August 18, 2008
Volunteers lend a hand to help river
By Karen Rouse
SECAUCUS — Art installer Gary Kopp hangs rare and priceless art, from Van Goghs to Rembrandts, in the grand halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On Sunday, the Carlstadt resident was just as comfortable trudging through Mill Creek Marsh with a trash bag and plucking garbage from the Hackensack River watershed.
Kopp and his wife were among more than 50 volunteers participating in a Hackensack Riverkeeper cleanup project, one of a dozen the organization performs between April and October each year.
The cleanup aims to keep the areas along the 45-mile Hackensack River visually appealing and maintain an environment safe for wildlife and vegetation.
"We definitely try to help out," said Kopp, noting that he and his wife drive a hybrid car, recycle, buy organic products and convert degradable foods into garden compost.
"This park is the public's, and they have a more enjoyable experience if there aren't bottles and trash washing up," he said.
Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan, who founded the non-profit Hackensack Riverkeeper organization in June 1997 to protect the natural resources of the river, said the cleanup "demonstrates to the public that they need to take care of their trash."
Plastic bottles and other trash tossed carelessly into the street can easily go into storm drains and then get pushed into rivers and eventually on the shore, he warned.
Volunteers enjoyed sunny weather as they fanned out across the tranquil trails and marshes amid fluttering Monarch butterflies and busy dragonflies. Some volunteers headed into the waters by canoe, while others climbed in with waders. They pulled out rubber balls, plastic water bottles, planks of wood, yards of wire netting and Budweiser cans.
Volunteer Helga Nagy of Garfield pulled a nearly life-sized blond-haired doll from the river bank.
Lisa Ryan, operations director for the Hackensack Riverkeeper, started the cleanup project in 1999.
Without volunteers cleaning trash out of the river, "it would look horrible when people come to take a walk," she said. "They would see the trash and probably throw their own coffee cup in, too."
Kopp's wife, Erica Demme, said keeping the environment clean has been her personal passion since childhood, when her father gave her a book about the environment.
She said she likes the visual aspect of a clean river but also wants to protect the animals that live in the watershed.
"The wildlife tends to get tangled up in all the garbage" and are hurt by the chemicals "that leach out of the products and into the water," Demme said.
On past cleanups, Demme and Kopp said, they have found a mattress and a door from a safe, in the river.
Pema Tsultrim volunteered in the cleanup with a team from Eileen Fisher, a clothing company where he is a warehouse worker.
A native Tibetan who lived in India before immigrating to the United States, Tsultrim said he was surprised to find so much littering in America.
"I didn't expect that," he said, standing on a trail, with Wal-Mart and Sam's Club in the backdrop. "You expect everything to be neat and clean."
He opened a trash bag filled with beer cans and dirt-crusted plastics.
He said he enjoyed spending his Sunday cleaning the river because he is a follower of the Dalai Lama, who encourages care of the environment.
"I don't mind going into the bushes," he said. "I love taking care of things."
About the Hackensack River
* The mostly urban river is 45 miles long. Nearly 20 million people live within driving distance of its banks.
* It began forming 15,000 years ago when a finger of the Wisconsin Glacier retreated, causing bedrock to compress and forming what paleontologists called Glacial Lake Hackensack.
* Over time, the compressed bedrock rose out of the lake and created the Hackensack River watershed. Today it is bound by the High Tor Mountains on the north, the Palisades to the east, the Watchung foothills to the west and Newark Bay to the south.
* For more information or to assist in future cleanup projects, call 201-968-0808 or go online to hackensackriverkeeper.org.