To experience the changing seasons, one of my favorite spots in the 209-acre Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus. Although the park has a classic North Jersey location — next to the eastern spur of the turnpike, behind a shopping mall — it offers a wonderful oasis from the region’s hustle and bustle.
The marsh not only features the winding Mill Creek but it also includes several tidal impoundments that attract shorebirds in summer and ducks in winter. The upland area is nicely landscaped and home to 1.5 miles of handicapped-accessible, flat walking trails. The trails provide great views of the local birdlife — with the skyline of Manhattan to the east.
“Mill Creek is one of my favorite spots,” says NJMC Naturalist Gabrielle Bennett-Meany. “The site is easy to navigate, and you can gauge how long or short you want your walk to be. I visit Mill Creek at least once a month, and I have to say each month is pretty exciting — there’s always something new to be discovered. Most people are surprised to find this hidden little place.
The two open-water impoundments along the trail feature a blast from the Meadowlands’ part, the remnants of a stand of Atlantic white cedars. The trees once covered a much of the region at one time or another, before settlers arrived and started cutting them down over the years for roofing shingles, barrels, roads and even railroad ties.
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The cedar wood is so rot-resistant that the stumps still stand, even though they were buried in mud for more than a century.
Fifteen years ago, Mill Creek was mostly a gigantic stand of the common invasive-plant phragmites, and slated to be the site of 2,750 townhomes. The Meadowlands Commission bought the site and totally overhauled it, reestablishing tidal flows and adding native plant species created different types of marsh areas to attract a diversity of birds and aquatic life.
The strategy has been a huge success. Not only is the park a beautiful place for an autumn walk, but it is a great place to see all sorts of birds, from raptors the likes of bald eagles, peregrine falcons and northern harriers to a wide variety of waterfowl, egrets and shorebirds. The egrets and shorebirds are either heading south or already gone, but more and more ducks — including hundreds of stunning green-winged teals.
The Meadowlands Commission and Bergen County Audubon invite you to join us and see Mill Creek Marsh for yourself next Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. The park is the site for November’s third-Tuesday-of-the-month guided walk, and we chose the location because we like it so much this time of year.
The walk takes roughly two hours and involves a little bit of walking and a lot of bird-watching, so bring binoculars and dress appropriately for the weather. The park can get cold this time of year, especially when a November wind whips up across the marsh. Check meadowblog.net for details.
(The other great way to experience Mill Creek Marsh is by kayak or canoe — launching at nearby Mill Creek Point — but that is a column for next spring, when the weather gets warmer again.)