On a sunny, late February afternoon, we stood along the bank of the Musconetcong River watching our crew dismantle the Seber Grove Dam. I was joined by Brian Cowden, Trout Unlimited's Musconetcong Home River Initiative Project Coordinator, Bill Leavens, president of the Musconetcong Watershed Association, and Bill Kibler, president of the South Branch Watershed Association. We stood, in awe, at the speed and precision that the heavy duty hydrolic operator worked. In less than half a day, he had chopped up the seventy year old concrete structure, filled in bank erosion with loose cobble, dredged decades of sand and silt, had two cups of coffee and a bathroom break.
Throughout the day local residents hiked down to the river to watch. Some walked down alone, but mostly in pairs. Everyone brought cameras and were feverishly photographing the site, pausing now and then just to shake their heads. I might even have seen a fist or two waving. To coin my mother's phrase, if looks could kill... Fortunately, we were separated by a free flowing river and heavy construction equipment.
Over the next several days, I had revisited the site to see the progress and to take some more photos of my own. One afternoon I met Jill and Mike Segal. They live along the river on the Mount Olive side. They were out walking with their dogs. At first, there were no introductions. Jill just said, "It's a shame what they're doing to the river." She also said, "At one time the water was deeper here and was much better for canoing and tubing." Then I had remembered the unhappy faces from the other day. They too, might have felt we were ruining the river. I introduced myself to Jill and Mike and spent a few minutes engrossed in conversation and debate about the river. "Oh yes, I read about your organization," Mike said. "Aren't you guys taking out sixty dams?" he asked. "No, only twenty more, if we can," I said. They did admit how beautiful the old Gruendyke Dam site, located a stones throw from where we were standing, looks now. We spent a few more minutes discussing the benefits of dam removals to the eco-system by lowering water temperatures, the hazards of thermal pools, less flooding during heavy rains, safer river recreation with less portaging, the return of fish migration, and of course the government mandate to either repair or remove the presently crumbling dams (which involves most, if not, all of them). We also discussed the importance to the river of the new Wild and Scenic designation and the role the MWA played in the process. And lastly, I spoke of the many volunteer programs the MWA has organized such as quarterly river monitoring, annual river clean-ups, and continuing riparian plantings to stop erosion.
In short, when we parted, we all agreed that dam removals were a win-win for the dam owners, for the community, and especially for the river. I offered our web address, www.musconetcong.org, for river updates and future events and perhaps interested them enough to become new members of the MWA. I do know that they have visited our website and have requested to be added to our mailing list.
I wish now we had been standing on the other side of the river that first day. Between the four of us, we could easily have addressed any issue, and answered any question. New Jersey residents are conditioned to accept the fact that a construction site means less open space, and more development. We're not accustomed to environmental restoration projects. We see fallen trees and assume someone wants a better view. We hear construction machinery, and assume a future condo complex or strip mall. It's not often that we hear of a project that addresses only the health of a river. Though today, it's more politically correct to talk of change, it's more rewarding to see this river restored to look, and flow like it once did. Please join me in spreading the word. It could take just a few minutes.
Musconetcong Watershed Association Trustee
Community Outreach Chairman