The Sourland Conservancy, Mercer County Park Commission and AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassador Program partnered on a riparian restoration project that was funded by a grant from The Watershed Institute and The New Jersey Nature Conservancy. The restoration project took place along Moores Creek, near Howell Living History Farm, in the Sourland Mountain region.
A riparian zone is the area between a river and the land. This area typically floods when there have been heavy rains or snowmelt, and the path of a river can change as well as the riparian zone. Riparian zones or buffers, are important for many reasons. A riparian buffer that has established trees and other woody plants will have extensive root systems that will hold soil during flooding events and reduce erosion. Erosion can have devastating impacts on both aquatic and terrestrial species, because when stream banks erode, there is a loss of habitat for terrestrial organisms, and stream’s flow is impacted.
Reduced vegetation in the riparian zone can affect water temperatures. Shade provided by trees keeps water temperature cooler during the summer months, which is important because many aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish need cool water to thrive. Another critical factor brought on by water temperature is that warm water does not hold as much oxygen as cold water. If the macroinvertebrates and fish are not doing well, there is a reduction food sources for other organisms further up the food chain such as raccoons, foxes and birds of prey, such as the Bald Eagle.
Riparian buffers can also reduce pollution from entering the river and stream by reducing the risk of eutrophication and dead zones in water bodies. Eutrophication is when there are excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, and this increase in nutrients will cause an algal bloom – because nitrogen and phosphorus are limiting nutrients for algae. The algal bloom can block sunlight from reaching aquatic plants that are below the water surface as well as creating thick mats that make it difficult for organisms to swim through. Once the algae begin to die and sink to the bottom, detritivores (animals that feeds on dead organic material, usually plant detritus) begin consuming the algae and in order to metabolize the algae, they use oxygen that is in the water. The increase in detritivore metabolism removes almost all of the oxygen from the water, which creates an anoxic environment for fish and other aquatic organisms, killing them. This has a cascading effect on the rest of the ecosystem, because so many animals depend on aquatic organisms for food and they need clean water to drink.
The almost 9 acre parcel where the Roots for Rivers project took place is owned by Mercer County. There is visible erosion along the stream banks, so this planting is critical to restore stream health there and downstream. This planting will as act as a filtering buffer between runoff from the active agriculture and livestock present upslope in the watershed and the impervious surface of the road on the other side of Moores creek. There is also a tributary that runs along the western edge of the property, which would also benefit from this restoration project.
Over a two week period, 10 staff members from Sourland Conservancy, New Jersey DEP, New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors, Mercer County Parks Commission and Howell Living History Farm and over 250 individuals, families, corporations and groups including Bank of America, Educational Testing Service, MCCCC YouthCorps volunteers came together to plant 1,800 trees!
Together, the group planted 51 different species of native shrubs and trees. The plants varied in the habitat preference from “wettest” to “wet” to “dry”. The plants that preferred the “wettest” habitat were planted closer to Moores Creek, and the ones that preferred a more dry habitat were planted furthest away from the creek. The Sourland Conservancy purchased plants from Pinelands Nursey, Fernbrook Nursery and the New Jersey Forest Service. Some of the species we planted were American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), River Birch (Betula nigra), Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum), Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and High Bush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).
I am so proud of the work we did together. My Wild Boys came out with me on the last day of planting and their enthusiasm for planting was amazing. My oldest tells everyone that his mom’s job is to “save trees” and I cannot lie, it makes me tear up with pride. I look forward to the day when I can take my grown Wild Boys and maybe even my grandchildren to sit and picnic under the trees we planted.
Our truck full of native trees and shrubs from Pineland Nursery arrives!
When the truck first opened, it didn’t seem like an overwhelming number of plants…
Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee and Chair of Stewardship, Chris, helping us unload the saplings.
NJ DEP Staff member, Debbie, Watershed Ambassador, Fairfax and Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee President, Dante, working hard together to unload the truck.
Fairfax worked hard to organize the plants by species.
Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee President, Dante, is most definitely a tree hugger!
Everyone worked hard to get the plants unloaded and then organized by habitat preference; dry, wet, wettest!
Pinelands Nursery packed that truck like a clown car! We couldn’t believe how much room these plants took up once we got them all laid out in our “corral”.
Shovels, planting bars and gloves ready for action!
We started distributing plants to their designated locations so volunteers could start planting.
Mercer County Parks Commission Land Stewards, Jillian and Alex, explain proper planting technique to a fabulous group of volunteers from Bank of America.
Jillian and Alex demonstrating how to use a planting bar.
And they are off!
I love how enthusiastic everyone was.
Volunteers making headway on the planting.
Volunteers working together to place protective sleeves over the saplings to protect them from deer herbivory.
Debbie and Fairfax, tree-hugger extraordinaires!
Teamwork makes all the work go faster!
Pete hooked up Tom and Jeb and took volunteers on a wagon ride to look over their work!
Sourland Conservancy Staff (Carolyn, Caroline, and Laurie), Watershed Ambassador for WMA 11 (Fairfax), Mercer County Parks Commission Land Stewards (Alex and Jillian), NJ DEP (Debbie). We are all so proud of the hard working volunteers that got their hands dirty with us!
Would this even be Sourland Niche without a pause to go look at flowers??? A beautiful big clump of spring beauties, Claytonia virginica.
A spectacular Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum.
Hold on to your Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria!
Ahhhh!!! Could they be any more perfect?!
Jillian demonstrating how to place the protective sleeves on saplings to Trenton Youth Corp volunteers.
I love all the teamwork!
Riparian buffers are important so important between roads and rivers. These volunteers are planting on the side of Moore’s creek that is closet to the road.
Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee, Roger, and Sourland Conservancy’s Executive Director, Caroline, working together to Save the Sourlands!
Teamwork is the best work!
The Wild Boys came out for the last day of planting to lend a helping hand with getting the last 100 trees in the ground.
Even Littlest was determined to get those saplings in the ground!
My Oldest was actually very good at using the planting bar and getting these tubelings into the ground. He continues to amaze me with his abilities and determination.
Littlest decided he should clear the paths from all large sticks and branches.
Littlest loves working with Sourland Conservancy’s Executive Director, Caroline. Once he saw her, he decided that she would be his working partner for the rest of the day. Here he is handing her the covers for the planting sleeves. These covers protect birds from getting trapped inside.
Littlest handing over twist ties to keep the sleeves securely fastened to the rod inside.
Packing soil around the base of the sleeves prevents voles from getting inside and eating the saplings.
My big dude carrying a two-gallon contain tree! This container is almost one-third of his weight. I don’t think I could carry one-third of my weight so easily. He is so strong!
Lunch time for the Wild Boys!
My coworker, Laurie, snapped this photo of the Wild Boys and I sitting down for lunch. I would love to try to recapture this photo in 15 years when these little saplings are providing shade for our picnic.
Littlest wanted to help push the wheel barrow!
Littlest gave up on pushing the wheelbarrow and instead let me push it while we talked about all the different types of trees we planted.
Did you really think that these two Wild Boys could hang out by a river all day and not get a chance to stop and play? Their favorite stones to throw were the red shale because they loved to watch it shatter as it hit other rocks.