Mitzvah Day Re-Opens
Nature Trails At Mehrhof Pond
By Hugh M. Carola
“Mitzvah” is a Hebrew word that means “blessing” or “good deed” and a Mitzvah Day is when Jews and others join together in the service of community. On November 20, 2005, 50 dedicated volunteers answered the call from the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Northern New Jersey and Hackensack Riverkeeper to help re-open the Mehrhof Pond Nature Trail in Little Ferry. Over the past several years, the trail had become increasingly overgrown and was impassable in some places. The trail is one of Hackensack Riverkeeper’s favorite Eco-Walk venues and was, in fact, the place where the program began in 1999.
The trail and the 110 acres it winds through are owned by the Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCUA) and its wastewater treatment facility. Open water, wetlands, dry meadows and lowland forest are the habitats that now exist at the site, the former location of the region’s largest brickworks. Those habitats occupy the western area of the BCUA property with the facility occupying the eastern section and the riverfront. The area also marks the spot where our watershed’s uplands end and the marshes of the New Jersey Meadowlands begin.
Mitzvah day tasks involved pruning branches, raking trails, clearing reeds from observation sites and cutting back thick stands of blackberry brambles and thistles that had made walking the trail a sometimes painful undertaking. Volunteers also cleaned out and re-hung the Wood duck nest boxes that were installed this past spring. Both boxes showed evidence of having been visited by ducks, but no actual nests were found. One particularly enterprising group of volunteers even tried - without chainsaws - to remove a tree that had fallen across the Trail.
“There was just one place where we couldn’t break through,” said Ivan Salinas, a member of Temple Beth Israel, a Reconstructionist congregation in Maywood. “The Ailanthus trees at the southern end of the Trail were just too thick to deal with without saws or other cutting tools.”
In the spring, Hackensack Riverkeeper will ask BCUA to use their small Bobcat bulldozer to re-open that section. Once that’s done, the nature trail will be completely passable once again.
According to the Mitzvah Day organizers, more than 1,300 people in the area took part in various activities that included visiting the elderly, collecting donations for hurricane victims and painting community centers as well as our work in Little Ferry.
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