Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wild and Scenic last

n December 9, 2006, during the last three hours of its last session, the 109th United States Congress passed the "Musconetcong Wild and Scenic Rivers Act," which designates portions of the Musconetcong River as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The Musconetcong meets the Delaware River just a few hundred yards below the Roebling cable suspension bridge that connects Riegelsville, PA with Riegelsville, NJ.

The Musconetcong is not merely one of many remarkable siblings in the Delaware River Basin family of streams, it is now officially an “outstandingly remarkable” river as defined by National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and as documented by the National Park Service and a host of other public and private organizations and individuals.

The Musconetcong resembles mother Delaware in so many ways. Each river richly deserved its wild and scenic designation for possessing so many outstanding historic, scenic, recreational and environmental features.

The Delaware forms the boundary between four states (NY/PA/NJ/DE); the Musconetcong between four New Jersey counties including Hunterdon, Warren, Morris and Sussex. Both rivers suffer to varying degrees from multi-jurisdictional fragmentation and their respective Wild Scenic River Management Plans prescribe a cure that if taken with should help ensure that a big picture approach prevails over the insidious small-town mentality. If I had my way all townships would be abolished! Watershed boundaries would replace the endless chain of meaningless little political fiefdoms that control and more often than not mismanage land use.

Two other streams within the non-tidal Delaware River Basin have been inducted into the nation’s wild and scenic hall of fame for rivers: the Maurice River, which flows into the Delaware Bay near the hamlets of Shell Pile and Bivalve, New Jersey, and the White Clay Creek which flows through the southeastern-most portion of Chester County, Pennsylvania into New Castle County, Delaware, where it meets the Christina River. The Christina runs into the tidal Delaware River near Wilmington.

Understanding the National Wild and Scenic River System is not easy. There are many nuances in the way each wild and scenic river is “managed” and there are huge differences in the various roles given to the National Park Service.

The Delaware River alone has three distinct flavors of National Wild and Scenic River designations that neatly match the three distinct non-tidal sections. The proposed Tocks Island Dam between Port Jervis spawned the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in 1978. Here the federal government owns the land adjacent to the river and the National Park Service manages the land and recreational activities on the water.

The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River was created a few months later, but 95% of the land adjacent to the river is privately owned. The NPS cannot regulate land use in this section of the river, but the National Park Service has primary responsibility for enforcement of river recreation. The Upper Delaware Council was formed with representation from municipalities from New York and Pennsylvania.

The Lower Delaware River between the Water Gap and Washington Crossing was designated just six years ago. The Lower Delaware River, Musconetcong River, Maurice River, and White Clay Creek are considered by the National Park Service to be “Partnership Rivers” meaning that they flow mainly through private land and the NPS is strictly limited to serving in an advisory role. Responsibility for on-the-water activities and land use remains with local, state and county governments and private property owners.

That’s a look at the bureaucratic side of our regional wind and scenic rivers. But what are the benefits of wild and scenic designation?

Foremost is that each river has a management plan that identifies the “outstandingly remarkable” resources that are to be protected and if possible improved, from water quality and recreational access, to historic structures and scenic vistas. River Management Committees bring people and organizations together to focus on the river and its tributaries.

The Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers receive a modest, albeit shrinking amount of money from the federal government to implement their management plans.

Finally, wild and scenic designation makes a compelling case statement for the protection of specific resources. For example, the Delaware River Basin Commission has enacted more stringent water quality regulations for the Upper and Middle river sections, and is proposing the same for the Lower Delaware River.

The Musconetcong Watershed Association and other organizations have been pressing the NJDEP for a Category One water quality designation without success, but the new designation makes this a no-brainer that the NJDEP will have a difficult time denying.

The next post will explore in depth just what it is that makes the Musconetcong River so “outstandingly remarkable.”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Running the Rancocas...

Accepted an invitation from George & Leona Fluck to paddle the North Branch of the Rancocas Creek with the Outdoor Club of New Jersey (above pics shot by Leona). I have joined this club for trips on the Mullica River (1x) and Delaware River (2x) and it's a laid back group. These are SOUTH Jerseyans mind you. I mean we paddled by one cottage that proudly flew the colors of Old Dixie.

South Jerseyans are more laid back than their northern brethren; that is a good thing, especially on a river trip. They speak more softly. There is no need to virtually shout out the most mundane conversation, the way many of the northerners are wont to do. South Jersey, as a rule, is definitely more quiet than the north.

Anyway, George lent his Blue Hole Sunburst. It's a really nice solo whitewater canoe, very responsive, yet tracks well enough for a placid stream like the Rancocas.

We put in behind the Burlington County Community College -- an impressive new campus! -- at a nice county park boat launch complete with a plastic shelled composting toilet that even had a quarter moon design above the door. How quaint. Didn’t check out the inside, being a tree man all the way. I am told that the students hang here and sunbathe and swim, what a wonderful amenity for college students. The healing powers of the tea colored pure waters of the Pine Barrens are legendary. You've heard of the New Jersey Tea Devil?

The creek winds through beautiful Pine Barrens Mixed hardwood, pine, cedar and holly forest. The banks are sandy and there are a few pristine sand beaches. Much of this ten-mile section is wild looking, although the last 4 miles offers a visually entertaining potpourri of what were formerly summer cottages transformed into homes and cottages of all shapes and economic classes — from the land-hogging log McMansion to a few that would make nice illustrations in a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.

We took out an Smithtown (ville?) which was the site of a late nineteenth century bicycle factory. This man Smith operated an entire factory complex with comely company housing in a park like setting. He built a special bycycling monorail from the industrial village downstream to Mount Holly. Burlington County has one of New Jersey's truly outstanding parks departments and open space acquisition programs. We actually paddled what is now an official water trail, much of which is also paralleled by a land trail system. They keep it nicely pruned. No overhangs and no blocked channels.

The creek has a few floating mats of trash (mainly beer cans and plastic beverage containers) but it is mostly a clean river — appearance wise. The wall-to-wall cottages right at creek’s edge and an over-abundance of domestic ducks probably mean that this creek is not safe for swimming. OCSJ and G&L: thanks for the great trip and monster breakfast!

Saturday, December 09, 2006



2:00 AM Saturday, December 9, 2006

The US Congress passed legislation designating about 24 miles of the Musconetcong River for inclusion to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The news came from Beth Barry, who succeeded me as the Musconetcong Watershed Association’s executive director in 2003. She and some stellar volunteers like Bill Leavens, Joyce Koch, Susan Dickey, Ed Secula, Cinny MacGonagle and others really made it happen, with the assistance of NPS (especially Jamie Fosburg, Paul Kenney and Bill Sharp), Heritage Conservancy (former staff Sharon Yates and Gary Bowles), and Quinn McKew of American Rivers. The latter group really helped see this thing through congress.

I am extremely happy, ecstatic, glad, even satisfied, if that is allowed. I began serving as MWA’s executive director in July 1997. Two months before that I led a group of MWA members, reporters, and Jamie Fosburg and Cassie Thomas of the National Park Service (Boston office) on a five-mile canoe trip between Hampton Park and Bloomsbury. The Philadelphia office staff already had their hands full with the Lower Delaware River, White Clay Creek, and Maurice River W&S studies. The canoe trip was more or less a kickoff for the Musconetcong Wild and Scenic River Resource Eligibility and Classification report, and that officially began about the time I began working for the MWA. The study and subsequent designation process took seven years to complete. It took two years to work through the gears of the House and Senate. All that remains is a signature from the POTUS (egad!).

That was a wonderful seven years of windshield surveys, aquatic insect sampling, hikes, canoe trips, and meetings meetings meetings. The rewards of that job were slim -- money-wise. Real slim. The true reward was working with salt-of-the-earth people in that greatest of northern New Jersey watersheds, people who stepped up to the plate for their beloved river and the land and the communities that surround it. What a pleasure it was to be given personal tours of every nook and cranny of the 165 sq. mile watershed by the watershed residents. We persevered through a monumental series of township meetings (I figure at least 100 meetings), obtaining near unanimous support from 25 of 26 municipal governments in parts of Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex and Warren counties. We jumped though this hoop TWICE: once to do the study and once again to secure resolutions of support for the river management plan and subsequent designation. Pohatcong Township was the one rogue mini-state run by wimps and terrorized by some idiot screwball farmers that refused to support both the Musconetcong and Lower Delaware River studies – mainly due to concerns about imminent invasion by the Blue Helicopters of the UN.

And best of all, we created the definitive report, a compelling case statement proving that the Musky is one of the “outstandingly remarkable” rivers in the land.

I’ve canoed about 3000 miles over the past 10 years, and at least a thousand of those miles was on the Musky alone. It is my favorite sanctuary.

Over the next week or so I’ll be writing about what the wild and scenic designation means for the Musky and the main goals of the river management plan. One initiative is to liberate the river from several dams, and that effort is already underway. This wonderful turn of events can only help.

Until then, you might want to visit this link to find a few interesting stories about the river and its protectors.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Welcome winter-like weather...

It's about time we get some cold weather and by golly it is finally upon us. Unfortunately it will be a bit too cold to paddle early next week, but there are other things to do like visit my mom, practice with the blues band and plan how to make some extra income this coming year.

If I can get out for two more river trips it's possible to pass 400 miles for the year. If not, there is always next year, but with the REAL JOB the bar will be lowered to 300 miles for 2007.

I was excited to see a few comments on my last post, but alas, it was merely junkmail solicitation. How desperate can they be? I know my blog looks like it might be widely read, but it isn't.