During an August 8 commission meeting, NJMC executive director Robert Ceberio outlined the commission's vision of what they hope the guide can help achieve.
"The eco-tourism guide is here," Ceberio said. "Having been brought up around here, you would not think of any kind of tourism in the Meadowlands. The Meadowlands was left for dead. It is now reborn. It has a new mindset and a new approach. The 2004 master plan was a major policy change that changed the whole universe in the area."
Ceberio went on to indicate how organizations such as the New Jersey Audubon Society, the Hackensack Riverkeeper and the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce overcame previous divisions in order to produce the guide.
"Only five or six years ago, it was hard to get these groups to even sit in a room together," he said. "Now there has been a collaboration between the business community, environmental stakeholders and the NJMC looking towards a brand new future for the Meadowlands that focuses on eco-tourism. I'm not sure that there is any other guide like this in any urban area in the United States."
Guide colorful and compact
The guide itself comprises a compact 72 pages of information listing the various parks and nature perseveres to be found in the Meadowlands and Hackensack River watershed area throughout Hudson and Bergen counties. The nature areas are united by three respective trails, the Family Trail, the Independent Naturalists Trail and the Meet Me in the Meadowlands Trail, are three of which are highlighted with color-coded maps and photographs of the natural beauty that can be discovered along the way. An additional fold-out map found inside lists nearby lodging, restaurant, shopping, museum and farmer's market options that will hopefully encourage Meadowlands visitors who come to see the green spaces to then part with some green.
NJMC executive director Ceberio was mindful of the money-making possibilities.
"There's money in this here, folks," he said to the assembled crowd at the meeting. "The Audubon Society gave us some numbers showing that $1.2 billion was spent by residents and visitors to New Jersey over the past year. I think we have something going here."
N.J. Audubon Society head praises guide
Thomas Gilmore, president of the New Jersey Audubon Society, spoke out at the meeting in praise of the new guide. "We at the Audubon Society takes pride in calling you out when you do something wrong, but we also take pride in congratulating you when you do something right," he said. "According to a recent study, up to 1.6 million residents of New Jersey and 700,000 visitors watch wildlife during the year. This is big business, and it's growing."
This business will also be protected. NJMC executive director Ceberio announced the appropriation of $200,000 by the NJMC to hire conservation officers who will patrol the Meadowlands in order to prevent any environmental protection violations in the area as part of an update of the commission's conservation plan.
The guide will be distributed throughout the region, with 63,000 English-language copies and 21,000 Spanish-language copies to be disseminated. Ceberio stated that the goal of the guide is dramatic yet simple.
"We want to change the entire view of the Meadowlands from a heavy industrial, dump-filled area to something completely different. These wetlands have a natural and an economic value. They are something very special and unique. This isn't your father's Meadowlands. The economy and the environment can work hand in hand."
Nature and business meet in unexpected ways
Jim Kirkos, the president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, told a story at the meeting that demonstrated how eco-tourism is already impacting the business community in the Meadowlands area.
"I was playing golf on Sunday when I hit an errant ball into the trees," he said. "The people who
I was playing with came with me to help find the ball. We came across a great big bird sitting there with a squirrel in its talons. My friends said 'Look at the bird with the squirrel!' I said, 'That, my friends, is a red-tailed hawk.'"