duck, shorebird, and wading bird breeding, wintering and migratory habitats; greater fishery access; and a degree of mosquito control.
The money for the project came from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, the Department of Transportation and the Jet Aviation Executive Airfleet, as part of requirements for developing land in other parts of the state. Developers seeking certain kinds of construction permits are required under the federal Clean Water Act to pay for restoration of various wetland sites.
Ribbon cutting on the new park will take place at 2 p.m. on Oct. 23, and will feature guest speakers that include Susan Bass Levin, New Jersey Commissioner of Community Affairs and chairperson for the NJMC, Ceberio, and Elwell.