By Steve Dwyer
Going the extra mile, that’s the brownfield way. And that’s the same approach one university team took as it garnered the 2022 Charlie Bartsch Brownfield Scholarship, established by BCONE to honor the legacy of Bartsch, the dynamic and visionary brownfields industry advocate who passed in 2017.
From left to right: Ogochukwu (Debbie) Okeke (PhD Student, Teaching Assistant for Brownfields Course), Kyla Drewry (Brownfield Course student, scholarship recipient), Randi Mendes (Postdoctoral Fellow, UConn TAB Community Liaison), Sarah Trombetta (Vice President TRC, competition judge), Mark Lewis (Brownfields Coordinator CT DEEP, competition judge and Board member of BCONE), Nefeli Bompoti (Assistant Research Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering Department, and UConn TAB Program Manager)
To UCONN instructor Nefali Bompoti, this scholarship competition stood out from some of the others. That’s not to slight those past efforts; rather, professor Bompoti simply believes that it’s a testament to this year’s over-achieving and visionary team approach that came equipped with laser vision.
The scholarship is doled out annually to the winning collaboration at UCONN, where Prof. Bompoti is assistant research professor, CT Brownfields Initiative, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the Storrs, Conn.-based university. The program is delivered along with fellow professor Marisa Chrysochoou, Ph.D., director of CT Brownfields Initiative.
The four students—Kyla Drewry, Jiayu Li, Remy Van Vliet and Ariana Venegas—were awarded $500 each, to be allocated toward tuition fees. The scholarship competition involved several UCONN teams within the CT Brownfields Initiative (CBI). UCONN students who participated hailed from the engineering, environmental, geology, real estate and consulting areas of study.
“This project stood out from past years due to the so many unexpected challenges that the winning team faced,” says Bompoti. “Other teams [in past years] had more ‘straightforward projects.’ This year, the team thought intently, deeply and creatively about what they were tasked with—and they demonstrated excellence to the end. That impressed the judges.”
The three BCONE judges presiding over the competition included Mark Lewis, brownfields coordinator at the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and a member of BCONE’s Board, Don Friday, project manager at the CT Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and Sarah Trombetta, senior project manager at TRC Companies.
The UCONN students were assigned to the Ansonia, Conn. community, and when they descended on the city they delivered a holistic work blueprint: they helped the city apply for U.S. EPA grants; they prepared Phase I ESAs; they brainstormed ideas about end-uses.
The class inspired some team members to ponder a career in brownfield reclamation and/or sustainability. One is team leader Kyla Drewry. “Kyla took the lead on this team. There were challenges with the project and Kyla took charge,” says Prof. Bompoti. “Kyla is one of the brightest students I’ve had the pleasure to teach. She was always communicating and asking questions, she was very engaged.”
“The great thing about the team was that they created a story that painted a picture of cleaning up and remediating such as large complex site, where there was a lot of contamination. The team took what would be potentially be a $500,000 EPA grant award and prioritized what work should be done first and foremost.”
Bompoti says that, despite the hard work of the team, Ansonia was not eligible to receive the EPA grant as the city failed to meet all grant criteria. The city can re-apply for the grant in future years—and do so by using the UCONN team’s work as its template to proceed.
As Prof. Bompoti explained: “This site required so much more work. The $500K would only cover a fraction of all it would take. So the question was, ‘what should we address first?’ The underground and aboveground [UST’s and ASTs] storage tanks were identified as the components. There were at least 20 USTs. The team came up with this plan on their own—they prioritized the tanks for remediation,” says Bompoti.
Another issue was that Ansonia did not own the site, which added another X factor to the equation. The property was owned by a private entity, Anaconda.
Kyla Drewry on Behalf of the Team
In speaking in her own words about the Ansonia, Conn. project, Kyla Drewry says that the team was concerned with the old Anaconda Copper and Brass factory, a huge site with a 16-acre parcel on one side of the railroad and 22-acre parcel on the other.
Some challenges with the environmental risks included the close proximity of the site to the downtown area, meaning contamination could impact a larger portion of the population. “It also was nestled on the edge of the Naugatuck River, so there were concerns of contamination in the water,” Kyla explained to BCONE.
She continues: “The site itself had a full environmental preliminary assessment. This assessment showed contamination of aboveground and underground storage tanks on the site, a variety of buildings on site, in groundwater and surface water interactions with the river. Contaminants of concern included PCBs, lead, asbestos and corrosive wastes. It was a laundry list of problems—and not surprising for a site this large.”
She says that data available about the town showed an acute risk existed based on their poverty levels, asthma rates and cancer risk. In response, “the town officials were very helpful in giving us all of the available information that they had, including the site assessment and their Plan of Conservation and Development.”
Professor Bompoti, meanwhile, had great influence on Kyla’s choices after her undergraduate education. “Through the relationship we built in class, I was able to talk to her about my goals for the future. It is largely in part to my discussions with her about research and engineering overlapping with environmental justice issues that I will be pursuing my Ph.D. in environmental engineering. I will focus on drinking water equity after graduation. Hopefully remediation will be an area I can work in during my career,” Kyla explains.
While working through this project, “the most difficult thing to think through in terms of applying for funding was the fact that the site was so large and filled with a lot of contamination, that would cost much more than the grant could cover,” says Kyla.
The effort involved having to state a case for the grant money and still make an impact despite not fully remediating the site. “Our team determined that targeting the storage tanks on the site would be the best use for the grant money. The tanks are found in high quantities across the site, so remediating them will reduce large amounts of contamination throughout the whole site. Once they are dealt with, some areas may be almost entirely usable for redevelopment,” Kyla told BCONE.
In terms of end-use brainstorming, the UCONN team referred a lot to the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development. “Through reading this document and looking at the layout of the site, with so many buildings, we determined that eventually using the site as a business and commercial center would boost the economy and increase foot traffic in the area,” she says.
Incorporating green space could also increase the “social health of the area. There is also the possibility for greater manufacturing or industrial use, as the site is so large. The city’s main goal is to bring jobs and revenue in with the redevelopment of this land,” says Kyla.
Posted June 20, 2022
Here are more compelling textbook examples of young, would-be brownfield professionals stepping up with fresh sets of eyes to help see a productive way forward in the redevelopment of brownfield properties in 2022 and beyond.
We’ve reported on many university and college efforts tied to scholarships as the stake. The most recent was a team from Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J., who were scholarship recipients following their participation in “Perspectives in Environmental Management,” a course taught by Dibyendu “Dibs” Sarkar, Professor, Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, at Stevens Institute of Technology.
The teams competed for the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast’s Charlie Bartsch Scholarship Fund cash award of $2,000. The winning team members include the following students:
Recently, Maria Coler, president of Hydrotechnology Consultants, Inc. (HCI) and a chair of the BCONE Education and Scholarship Committee, spoke to Dr. Sarkar along with three scholarship awardees during a virtual post-award interview. Coler began by asking Dr. Sarkar to describe what the class assignment was and to provide some background on the “Perspectives in Environmental Management” class.
Describing the most recent class experience, Dr. Sarkar said: “This was a great group because they had a lot of synergy, and one objective of the assignment was to give them the opportunity to learn] how to work in teams. I think they did that beautifully. There were two graduate students and one undergraduate in the winning scholarship group.
He continued: “They had a lot of independence, and teamwork was evident,” with a goal to develop a green and sustainable urban environmental justice plan for communities.
Dr. Sarkar, whose research focuses on understanding the behavior of inorganic and organic contaminants in the environment, says that the goal of the four teams (a total of 24 students) was to hatch an economically feasible plan of development in the city or town of their choice.
Dr. Sarkar—who works to examine how contaminants behave in various environmental media, such as soil, water, sediments and biota to determines their ultimate fate—says that one overarching goal is to “prescribe appropriate remedial measures to lessen ecological and human health risks.”
He cited various vulnerable areas in New Jersey, including Newark, that are prone to flooding and rife with water quality issues—a chronic problem that “typically goes hand in hand” in densely developed areas of New York and New Jersey where sewage accumulates whenever it floods. “The whole idea was for them to look at various green forms of ]infrastructure,” says Dr. Sarkar, a strong believer in an interdisciplinary approach to solving environmental problems.
During the virtual session, Coler was impressed about the team’s visionary and cohesive effort to wring results.
She added that the next steps with projects such as these is determining how to “bring life back to the soil and groundwater”—rather than “just removing the contamination—how can we make sure this can become a living ecosystem again so there’s ongoing ecological]value.”
One aspect Coler underscored was that when it comes to complicated brownfield efforts—which ones are not?—various stakeholders might be inclined to run from the problem, apprehensive to move forward. However, “not being afraid of these sites, but embracing them for their historical and cultural and environmental value” is what sets the successful stakeholders apart from the others.
As a professional and president of HCI, Coler has been able to see multiple productive ways forward to ensure successful redevelopment efforts across the Tri-state region. She emphasized that the endgame is “connecting brownfields to the greater arc of the sustainability movement and also to environmental consciousness in general.”
Speaking to the Stevens students, Coler said that “it’s a great time to do what you’re doing, that you're making that connection--the micro and the macro world, the human world and the natural world. Seeing that continuum is so important. But, we are in trouble to garner results and success because people operate in silos….We can all see the bigger picture together and use our skill sets to solve the problem.”
Dr. Sarkar made clear that the winning team stepped up to the challenge. “Overall, the package was really impressive, in my opinion. They took their jobs seriously and did a lot of homework,” citing such functionality as deploying cloud data to assess community flooding impacts,
“When they presented, it clearly showed they were not presenting for the first time: they already practiced it and did a very good job in making the presentation,” he says. “I was extremely satisfied with the work of the team. Every year, new teams come and they lead, but I will remember most of the work by this team—and perhaps I will use their effort as a model for next year.”
Dr. Sarkar, whose received his Honors B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in geology from the University of Calcutta, India, an his PhD in Geochemistry from the University of Tennessee, made mention of how the team was ultra-diversified, which was not always the case in past years. The team members are pursuing careers across architecture, business and engineering fields. Dr. Sarkar called it a case of “cross-disciplinary excellence.”
Added Coler about the elusive goal of being profitable and at the same time engendering green practices and sustainability, “It’s encouraging that the Stevens team sees that. Having a profitable business is not mutually exclusive to having a sustainable business. It's not hard to have a profitable company in this world…if you don’t care about the environmental and the social good. The real geniuses are going to be the ones that actually pull off being financially solvent and sustainable.”
Team Members Chime In
Rexford Anderson, Emily McCormick, and Lojin El Didi spoke during the Zoom session about Stevens Institute and how they came into Dr. Sarkar’s course, how it spawned the effort that led to their scholarship.
Anderson finished his undergraduate work at Syracuse University, where “I studied finance and supply chain management.” Speaking of his penchant to appreciate sustainability, “I’d always enjoyed being outside and being in nature. I was a Boy Scout growing up and went all the way through to Eagle Scouts, so the environment was always a priority.”
Captivated by a green supply chain course at Syracuse, Anderson was able to see and appreciate “the connections between the business world and sustainability,” and how sustainability can be baked into the overall process. “I wanted to continue my education in sustainability and came to Stevens seeking a dual business and sustainability degree. I was hooked from there. I absolutely love the program so far.”
He spoke about other topics during the one-hour call, including:
Use of technology: “When we first started we kind of looked at flood maps to see where the highest flood areas were—flood searches during hurricanes to determine where all of the water accumulated and then, from there, we narrowed down a couple of cities that we might want to target.”
Financial analysis: “Once we had narrowed down those cities, we performed the financial analysis to see if it fell into the category of environmental justice or not. We further narrowed it down and ended up in Newark, there were a couple different streets, and leaned a little more towards South St. The advice we were given was to look for a street that has a slope to it. We also looked at Google Earth to…see what the actual slope was and how that changes over time. You can get a good idea of where the water will pool, and can then proceed from there.
What was learned: “What we first thought of when looking at the brownfields website, examining water contamination. By identifying the brownfields, we looked at solutions to divert water away to minimize any kind of contamination. Afterwards, we designed it around that to cultivate the water towards the center and towards the corners.”
What we learned about the brownfields in Newark is that there are a lot of them. And it is a very large issue to remediate them, and putting land back into an actionable use.
Emily McCormick, unlike her other two teammates, participated as an undergrad student, studying for a degree in biomedical engineering. “Growing up, I was always advocating for public health aspects in terms of what I wanted to do for my profession—both my parents are pharmacists.
What she always sought: “I knew I wanted to do something with biomedical engineering, but I've always been really into the outdoors. My parents raised me to know and respect other animals and plants. It’s something that I always talk about with my friends and try to be sustainable, and I wanted to take it to a professional route. I minor in green engineering and the perspectives and environments management was my first course. I learned a lot and I hope to take that further with my public health degree with biomedical engineering.”
Ideas about green infrastructure: “I think most of the groups had similar ideas of what kind of green infrastructure we were supposed to implement—accessible to the public and better for the community. We ended up being a lot more specific in terms of what we wanted to implement. We had to establish that there was a slope on Newark’s South Street, and we knew where the brownfields were. My engineering background allowed me to know the different types of dimensions that we would have to implement and how wide the street was to create permeable pavement.”
Lojin El Didi, experienced an acute awakening about how she perceived brownfield sites during Dr. Sarkar's course. She learned about brownfields via the class and is now interested in the historic preservation and architectural aspects of brownfield redevelopment.
It's a refreshing epiphany by the student, who stated that “before I started this course, I never thought about brownfield redevelopment much,” at least in the context of how architecture fits into the overall tapestry.
When you think about historic preservation, Lojin likened brownfields to ancient site preservation in Egypt. When she was in Cairo, she witnessed residents “literally being kicked out of their homes. I thought that was very unfair. I had a lot of friends who were in architecture and they were trying to fight it. This became a passion to me because I did see how those people got affected.”
Lojin, with a background in architecture in urban areas, is eager to advance her career to advocate for architecture strategies that tie into the brownfield development mission—and not only to espouse historical legacies and sustainability, but to see to it that people don’t have to flee their homes. One solution to that is to champion for middle- to low-income affordable housing on brownfield sites.
“When I started this course I began to better connect architecture to sustainability.” When it comes to legacy buildings in the urban infill, residents have a profound memory about their industrial past, and it’s often a priority to maintain these buildings. “It’s like an open book: you can see it, you can touch it, and it interacts with you as well. It gives you a sense of what it looked like in the past.”
She adds: “A garden can make a change in the community: It’s very small but can make a huge difference in the community. I’m very passionate about sustainability—developing urban areas. That’s what drove me to this course.”
Posted June 16, 2022
Last week, the BCONE - Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast Brownfields, Books, and Brew (BBB) club finished Robert Bilott's, "Exposure."
We'd like to take this moment to honor the persistent, brilliant, passionate, and principled farmer and citizen scientist, Earl Tennant. If it weren't for Earl, we'd all still be frying eggs in our trustworthy Teflon pans and allowing our families to be poisoned for generations with forever chemicals.
Earl was a hero dressed in overalls--an uneducated genius with a deep love for his cows and an unwavering moral compass. He was right all along: He connected the dots long before all the highly educated civil servants, attorneys, and scientists. Earl was a great American and should be honored for his contribution to the world and for raising our collective environmental consciousness.
To the other hero of the story, Robert Bilott: We'd like to thank him for passionately recounting his journey and compassionately telling the stories of those he encountered along the way. He matched Dupont's duplicity and talent for obfuscation with simple (but not simplistic) diligence, resolve, and moral outrage. Demonstrating an almost superhuman ability to glean salient facts from disparate disciplines, Billot wove them together into a narrative that the regulators, judges, and jurors could not ignore. He forever changed the world with his work. Billot, too, is a great American.
Both men paid dearly for their roles in this saga: one with his life and the other with his health. It takes courage to take on a behemoth like Dupont. Every American should know this story and recognize it—using the framework of the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell-- as a veritable hero's journey.
Needless to say, members of the book club have decided that we are not ready to let go of this topic. We will post a list on Linked in of supplemental materials to read/view for our next meeting.
Posted April 1, 2022
How does one put a positive spin on a pandemic? Maria Coler found two bona fide ways to do it: forming a virtual BCONE book club and starting a hiking club. Both are gaining traction and getting high marks from participants at a time when they need it most.
Coler, President of Hydrotechnology Consultants Inc. (HCI), Jersey City, N.J., formed the BCONE Brownfields, Books and Beer Club -- formatting it as a virtual event -- during the early part of 2020, when people were working remotely and stuck at home for long periods of time.
“My aim has been to raise the environmental consciousness of brownfield practitioners.” The iconic stories demonstrate that the average person possesses the ability to effect real and substantial change,” Coler says.
Coler envisions the book club as a potential gateway to attracting new people to BCONE and the brownfield industry. One pre-existing challenge is that many budding environmental professionals opt for careers in more “sexy” fields, such as renewable energy, sustainability and climate change. Many overlook brownfields as a career.
“Anyone living around contaminated sites or those teaching about contaminated sites -- they all have the power to convey information about these sites,” says Coler, who has more than 15 years of experience in the environmental consulting field and is a Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) with the state of New Jersey.
There are some compelling historical examples about lessons learned --and they are being showcased in the book club.
Coler cites Love Canal during the late 1970s as something that has impacted peoples’ “heads and, more importantly, their hearts. That environmental saga changed the world and highlighted how human health and safety have been put in peril. The purpose of the book club is to remind people of the arc of environmental consciousness: where we are and how much further we need to go.”
Coler cites scientists and citizen activists who have propelled the environmental movement forward. One is Rachel Carson. The book club participants were exposed to the voice and courage that Carson exuded in her iconic book “Silent Spring,” which challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, calling for change in the way humankind viewed the natural world.
In writing the book, Carson, a writer, scientist and ecologist spoke out to remind that humanity is a vulnerable part of the natural world, and is subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment. Carson, who died in 1964, grew up in the rural river town of Springdale, PA.
“It was an awakening—it informed the whole environmental movement of the1960s, and it woke up a generation, so we started with that book,” says Coler.
Coler says that without Rachel Carson there would be no Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation -- all at the age of 18.
“It’s a passing of the baton -- and it’s a narrative that says, ‘never underestimate the ability of a small group of people to change the world,' in fact, it’s often the small groups that effect change most dramatically.”
The group has also read “Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present” (Richard S. Newman) and Pulitzer Prize winner, “Toms River” (Dan Fagin.)
In the summer of 1978, residents of Love Canal, Niagara Falls, N.Y., protested against the leaking toxic waste dump in their midst, a 16-acre site containing 100,000 barrels of chemical waste that infested their neighborhood. Initially seeking evacuation, area activists soon found they were engaged in a far larger battle over the meaning of America’s industrial past and its environmental future.
“While Silent Spring produced a narrative centered around the dangers of pesticides, Love Canal and Toms River opened the nation’s eyes to hazardous waste. in their midst.”
“We are exploring the commonalities of these stories -- you have these archetypes who are integral to each story: the attorney who won’t give up, the citizen scientist who won’t take no for an answer, the civil servant who acts out of a sense of duty, and the scientist who vows to take a closer look, despite conventional wisdom.”
In the case of Love Canal, the activist citizens exerted enough pressure that it forced former President Jimmy Carter to sign sweeping legislation now known as Superfund. “The aim of the book club is to attract people to the mission of remediating brownfield sites. To build a sustainable 21st century, we must address the vestiges of the 19th and 20th centuries.”
“These stories teach us that these are hard-earned rights—that we have to keep earning them every day,” says Coler, who holds a B.S. in Environmental Science, B.A. in Physics and minor in English Literature from Rutgers University and who is often retained as an expert witness. “These stories have the seeds of knowledge to help us build a sustainable world. They are not radical stories. They are the stories of regular citizens fighting for their basic rights to live in safe neighborhoods with clean water, soil, and air.”
The book club has evolved from a few core members to nearly 20 registered participants. Coler is a guest lecturer on topics covered in the book club for the Phase I/Phase II course taught by Angelo Lampousis, a BCONE board member and City College of New York (CCNY) professor. Students from the CCNY class and the Stevens Institute of Technology program led by Professor Dibyendu “Dibs” Sarkar are invited to join the book club and gain extra credits, as well as a unique understanding of the brownfield industry and the history of the environmental movement in the United States. Inquisitive students often remain on the Zoom call to ask questions long after the book club session is over. “My goal is to increase the participation of graduate and undergraduate students, to plant the seeds of environmental awareness and to give them a reason to join the effort to remediate contaminated sites across the country and the world.”
Regarding the hiking club, Coler had to “re-think activities that were possible and safe when Covid hit. The hikes create a sense of community and environmental awareness. A geology field guide explains the ancient origins of the land features, while an ecology field guide describes the flora and fauna indigenous to the area and how the ecosystem may have changed over time with human intervention and environmental degradation.
Photos from some of the hiking trips and the tea ceremony.
Coler and Anne Lazo, BCONE webmaster, avid hiker and runner, and owner of Eagle Soars, a marketing firm, are taking the hiking club to “the next level” in the spring of 2022, when an overnight excursion is planned on the Appalachian Trail. In addition to ecology and geology field guides, and with a nod to recent severe weather events, Coler and Lazo plan to enlist the involvement of a survivalist, who will teach the participants survival skills such as foraging and fire building. Look for registration information in 2022.
Lazo backpacking on the AT in North Carolina with her nephew.
On May 21, 2021, BCONE and the NYCBP co-hosted a virtual Aperitivo Hour fundraiser for the Charlie Bartsch Brownfield Scholarship and Abbey Duncan Brownfield Scholarship. Both known for their passion for this industry, the funds in their names provide scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in the brownfield industry in NYC and throughout the northeast. Sponsored by seven companies (Gold: Eagle Soars Consulting; Riker Danzig; York Analytical Laboratories; and ACV Enviro. Silver: Cherrytree Group; Eurofins; and Coastal Environmental Solutions, Inc), and with over 30 registrants, they raised over $770 for each scholarship fund while enjoying an early evening tasting of Brooklyn-made aperitivi. You can go to the NYCBP and BCONE websites anytime to donate to the scholarship funds: https://www.nycbrownfieldpartnership.org/scholarship-program-donation and https://www.brownfieldcoalitionne.org/charlie-bartsch-brownfield-scholarship.
While the group hopes to get back to hosting events in person in the very near future, this tasting transported the attendees to an Italian piazza where they shared stories and laughs so easily they could almost forget there were screens between them. The attendees received a tasting kit prior to the event with bottles of amaro, Inferno Bitter, negronis, and spritzes from St. Agrestis (saint-agrestis.com). The event included a tour of the distillery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, an overview of the production process, the history of the Negroni cocktail, and a guided tasting of the drinks by the producer, Louis Catizone. If you missed it, we hope to see you at the next fundraiser in the fall!
In 1900, Newark was one of America's most populous cities. In 1907, then Governor Edward Stokes, declared Newark a "beehive of industry." The city thrived in manufacture and transportation and was an "industrial suburb" tied to the fortunes of nearby NYC.
As the 1911 map from the Newark Public Library illustrates, more than 2000 factories were centrally located in the city, clustered along railroads and canals. Newark's manufacturers swelled with (Civil) wartime expenditures. There had been no thought to planning an infrastructure. Prior to tapping the Delaware watershed and building sewers in the late 1800s, toxic byproducts flowed out of local factories and from Paterson through the Passaic River, resulting in Newark's mortality rate being one of the nation's highest.
But someone had the foresight in 1895, to hire Bogart & Barrett Olmsted Brothers Carrère and Hastings to design a beautiful park (the pink shape in the northwestern corner) as a place of beauty and respite in the middle of the industrial chaos. And this is how cherry blossom heaven was born. Adopted from, "Made In Newark, Cultivating Industrial Arts and Civic Identity in the Progressive Era" by Ezra Shales.
by Brian Yates, Yates Environmental Sciences Inc.
On Sunday March 14th, the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast (BCONE) hiked the Buttermilk Falls Trail in the Delaware Water Gap. We began at the Flat Brook near Walpack Township, and climbed roughly 900 feet up a shaded hemlock and birch valley, passing through sunny pitch pine and scrub oak forests. Eventually, we arrived and ate lunch at a large, open wetland area containing many dead trees, but generally overgrown with reeds, sedges, and rushes.
Some BCONE members later described this area as dystopian – why would so many trees be dead in a remote area at the top of a mountain (View facing east of the dystopian wetland area. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schick via Google Earth). According to historic aerial photos, the area was forested up through 1971. Between 1971 and 1992, the habitat changed to an emergent wetland (marsh), and there is surface water covering the area in 2007 and 2008.
One possible explanation for the change in hydrology is the damming of the stream which runs through the habitat by beavers (Castor canadensis), which have historically been very active in the area. The rise in water level likely saturated the root zone of the trees, depriving them of oxygen and eventually killing them off. As the trees died off and lost their branches, the understory opened up to sunlight, which allowed rushes, sedges and reeds to proliferate.
Glacial Kettles: Based on mapping prepared by the NJ Geological and Water Survey, this area is considered a “kettle.” When the Wisconsin Glacier retreated over 15,000 years ago, a large block of dead ice separated and became surrounded by sediment. When the ice melted, the resulting depression then filled with water. Locations of a few kettles within the Kittatinny Mountains is provided below. Many, such as the nearby Crater Lake, still function as lakes. The beautiful setting attracted developers and was a budding vacation community through the mid-1900s. Others, like the dystopian wetland we visited, have not attracted development and were largely left undisturbed.
Google Earth view facing southeast of several “kettles” pocketing the Kittatinny Mountains east of Walpack Township.
Ecological Significance: These kettles started as surface water bodies – but something interesting happened. Initially, sphagnum moss (peat) grew in floating mats across the surface of the water. As the mats thickened, other plants grew on top. When the vegetation died, it sank but did not fully decompose. Over thousands of years, peat filled entire lakes, gradually allowing trees and shrubs to grow where the water was once very deep.
Ecological succession of a lake to a peatland. Image courtesy of Lisa Hirkaler via the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, available here.
Despite the vegetation which has grown on top of the peatland, the underlying substrate is very acidic and infertile. Peatlands are generally classified either as bogs or fens. Bogs have very little to no inflow of water and very low nutrient content (Collins and Anderson 1994). Fens receive some drainage inflow from surrounding areas and have somewhat higher nutrient content. While there is no 100% agreed-upon definition from ecologists, these habitats often provide habitat for carnivorous plants such as sundews and pitcher plants, which trap and digest insects to obtain nutrients they can’t get from the soil.
Photo of the carnivorous plant Drosera sp. (sundew) taken at a peat bog in Picatinny Arsenal. Flying insects are lured in by the fluorescent tentacles and sweet odor, but become ensnared by its sticky mucilage which prevents progress or escape. Photo courtesy of Michelle Herman via INaturalist (license accessible here).
Another example of a well-preserved peatland is the Dryden Kuser Cedar Swamp in High Point State Park. This habitat is believed to be the highest elevation Atlantic White Cedar swamp in the world. Historically, it was spared from deforestation on account of its remote location, but is naturally undergoing succession to an oak/hemlock forest. Wildlife are abundant in habitats like these; in the spring, visitors have seen spotted salamanders, red newts, pickerel frogs, migrating warblers, and even heard the drumming of ruffed grouse.
Atlantic white cedar swamp located in Wawayanda State Park. Photo taken by the author.
Archaeological Significance: History has demonstrated that peatlands are also particularly good at preserving fossils. In 1954, property owner Gus Ohberg of Sussex County was enlarging a pond when his dragline operator pulled a large object from the marsh. At first believed to be a tree stump, it was later determined to be the skull of an exceptionally large and old animal. Over the next few days, several more bones, including a femur and jaw were recovered. The New Jersey Geological Survey, New Jersey State Museum, and Rutgers and Princeton Universities arrived on the site and determined it to be an 11,000-year old mastodon – a prehistoric relative of the elephant. Mastodons were herbivores which wallowed in bogs and ate pond and bog vegetation as well as twigs and branches. They often became mired, drowned, and were preserved in the oxygen deficient sediment.
The mastodon nicknamed “Matilda,” was determined to be a young female about eight feet tall. As a reference, the largest mastodon fossil recovered in Sussex county was a leg about nine feet tall, making the animal’s estimated height no less than fifteen feet.
Mr. and Mrs. Gus Ohberg with the skull and femur of “Matilda.” Photo courtesy of S. Novak via New Jersey Geological and Water Survey Report 43: Garden State Mastodons, available here.
Matilda is one of fifteen distinct mastodon discovery sites located throughout northern New Jersey. Nearly all them have been found in small ponds, lakes, or peat bog “kettles” left behind by the Wisconsin Glacier. Because freshwater wetlands regulations prohibit dredging these habitats without a permit, we are unlikely to find many more prehistoric fossils in these habitats. It does, however, raise the possibility that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of incredibly well-preserved mastodon fossils buried deep within the peat.
Summary: From an archaeological, geological, and ecological perspective, these kettle holes and peatland habitats are truly unique. In my humble opinion, these are just one of the many “hidden gems” that travelers unknowingly pass by on their way in and out of our area.
Thanks to Maria Coler of Hydrotechnology Consultants for organizing the hike and editorial review, Bob Blauvelt of GEI for excellent geological interpretation, Madison Gamba for editorial review and everyone that attended the hike!
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