The Meadowlands Commission’s next free guided walk, on Sunday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m., will take place at Harrier Meadow in North Arlington. If you’ve never seen this incredibly beautiful 78-acre natural area — located between closed landfills and a former trash-transfer facility — your first reaction will likely be disbelief.
How could a place so chock full of birds and native plants be tucked away in such an unlikely spot?
After all, how many other places in the metropolitan area offer great views of the Manhattan skyline, a flat and wide walking path, and plenty of raptors, herons, ducks, and wildflowers? Did I mention three tidal impoundments, a vast mudflat and three brand-new native-plant gardens (created with a grant from the National Audubon Society and Bergen County Audubon Society)?
In short, Harrier Meadow — just off Disposal Road near Schuyler Avenue — is a little slice of paradise. See for yourself during the two-hour guided walk, co-sponsored by the Bergen County Audubon Society.
It was not always thus. The property was once part of a vast mudflat. It became a privately run dump site for trap rock from 1967 to 1971, when Interstate 280 was built through the Oranges.
According to Dr. Ross Feltes, the NJMC’s Supervisor of Natural Resources Management, the invasive common reed and purple loosestrife soon covered most of the area.
Joan Hansen, who monitors wetlands sites for the NJMC, says that Harrier Meadow was known as “LRFC” back then, though no one can remember what exactly the initials stood for. She also recalls that it was an environmental wasteland.
In 1996, the NJMC bought the site and worked with Ducks Unlimited to design a natural area with native plants to offset wetland impacts from a Conrail project. At the urging of Don Smith, longtime NJMC naturalist, the three open-water impoundments were created.
“We needed high-tide shorebird resting areas,” Don recalls. “It’s a habitat none too abundant in the Meadowlands, and we have shorebirds by the thousands coming in during migration that need places to land during high tide.”
The improvements’ impact was immediate. Before the enhancement began, 42 bird species were reported. Just after, that number had climbed to 58.
As of earlier this month, 222 species of birds have been reported in Harrier Meadow since 2008.
On the walk on Sunday, Nov. 3, you’ll have a good chance of seeing a Bald Eagle, falcons and other raptors, as well as a variety of beautiful ducks.
Harrier Meadow has become a premier birding spot – and one typically off-limits to the public to keep out vandals, ATVs and others who might damage a site that went from wasteland to wonderland. Even more reason to take advantage of what is sure to be a great walk.
Ross Feltes puts it best: “In addition to the improved ecological functioning of the site and its value as a nature preserve, [Harrier Meadow] has become a beautiful place.”