"It always struck me as a balance, having a big city like New York just 10 minutes away," said Cismowski. "This is the busiest part of the country, and you can be in a place that is still and beautiful and see cars in the distance passing over major highways."
The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is a state agency. It is a zoning and planning department for the Meadowlands District, which spans 32 square miles and is comprised of 14 municipalities throughout Hudson and Bergen counties. Secaucus is the only township in Hudson County that is completely enveloped by the Meadowlands District. By state statute, the NJMC controls zoning for 89.4 percent of Secaucus. Cismowski's entry in the NJMC photo contest, called "The Balance," was taken in the area behind Crown Plaza off of Meadowlands Parkway. There is a trail there that runs along the Hackensack River. The photo brings the viewer into this special spot, framing Route 3 in the distance with marsh reeds and cord grass. It is an intimate portrait of nature and infrastructure. "It is one of my favorite running spaces - so secluded. It's shady and cool in the summer," Cismowski said. "You're right in the middle of nature."
Not a garbage dump anymore
"The contest brings a whole new constituency to interact with the NJMC. There is a beauty here that cannot be found anywhere else in the New York metropolitan area," said NJMC Executive Director Bob Ceberio. "We want to break the old idea [and prove] that the Meadowlands are more than a garbage dump."
The contest was open to amateur photographers who reside in the 14 Meadowlands District municipalities. Three photos were selected from 92 entries. Cismowski's first place prize brought her $500. Second place ($250) went to Laura Rodrigues, and third place ($100) went to Donna Hewa. The latter two are North Arlington residents.
There were also three honorable mentions: Angel Reytor of Jersey City, Thomas Yezerski of Rutherford, and Timothy Adair Griffith of Secaucus.
The entries were judged by NJMC Artist in Residence Gil Hawkins and the commission's the 18-member Arts Advisory Board, comprised of residents from the Meadowlands District that the NJMC oversees. Each of the 14 towns has a representative on the advisory board; plus, there is a representative from the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, a representative from the environmental community, and there are two from the NJMC board.
"What we did was line up the entries and reduced the possible winners in stages of 30 semi-finalists, then nine finalists," said Hawkins. "The three final picks presented themselves as having an eye, from an artist's point of view. They really captured the moment."
Hawkins said that often times the "photo finds you - there's a little bit of magic involved."
Cismowski said she agreed with his comments about the photo finding the photographer.
"I have to feel something when looking for a scene," she said. "Every picture is not like [the one that received first prize]. There is a sentiment a certain site gives me. I found that section [in the photo] while running." Cismowski, 48, has participated in area running marathons for a decade, including the More Marathon sponsored by More Magazine, for women over 40.
Spreading the word
The contest was intended to get draw attention to the natural wonders of the Meadowlands as part of the NJMC Master Plan, said public information assistant Nancy Benecki. A master plan is a blueprint for future zoning in an area.
"There are always people here at DeKorte Park [where the NJMC has its offices and Environmental Center in Lyndhurst] taking pictures of wildlife - we knew there was on interest out there," said Benecki. "This contest helps create an identity - a sense of place for the district."
"It's always rewarding to see such visions of our district crafted by our residents," said NJMC Chairman and Department of Community Affairs Acting Commissioner Charles Richman. "It is another way of showing how far we have come since the ecological dark ages this region has experienced."