Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: A Cruise to An Urban Wilderness

Pontoon Boat TourBy Don Torino
Guest Columnist

There are those wonderful places in life that we never get tired of, the places that bring joy to our heart, lift our spirit and help us feel more alive.

They remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going. They provide us with a journey and a destination to that special place where we feel ourselves, and know it is where we truly belong. For me a boat ride in the Meadowlands is my special destination.

A ride on the Hackensack River brings me back to those very special places that remind me and give me faith that sometimes things really do get better.I was fortunate enough to grow up meandering the marshes and creeks of the New Jersey Meadowlands, and I am still very privileged as I get to help introduce folks from all over to all the wonders of the Meadowlands by leading nature walks. But as much as I adore walking the trails of places like DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst and Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus, a pontoon boat cruise on the Hackensack river can put the people, the history, and, the environment in a beautiful, natural perspective that I never get tired of .

Years ago it used to be that the boats one would see on the waters of the Meadowlands were commandeered by only the heartiest of souls like Muskrat trappers and crazy adventurous kids like us. To see any boat drifting down the river was a very curious and unusual sight, but as the Meadowlands and its waterways got cleaner the people and the wildlife returned.

Today, a pontoon boat ride in the Meadowlands with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is a living, natural advertising billboard of the incredible place that the Meadowlands has become, from a place that was once the butt of jokes to an incredible environment where Peregrine Falcons nest and hunt.

From an ecological nightmare to a thriving habitat where Diamondback Terrapins and Osprey raise their young, from a place where crimes against nature once was common to a paradise in which today more than 280 bird species have been seen. It’s a rare natural success story witnessed , observed and documented from the seat of a small boat.

Yellow-crowned Night Herons sail overhead, the Clapper Rail scurry into the grasses and everyone aboard the boat smiles. While some may have seen these birds before they smile now because they see them in the Meadowlands, a place that many thought should be written off, left for dead, thrown away and buried for good.

Now, as our boat passes by, the Yellow-legs and Sandpipers are beheld with a new reverence and respect because they have survived, and waited patiently, and desperately, for the Meadowlands to return. Now it has returned, which is not only a tribute to the tenacity of the wildlife but also to the commitment and steadfastness of its people.

Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, a Senior Natural Resource Specialist with the NJSEA who leads the boat tours says   “I think the guided cruises are a good way to view parts of the Meadowlands that are inaccessible by foot. There are a lot of birds that can be observed just at the edges of the river and where the smaller creeks begin. Not only are the birds visible in the natural areas, but the manmade structures such as bridges and power line towers are a common perching areas as well.”

So, if you are looking to get a glimpse of the meadowlands wildlife along with an experienced guide you won’t want to miss this opportunity to join the Bergen County Audubon and NJSEA. Don’t forget your binoculars, sunblock and some water !

Pre-registration required . For more information call Gabrielle Bennett-Meany 201-460-4640 or click here.

The Great Egrets stand like sentinels in tribute to a healthy Meadowlands, the Forster’s Terns dive for fish in celebration and the Northern Harriers patrol the skies in tribute of the return of their home. These are the places that connect us to the natural world and help to keep us grounded as we look to the skies for the birds that depend on the Meadowlands so much. It is sometimes hard to put into words but we know when we are there.

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