Commentary by Joe Reynolds, co-chair of the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council
To some people, our creeks and small waterways draining into the Navesink River, Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay and other main bodies of water might not seem like much. Sleepy, shallow waterways with whimsical names that often go unnoticed, except when roadways or buildings are flooded. A few people might even think they are nothing more than dirty drainage ditches, tawdry places to throw away trash and junk.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Our small waterways are valuable resources both for human recreation, as well as important for hydrology and ecology including habitat for a diverse group of plant and animal communities.
Waackaack Creek with its curious name is a long, winding spring-fed tributary of Raritan Bay that provides a home for both freshwater and saltwater plants and a diversity of wildlife including turtles, frogs, fish, and waterfowl. The creek starts in the high hills of Middletown Township near Holland Road. It runs past many residential and commercial areas, including several businesses along Highway 35, before flowing through Allocco Park in Holmdel Township and then winding its way past a mixture of low meadow lands and residential areas in Hazlet Township and the Borough of Keansburg before draining into Raritan Bay and eventually out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Unfortunately, many residents and homeowners today often overlook the creek, never recognizing its name or appreciating its ecology. As a result, the creek’s potential as a much-needed greenway in an urban-suburban environment is largely unnoticed.
Decades of poorly planned development along the creek have also brought about significant problems with water quality, including high erosion and sediment levels, as well as high amounts of nutrients from fertilizers. In addition, certain areas of the creek are littered with debris from shopping carts to plastic and glass bottles. These actions have resulted in decreased recreational uses, diminishing wildlife habitat, and poor water quality downstream.
Despite the challenges, a growing effort exists in Hazlet Township to protect the wetlands and upland area surrounding the creek between Middle Road and Highway 36 for open space. It’s a large expanse that provides vital habitat for plants and animals, and public access to the water. As development increases, it’s important that this natural area is protected. Maintaining these wetlands and riparian habitat will provide wonderful green infrastructure to improve water quality and help deal with erosion and downstream flooding issues.
Members of the all-volunteer Bayshore Regional Watershed Council have long been supportive in seeing natural areas preserved. We applaud increased community participation to help protect the wetlands of Waackaack Creek in Hazlet Township. The watershed council believes that preserving open spaces along a creek will provide better habitat for fish and wildlife as well as help increase recreational opportunities for the public, which will enhance a sense of caring for small waterways. See more at RestoreRaritanBay.org