If you’ve ever driven along the Turnpike through the Meadowlands you’ve probably wondered how you actually get to all those little waterways that intersect the marshland. Enter Jim Wright, communications officer for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, tour guide extraordinaire for the Hackensack River in Secaucus.
LAUREL HILL PARK
The jagged black mountain sitting between the Turnpike’s eastern and western spurs is Snake Hill in Laurel Hill Park at the end of New County Road near the NJ Transit train station. Rising next to open meadows and athletic fields, it’s had a storied past but now hosts a nest of ravens, which have returned after a 100-year absence. A wide variety of species can be spotted with the naked eye or a decent pair of binoculars: egrets, osprey, turkey vultures, and herons, for example.
Highway traffic rumbles overhead, and old bridge sections have become nesting places for birds. The park has a boat ramp, but if you don’t have a canoe or kayak, contact the Hackensack Riverkeeper (hackensackriverkeeper.org), which offers tours of the wetlands.
MILL CREEK POINT
This park features a wide expanse of straw-colored reeds, called phragmites and a system of tidal channels. The Meadowlands Sports Complex, the color-challenged super-mall-in-the-making Xanadu, and white tanks can be seen in the distance. A footbridge is being built to the park from Secaucus High School, so visitors will be able to walk across the marshlands.
Snipes Park is tucked away behind the WWOR studio. Park benches overlook little green hills, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Route 3 bridge, and of course, the river.
MILL CREEK MARSH
Mill Creek Marsh is more secluded than any of the others, hidden behind Mill Creek Mall with a view of Harmon Meadow office buildings and Wal-Mart.
Gravel paths wind through the sanctuary, and artful wooden bridges span the water, which is dotted with cedar stumps. Swallows with swatches of electric blue swoop over the marshes, resting on wooden birdhouses made especially for them. Mallards, snowy egrets, geese, and about 275 species of bird stop here in their migration along the Atlantic Flyway. Says Jim Wright: “You go a different time of year, a different time of day, it’s like a different park.”