Jim Wright, who maintains this nature blog for the NJMC, also writes a twice-monthly column for the South Bergenite. His latest is on the NJMC’s popular summer guided pontoon-boat cruises:
If you’ve never gone on one of the N.J. Meadowlands Commission’s pontoon cruises, you’ve truly missed the boat.
These two-hour cruises, narrated by an experienced guide, cost just $15 and offer incredible views of our marshes and the Manhattan skyline, not to mention up-close looks at some incredible birds and other wildlife.
I was reminded of just how much fun these pontoon-boat rides are when I recently narrated a cruise for a group of eighth-graders.
We headed up the Hackensack River from River Barge Park in Carlstadt, where the boats are docked, and saw all sorts of bird life along the way. Highlights included a red-tailed hawk nest with three fuzzy white heads sticking up, a bald eagle perched in a nearby marsh, two ospreys and a peregrine falcon.
“The next few months are a great time to be on the river,” says NJMC naturalist Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, who has supervised the NJMC’s pontoon boat rides for many years. “Nesting peregrines are back, and the bald eagles seem to be making the Meadowlands part of their daily visit. They were once a rare sighting.”
Similarly, up to 30 black skimmers (threatened in New Jersey) have been seen resting on the River Barge park docks. The reason that the river is thriving with fish and birds once more is the region’s incredible environmental recovery over the past four decades.
According to Bennett-Meany, the biggest surprise for many is how much open space there is in the Meadowlands, and the abundance and diversity of wildlife, from diamondback terrapins and fiddler crabs to great egrets and yellow-crowned night herons.
For Bennett-Meany, the best thing about participating in these cruises is sharing her knowledge of the river and its many marshes.
“I enjoy seeing people completely amazed by all of the wonder the Meadowlands has to offer,” she says. “The best thing that people say is they have to get their friends to join them a cruise next time.”
You don’t need any special boat shoes for the cruises, but it’s always a good idea to bring a camera, binoculars and a water bottle. If you’re on a daytime cruise, sunblock is also recommended.
The pontoon boats feature comfortable seating for 12 for adults and children ages 10 and up. Special cruises are available for educational, civic, and other groups. Pre-registration is required.
For more information and to download a registration form, click here or call 201-460-4677
While you’re at River Barge Park, make sure you take time to relax on one of the NJMC’s comfortable benches and enjoy our wonderful river views. Or bring your own canoe or kayak and launch from the park’s free boat ramp to explore the river and its marshes on your own.
For more information on River Barge Park, click here.