August 28, 2007
The Hackensack is coming back to life
By The Record Editorial
THE twists and turns of the Hackensack River mirror North Jersey's history, and much of that history has not been kind. The river's story is a tale of the destruction and criminal negligence that have been much of New Jersey's environmental legacy.
In the last two centuries, the Hackensack River has been neglected and abused, polluted and poisoned by chemicals, industrial waste and sewage. It comes as a shock to learn that less than 100 years ago, its bottom was white sand.
But to dismiss the river as many of us know it -- a muddy, industrial afterthought -- is a mistake. It has many lives in the course of its 50 miles, from where it begins as a brook in Rockland County to where it ends at the entrance to Newark Bay. And as Record Staff Writer Jim Wright and Photographer Beth Balbierz have shown us Sunday and Monday, there is new life in and around the Hackensack River and new cause for hope for its future.
The evidence is tangible. Parts of the lower river have become clean enough that ospreys, falcons, striped bass and perch are returning. Towns are planning and building greenways along the banks. Parts of the river's course through the Meadowlands are being turned into eco-parks and wildlife refuges. A 21-mile paddling route for kayaks and canoes, from Oradell to Jersey City, is in the works.
A National Park Service official calls the river "a huge recreational resource in the rough." We are just beginning to see the potential that groups such as the Hackensack Riverkeeper have dreamed of and worked toward for years.
This progress must continue. There is still a great deal to be done to make the water cleaner: better sewage treatment; more cleanups of the pollution and garbage; more public access through walkways, bikeways and nature trails; and more education and information to change the image of the river in the public eye.
Given the campaign to clean it up and the Hackensack's importance -- the northern half provides drinking water for 750,000 New Jerseyans -- it's hard to believe that it is still in danger. But development is a perennial threat. Buffer zones have been established by the state to protect the river and prevent pollution, but homeowners and developers still look for ways around them.
People still dump garbage into the river, and many are not even aware of the river's other identity in many spots as a calm oasis of beauty and wildlife in a crowded suburban region.
The more the public learns about the river in all its forms -- past, present and the future it can have -- the more we can undo at least some of the damage and give it back its true identity as a natural treasure.
For more information, images and an interactive map, log on to northjersey.com/tr.