It’s Spring; Be Bear Aware!

As the weather finally begins to warm up, we aren’t the only creatures starting to emerge from our homes. Bears are waking up and making a grand entrance.

Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for them.

Black bears are appearing in more and more residential areas and people that are not necessarily used to seeing them may not know how to respond when they come face-to-face with a bear. Recently, a woman in Lafayette was attacked by a bear near her home. A few weeks prior, a bear killed two small dogs in Sussex County.

How to Prevent a Bear Attack

There are a number of steps everyone can take to minimize the chances of a negative experience with a bear.

NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Bear Safety Guidelines

If you come in contact with a bear, here are a few important points to remember:

  1. Yes, they are cute. They are also wild animals. DO NOT try to pet them. Yes, I really need to say that.
  2. Do not feed them. Don’t leave food out for them as a way to invite them on to your deck.
  3. Clean the grates of your grill after use. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and will definitely want to check them out if they any kind of interesting scent.
  4. Keep your garbage well-secured.
  5. If a sow is with her cubs, give her extra space! You know the term “momma bear?” People use it for a reason.
  6. Never corner a bear. Always give them an exit.
  7. NEVER turn your back on a bear. Just back away slowly.
  8. Never make eye contact with a bear. It may consider it as a form of aggression.
  9. NEVER turn and run! Again, slowly back away.
  10. Make yourself look as large as possible. Yell, clap, whistle, etc. to let the bear know you are in the area so it is not startled by you.
  11. If you are going into the woods, keep a whistle and either Mace or bear spray on hand.
  12. If you are actually attacked, kick and punch the eyes, throat, and muzzle. That’s your best chance. Do not follow the advise of the Bugs Bunny cartoons we all watched as kids and “play dead” with black bears.

Seriously though, bear attacks are incredibly rare. Just use the common sense God gave you. For more information, check out the bear safety resources provided by NJ Fish & Wildlife.

Open Space Preserved in Princeton

There is a constant battle in New Jersey; preserving open space versus developing more ratables to collect taxes. It happens in every town in the state. Recently, there was some good news on the preservation front.

More than 150 acres in Princeton is now permanently protected, thanks to a partnership among several government agencies and nonprofits. The 153-acre property was purchased for $8.8 million from the Lanwin Development Corp. and the family of the late Bryce Thompson.

Princeton’s latest preservation project. (Credit: The Watershed Institute)

A partnership of organizations, the town of Princeton, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, Ridgeview Conservancy, The Watershed Institute, Mercer County, the state Green Acres Program, and New Jersey Conservation Foundation worked on the acquisition. Nearly $3 million in private donations were received. The land is now jointly owned by Princeton, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, The Watershed Institute, and the Ridgeview Conservancy.

The acquisition is part of an initiative called “Princeton’s Emerald Necklace” that aims to connect open spaces throughout the town and provide greater access to open space. This open space protects over 4,000 trees from deforestation that form part of a mature forest on this site.

New from Fish & Wildlife: The Wildlife Habitat Supporter Program

As I mentioned in my 2022 Goals post, I want to make sure to advocate for our open spaces. The NJ Fish and Wildlife has announced a new program to do just that; The Wildlife Habitat Supporter Program.

Wildlife Habitat Program

When I first saw this posted on social media, I was immediately excited to find a new way to help support our wildlife, open spaces, and native species. However, it didn’t take long for the cynic in me to wonder about a few things. Let’s face it. There isn’t a politician in New Jersey that doesn’t love the idea of a new fund to raid. It’s like breaking the piggy bank. I also wondered if there is a plan to share how the funds are used.

So I went straight to the source. I contacted New Jersey Fish and Wildlife directly and raised my concerns. Their answers:

“Funds donated to the Wildlife Habitat Supporter Program are deposited into a dedicated account used by the Division of Fish and Wildlife specifically for the management of New Jersey’s wildlife resources and enforcement of fish and wildlife regulations. As the program moves forward, we will definitely feature projects on the Division’s website and social media that benefit from the program”

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have another way to support our open spaces, native species, and regulation enforcement. I am definitely going to donate and I hope you will too!

2022 New Jersey Goals

As the calendar turns and we move ahead to 2022, most people make resolutions for the new year. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of resolutions. They are usually all the same; lose weight, spend more time with the family, blah, blah, blah. While it may sound like semantics, I prefer to make goals.

According to Merriam-Webster, a goal is defined as, “the end toward which effort is directed.” A resolution (the third definition) is, “something that is resolved.” A goal is much more specific. A resolution is hardly exact.

Anyway…

My goal list here is specific to New Jersey. This is all about the effort I will direct to my own beloved state.

Search for Fossils

You may not realize it, but New Jersey offers a variety of opportunities to find fossils. Creatures that range from tiny cephalopods to huge wooly mammoths called New Jersey home. I have never found a fossil, but I will say I never really looked. My goal is to find one this year.

Hike the AT

No, I don’t expect to hide the entire Appalachian Trail, better known as the “AT.” I want to hike just the New Jersey portion of the Trail. The entire length of the AT traverses 14 states from Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Georgia’s Springer Mountain.

The New Jersey stretch of the Appalachian Trail is 74 miles long and begins at Abram S. Hewitt State Forest in the northern most point and runs west and south through Wawayanda State Park, High Point State Park, Stokes State Forest, ending at Worthington State Forest. Now, I do not expect, nor do I plan, to traverse the entire 74 miles in one clip. I will, however, develop a plan to break it down into several short single-day hikes. A great resource to help get started on this goal is the New York New Jersey Trail Conference. This special organization is powered by a great group of volunteers that build, maintain, and protect public trails.

Fish a New Stream for the Heritage Brook Trout

Long before I knew the brook trout was the state fish, it was always my favorite species. The colors are amazing and they put up a wonderful fight. I absolutely love to fly fish in a stream and listen to the water rush downstream as I stand in the river.

The downside, sadly, is the most popular rivers in New Jersey are very well known and generally over-fished. An added frustration for me is that I see plenty of anglers fishing aggressively without a proper license. I regularly encourage those anglers to purchase their license. I explain those license dollars are put right back into the resource. Unfortunately, those anglers usually walk away laughing. It is personally frustrating.

So I want to find a new stream for fishing. But not just any old stream. I want to find a stream that gives me the opportunity to fish for the Heritage Brook Trout. According a study on brook trout genetics, wild populations of brook trout have unique genetic identities. Some Garden State brook trout populations are descendants from the original brook trout colonizers present after the last glacial ice sheet receded more than 10,000 years ago. The existence of these ancestral populations, dubbed heritage brook trout, is important for conservation efforts of this native species (learn more about brook trout genetics by reviewing the original 2008 article).

Advocate for my State’s Open Spaces

Mount Hope Park, Morris County, New Jersey
Mount Hope Park, Morris County

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am an advocate for the ecology and preservation of the Garden State’s open spaces. Places like the water that the heritage brook trout have liked for thousands of years are threatened on a daily basis due to pollution, encroachment, and other modern-day challenges. From protecting the red knot to attending Environmental Commission meetings on the local level, we all have a responsibility to make sure our natural resources are protected. I plan to continue to advocate and take a more active role to protect those special spots.

Attend Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart

In all my life, I am sad to say I have only attended mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, better known as Newark Cathedral, only once. If you have never been, it is a true piece of art built by the immigrants of Newark; many from the First Ward, the original Italian section of the city. Construction began in January 1898. While the Cathedral began holding mass in 1928, that labor of love was not completed until October 19, 1954. In 1974, the Cathedral was added to the New Jersey Historical Society. Two years later, it gained national recognition when it was listed as a National Historic Site.

On Wednesday, October 4, 1995, Pope John Paul II visited the United States. During the visit, Pope John Paul II conferred the title of Minor Basilica to Sacred Heart Cathedral, giving it its current name, Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I attended mass at the Cathedral the following Sunday.

This year I will attend mass at least once and sit in prayer and reflection, knowing the history and exceptional effort and craftsmanship that built that wonderfully artistic home of faith.

Head Back Down the Shore

The S. S. Atlantus, also known as the “concrete ship,” at Sunset Beach, Cape May

If you are from Jersey, you know that trek down the Garden State Parkway is known as “going down the shore.” It has been two years since my husband and I smelled the sea air or walked on a beach. It renews my soul and clears my mind. One of my favorite spots is Sunset Beach in Cape May. I love digging for Cape May diamonds and walking on the shoreline turning horseshoe crabs upright. After the last two years, I say it is important to head down the shore to replenish my soul.

Visit the Pine Barrens

The New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem. It stretches across seven counties and is over 1.1 million acres. In 1978, Congress created the Pinelands National Reserve (PNR) through the passage of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The Pinelands National Reserve is the first National Reserve in the United States. It is also home to the elusive Jersey Devil.

I am ashamed to admit, but this is another part of the state I have yet to experience in a meaningful way. I would like to plan a hike in the Pine Barrens and maybe get some fly fishing in as well!

Shoot More Film

A large majority of my hobbies are quite analog. I fly fish and tie flies. I crochet, spin yarn, felt, and weave. I really enjoy Geocaching. I also enjoy film photography. I regularly listen to a podcast called the Film Photography Project hosted by two guys from Jersey. Their entire gang of regular guests and commentators offer great advice for photographers at every level. Over the last two years, I have developed a terrible case of GAS (otherwise known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and am now the proud owner of a variety of film cameras. I plan to get out more and use them. With all my planned outings, I should have some wonderful opportunities to shoot more film!

Be Happy

Most importantly, I want to be happy. The last two years have been hard on all of us. For the most part we have been stuck in our homes. Maybe you lost your job, or worse, even lost a loved one. I shared the story of someone very dear to my husband and me, Dr. Michael Giuliano, who lost his life to the Coronavirus early in the pandemic when he continued to treat patients despite the risks.

It is time for all of us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and see our loved ones. New Jersey is a wonderful state and we are lucky to have so many different ways to enjoy it. So, get out and take a hike, go grab a ripper at Rutt’s Hut, or take a ride down the shore. Get back to living and be happy.

Giving Tuesday in New Jersey

It is no surprise to anyone that COVID-19 has affected everyone in the Garden State. Some people lost their jobs. Some people lost their businesses. Some lost their lives.

Many non-profits in the state lost important funding from private donors, as so many were barely able to feed their families and keep a roof over their head.

Enter Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to help those who have helped so many throughout our state. I’ve highlighted a few of the great organizations I have supported and will continue to support to the best of my ability. They represent a cross-section of areas, from the arts, to food insecurity, to cultural support, and more.

Museum of Early Trades & Crafts

The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts is one of my favorite museums in the state. It was founded in 1970 by Agnes and Edgar Law Land and is located inside the building that was the first public library in Madison. The museum began with a display of the Land’s personal collection of 18th and 19th century artifacts representing the lives of the early immigrants to New Jersey. Since then, it has grown to an amazing permanent collection as well as special displays that are presented on a rotating basis. The best part is everything presented in the museum is associated with life and work in New Jersey.

Italian American One Voice Coalition

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am very proud of my Italian heritage. So is the Italian American One Voice Coalition. They work to protect and preserve the Italian-American culture. You see, our culture has made a major mistake over the years. We let the mob jokes roll off our back. In an effort to prove our allegiance to our new homeland, we Americanized our names and did not teach our language to our children. We were proud to be Americans. Those very values we have held for generations are no longer valued by many. As a result, people are looking to eliminate what is left of our heritage. The Italian American One Voice Coalition is fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen. That we won’t be cast aside or ignored.

Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter

Sadly, over the last 18-plus months, victims of domestic violence have been victimized twice; once by their abuser and again by the system that is in place to protect them, as these victims have been kept hidden from the eyes of those agencies. With rumor of a new variant on the way and worries of another lockdown loom large, women may be desperate to escape their situation. The Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter has been on the front lines of aiding victims of domestic violence since 1978. JBWS is all about empowering victims to end the cycle of violence and gain control over their lives. The services include 24-hour helpline; safe house; counseling for adults, adolescents and children impacted by abuse; transitional living, including life skills education and more.

Salvation Army of New Jersey

Another issue the COVID pandemic brought to light is how many of our fellow New Jerseyans suffer from food insecurity; especially children and the aged. The Salvation Army of New Jersey offers food pantries, mobile feeding programs, and soup kitchens throughout the state to those in need.

Peters Valley School of Craft

Another organization I regularly highlight and support is Peters Valley School of Craft. For the last fifty-plus years, Peters Valley has enriched lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts, all nestled in the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. If you have ever wanted to experience blacksmithing, weaving, or anything else, Peters Valley is the finest place in New Jersey to learn. They also have a wonderful gallery and gift area and present an amazing collection of artists every fall at a two-day event.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

While most people think New Jersey is nothing more than Newark Airport and the Turnpike, we all know better. Three of my favorite species, the heritage brook trout, the red knot, and the horseshoe crab, are all important parts of the biodiversity of New Jersey. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey works to protect that rich biodiversity. There are over 70 endangered and threatened species in New Jersey. Supporting the Conserve Wildlife Foundation helps protect all the different animals and mammals that swim, walk, and fly in the Garden State.

And Many, Many More

These are just a few of the many different non-profits that need help in New Jersey. They all do important work and it requires money for them to continue to do their important work. Everyone has something they are passionate about. My two passions are protection of open spaces and access to fine and performing arts, especially in public education. Find what fuels you and become an ally. If you aren’t in a position to donate funds, consider donating food to your local food pantry, clothes to a local shelter, or volunteer with an organization that feeds your soul and does good in your community. If you aren’t sure about the history of a specific organization, check them out on Charity Navigator. You’ll be able to see how they spend their donations as well as their history. You can also look at Community Foundation of New Jersey. This is a well-regarded organization that helps to manage the financial aspect of many different funds, scholarships, and organizations in a legal and ethical manner.

So get ready to give!

Always Bee Prepared

Nature is a truly amazing thing. Whether you like to go for a hike, fly fish, or something else, being outside is always an adventure.

Last night’s nature adventure took place at the local Roxbury Community Garden. This is my third season at the garden and it has been a great experience. I’ve met wonderful people and have enjoyed the satisfaction of planting something and watching it grow and provide food. Gardening has also been a great respite from the craziness of every day life.

Last night it also provided bees… lots of them.

Seven thousand to be exact. Roxbury is lucky enough to also offer an apiary. It is right next to the garden, so the bees can swing by and borrow a cup of pollen when they need it. Well, yesterday they decided to make a break for it.

Swarm! Swarm! Swarm!

When I arrived at the garden last night there were plenty of people taking advantage of the beautiful weather. I noticed “bugs” in the area and thought to myself that anglers fishing would certainly appreciate the evening hatch. Until I arrived at my garden plot and realized those bugs were actually bees and they decided to take up residence in my plot.

Yikes!

Honey bees are a an important part of our ecosystem. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service point to general strengths in honey bee colonies. In 2017, the United States had 2.88 million honey bee colonies, down 12 percent from the record high 3.28 million colonies in 2012, but down less than 1 percent from 2007.

We had quite the discussion as to what we should do. I decided to do what my mother always told me when I was a child and needed help; “ask for help from the friendly policeman.”

I called the Roxbury Police dispatch and explained we had a swarm at the garden and wanted to know if they had any way to contact the Environmental Commission, as they would know how to contact the bee keepers. They said they would see what they could do and would also dispatch an officer.

I was able to capture some of the fascinating process on video.

Luckily, our Garden Manager, Anne, arrived shortly after calling the police and helped us find a solution. As a member of the Roxbury Environmental Commission, she was able to reach out to a few people and come up with a plan. Enter Ken Hyman, Bee Keeper (and Anne’s neighbor).

Ken and his wife are bee keepers and bee conservationists, as well as members of the New Jersey Bee Keepers Association. They were able to come and collect just about the entire swarm of 7,000 bees safely.

An officer arrived at the garden as well to check and make sure no one was injured or stung, which we very much appreciated.

The bees moving to their new temporary home.

It was a long and fascinating process. We were all appreciative Ken and his wife were able to come so quickly and volunteer their services to resolve this specific issue. We were also appreciative the Roxbury Police checked on us to make sure no one was injured or had any allergic reactions.

So what do YOU do if you ever have a swarm of bees in your backyard?

First and foremost, do NOT take a care of Raid or other bug spray to it. Honeybees, unlike yellow jackets, are happy little insects. They pollinate flowers and make delicious honey for all of us to enjoy. According to the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, across the United States, and especially in New Jersey, the increase in development has caused a decrease in the plants and habitat that are critical to the survival of our pollinators. This reduction of food and habitat has drastically reduced pollinator populations. Widespread use of pesticides and herbicides are also influencing this decline.

The best thing to do is contact a beekeeper and ask to have the bees relocated. If we had not been able to relocate those bees, they had a very small chance of overnight survival. If you would like to encourage bees and other pollinators, do not use harsh chemicals on your lawn or in your garden. If you have a birdbath, change out the water regularly to avoid mosquito growth and provide stones or sticks in the water so they don’t drown when they land for a break and a drink. Plant a pollinator garden to encourage bees and butterflies.

If you are a Roxbury resident and are interested in joining the apiary, contact the Roxbury Environmental Commission.

It just goes to show, you never know what wonders of nature you will experience. Yesterday I was privileged to see and experience one of nature’s life cycles.

How Do I Get Rid of My Christmas Tree?

Now that the dumpster fire that was 2020 is over people are starting to take down their decorations and toss the Christmas tree. When I was a kid, you just dragged it to the curb and that was it. However, we now have many options in Jersey to give new life to the tree that gave our families so much joy during the holiday season.

Cape May County Park & Zoo

A zoo may not sound like a place that could use a Christmas tree, but the animals just love them! They are great treats for the goats and play things for the other animals. The Cape May County Park & Zoo is accepting Christmas trees until January 10th. Trees can be dropped off daily, 7am – dusk, in the Office parking lot (your first right when you enter the park). Make sure you remove all ornaments and tinsel.

Our 2020 Christmas tree

Mulch, mulch, mulch…

Many towns now offer curb-side pickup of trees for mulching. After chipping, the mulch is sometimes offered to town residents for their personal use, while others make it available to their community gardens. Each town will have their own pickup schedule. It is best to check on your town’s website or contact your local DPW (Department of Public Works).

Sand dunes

If you live down the shore, it is also worthwhile to check with your DPW to see if they are collecting trees for use in local sand dunes. In the past Island Beach State Park has collected trees from all over the state to help support their sand dune project, however, they are skipping this year.

In Your Backyard

When it comes giving new life to your Christmas tree, don’t forget to look to your own backyard. Break off branches and place them around to protect your garden beds throughout the winter. Additionally, if you take off the needles and just use the branches, you can use them in your compost pile.

Home Depot

Whether you love or hate “big box” stores, they can play an important role in the community. Home Depot has partnered with a tree chipping company to collect and chip Christmas trees. They started the day after Christmas and will continue throughout January. Make sure to contact your local Home Depot to confirm they are collecting trees in your area as well as their collection schedule.

Final Reminders

A few final reminders before you recycle your tree:

  • Remove all ornaments and tinsel, garland, lights, and ribbons
  • Do not wrap your tree in plastic
  • Remove the base
  • Some towns do not recycle wreaths
  • If you have any questions, make sure to contact your local DPW or recycling center before bringing your tree to the curb or recycling location

My 2020 Jersey Christmas List

This has been a hard year for all of us; especially for the small business owners of New Jersey. Like many, I am urging everyone to shop small as much as possible this year.

My Christmas list this year has a special Jersey flair this year. These are gifts that are made by Jersey artisans available in Jersey stores.

Cape May Suncatchers

Cape May Suncatchers
Credit: Cape May Suncatchers

These works of art by Tommy of Cape May Suncatchers are just amazing. He digs up antique bottles found around the beaches of Cape May and then carves them into beautiful ornaments, suncatchers, and window-hangers. This would certainly be a unique and lovely gift, especially for those who love Cape May.

Just Jersey Goods

You can find just about ANYTHING with a unique Jersey attitude from the Jersey Jersey Goods store in Morristown. From cutting boards and mugs for the foodie to books for the state historian, you can find almost anything with a Jersey theme at this awesome shop. Personally, I am partial to the Parkway token keychain. For decades, it was a required item in every car as you went down the shore. And it is worth mentioning I was a champion at pitching it up and over the car from the passenger side as well as the trick shot through the sunroof.

Sue Sachs Jewelry

Credit: Sue Sachs

Located in Livingston, Sue has been making jewelry and crafting metal objects for more then 30 years. Her jewelry and metal objects are crafted in sterling silver, brass, copper, and/or gold. I feel they are masterfully created and bring a sense of whimsy to each piece. I especially love her garden pieces, as I have become an avid gardener the last two years and you can often find me at the Roxbury Community Garden during the season. Her “shovel series” is definitely at the top of my list!

Reddie to Burn

Credit: Reddit to Burn

OK, I am completely partial on this one. Our intelligent and incredibly talented Goddaughter and niece has started her own candle making business. Reddie to Burn Candle Co. offers a wide variety of soy hand-made candles and wax melts and uses clean fragrances for just the right amount of scent. Which one is the best? Well that’s up to you. Personally, I really like the idea of a having access to the smell of a library any time I want it. One of my favorite places in college was leaning up against a book shelf in the stacks.

Gift Certificates

If you have that person who is just too hard to buy for, consider purchasing a gift certificate from a locally-owned business. From nail salons, to restaurants, to sport shops, every business is having a hard time right now and I am sure your gift certificate purchase would be appreciated.

Local Non-Profits

Just as small businesses are struggling, local non-profit organizations are having an even harder time right now. Many people are out of work and every dollar in a family budget has been stretched to its limit. Many organizations are really in need of support so they can continue to help their local communities. Consider making a donation in someone’s name as a thoughtful and unique gift. Here are some that have a special place in my heart:

  • Peters Valley School of Craft: Peters Valley enriches lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts. This community, brings together established and emerging artists from around the globe. Peters Valley was officially incorporated as a non-profit in 1970 and is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
  • The New Jersey Historical Society: The NJ History Society collects, preserves, teaches and interprets New Jersey history through its archives, research library, and educational programs. Not only is it a great place to visit, the Society offers materials for teachers to help share the story of New Jersey with their students.
  • Discover Jersey Arts: A collaboration between ArtPride New Jersey and New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Discover Jersey Arts is a multifaceted program dedicated to increasing the awareness of and participation in the arts in New Jersey. It is coordinated through the regional Jersey Arts Marketers (JAM) network and provides resources for both arts organizations and patrons alike.
  • New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: Even though it is not New Jersey-exclusive, the NY/NJ Trail Conference plays an important role in our great state. This is a volunteer-powered organization that builds, maintains, and protects public trails. Together with organization partners, the Train Conference strives to ensure that the trails and natural areas we all enjoy are sustainable and accessible for generations to come.
  • New Jersey Conservation Foundation: The mission of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation Foundation has protected over 125,000 acres of natural areas and farmland in New Jersey – from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bay, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks.

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, I urge you to “shop small” and look to support the businesses and non-profits right in your own community. After all, these are the businesses and organizations that sponsor your son’s little league team or purchase an ad in the high school play’s program. They will (God willing) be there for the long-haul providing services, products, and jobs to you and your neighbors.

Protecting Our Parks

We’ve all had to make alternate plans this year due to COVID-19 and the following lockdown. As a result, many had to cancel vacation plans and stay local. And that means lots of people in town, county, and state parks.

Unfortunately, not everyone values our park systems.

Just a few weeks ago, Hedden Park in Dover/Randolph was closed for two weeks due to vandalism, litter, damage to the creek, and a dumpster fire. Today, we went to a park and unfortunately the continuation of poor behavior.

HeddenPark

Damage to Jackson Brook at Hedden Park. Credit: NJ.com

Two weeks ago while at the Delaware Gap, we had the opportunity to talk to a Park Ranger and he told us they spend an incredible amount of time telling people to get out of the small creeks, as they are not for swimming and have no lifeguard supervision. As we were leaving, we observed several emergency vehicles heading towards the Gap. When we returned home and turned on the television, we learned someone died right in the area where we were.

Some of you may normally not bother visiting your local parks. And I can spot newbies a mile away. When they come to the park they. bring. everything. If they have children, some actually bring high-chairs and play pens. Kids are either in the river or ignoring the beauty around them as they play on their phones.

Cigarettes-sm

Trash left behind at Saxton Falls.

If you are new to New Jersey’s parks, I hope you enjoy, but I ask that you respect the space. Do not dam up any creeks or rivers to create swimming holes. Moving rocks will release sediment and upset the ecological balance of the water system. It is also a swimming hazard. There have been five drownings at the Delaware Water Gap so far in 2020. Just today there was a water death at Upper Greenwood Lake. If you want to swim, go where it is allowed and there are lifeguards on duty. Don’t leave your trash behind. Carry in/carry out. Leave the space cleaner than how you found it.

When all of this is over, many will never go to a park again. Some might have just discovered a little spot near their home to enjoy the outdoors and have a new appreciation for open space. I ask on behalf of all of us that use parks in the Garden State on a regular basis, that you respect the natural space availed to you. These are wonderful spaces that have been set aside for all of us to enjoy. Please take only photos and leave only footprints.

Gardens in the Garden State

It is safe to say this has been a tough year for everyone. Cut off from our families, friends, and our normal routines, many have decided to take on new challenges during this time. Many are turning to what I refer to as “analog hobbies;” meaning things we can do that do not involve technology. Maybe it is because we now spend all day in solitude working from home, staring at out laptops. Maybe it is because we have so much time on our hands, we need something new.

I am a huge fan of analog hobbies. While I spend most of my time working in the digital space, I have found over the years analog hobbies provide both enjoyment and challenges. I crochet, spin yarn, tie flies, fly fishing, do yoga, and over the last few years, garden.

When we moved into our new community two years ago, I discovered the town had a community garden. For a small annual fee, you can rent a plot in a space set aside for garden enthusiasts. I hadn’t had a garden in over a decade and was eager to begin again. In the last two years, I have tried out planting items I never cultivated before, met some wonderful people from my new community, and learned new gardening skills. Since New Jersey is known as the “Garden State,” I think it is a perfect hobby.

Whether it was Victory Gardens during World War II or gardening now during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking to gardening to help alleviate stress, as well as cultivate and control their own food sources. Published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, “Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components” found gardening therapy to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. Individuals participated in a 12-week “therapeutic horticulture program” at four farms near Oslo, Norway. It is safe to say gardening has helped many cope with the stress, anxiety, and depression many have experienced due to the lack of social interaction.

Additionally, many community gardens provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local social service organizations for those who are at risk of food insecurity. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and many lose their sources of income, the fresh produce provided to these organizations by community gardens has become increasingly important. Last year the community garden I belong to donated several hundred pounds of fresh produce to our local food pantry. This effort is duplicated in community gardens throughout New Jersey.

Earlier this year, a Newark couple spearheaded a plan to turn a vacant lot on Grafton Avenue into a beautiful community garden. It took an eyesore of space that was regularly littered with trash and needles and turned it into a vibrant space for the community to grow their own vegetables and show off the pride of their area. This has been a huge undertaking and I look forward to visiting their garden when we are able to travel more freely. This is a project to truly be celebrated!

There are locations, however, where space for community gardens have come under attack. The town of Denville in Morris County is looking to cut space of their community garden for – you guessed it – a parking lot.

Every time I hear about a project like this, I am reminded of the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell…

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

While New Jersey is officially known as the Garden State, it is often referred to as the Mall State. What was once great farming lands have often been reduced to strip malls and parking lots. As more blacktop is put down, weather like rain and snow has nowhere to go. It won’t be absorbed into the once fertile soil. Instead it will create run-off that will lead to more flooding and pollution.

This parking lot is part of a $2.7 million dollar library expansion project in Denville.

I am a huge fan of public libraries and have often written about their continued importance for their communities. However, this is not about a library. This is about eliminating a sizable amount of green garden space for a parking lot.

Here is a video which shows how much of the garden space will be lost.

DenvilleGarden

It is shocking that the Mayor and town government would support such a plan.

As the video shares, the members of the community garden donate much of their bounty to a local orphanage, as well as local food pantries and churches to help their neighbors avoid food insecurity.

I implore Mayor Thomas Andes and the Town Council to rethink this decision. Now, more than ever, we need more open public space, not less And that open space should include community gardens.