Grassle Marsh Trail Is Dedicated

NOAA, NJDEP, Local Officials Celebrate 20th Anniversary of the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve

Nov 01, 2017
Photo by: Pat Johnson Officials unlock the Grassle Marsh Trail on Friday. (from left) Jeff Payne, director of the Office for Coastal Management at NOAA; Rutgers Professor Emeritus Judy Grassle, from the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences; and JCNERRS Director Michael DeLuca.

Twenty years ago, on Oct. 20, 1997, Congressman Jim Saxton dedicated the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. On that day, Gov. Christie Whitman made the trek to the Tuckerton Seaport in Tuckerton along with Madam Francine Cousteau. They watched the video of the Mullica River and Great Bay estuaries in the brand new “Life on The Edge” exhibit that was installed on the top floor of the Seaport’s Visitor Center. From the very beginning, the exhibit focused on the relationship and impacts that people make on the fragile and pristine marsh area.

The Seaport itself was brand new, and the JCNERR Coastal Learning Center on Great Bay Boulevard was just a few classrooms and a meeting hall. Over the next 20 years, the JCNERR was to collaborate with the Seaport in many educational programs centered on the natural world and the interface between freshwater and salt, forest and marsh.

This past Friday, Oct. 26, many of the same faces that participated in the launch of the JCNERR were on hand at the expanded Coastal Learning Center to celebrate the 20-year milestone and also to dedicate the new Grassle Marsh Trail, now open to the public. They included Mike DeLuca, director of the JCNERR; Lisa Auermuller, assistant director of the JCNERR and president of the NERR Association; Barnegat Bay Partnership Director Stan Hales; ichthyologist Ken Able, who serves as research coordinator for the reserve and director of the Rutgers Marine Field Station; Ida Louise Scott, interpreter and docent for the “Life on the Edge” exhibit; and community resiliency educators Chris Huch and Jenna Gatto.

Esteemed guests were Jeff Payne, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of the Office for Coastal Management, and Ralph Cantrell, who heads NOAA’s blue ribbon panel that reviews the 29 NERRs across the country.

DeLuca said the 20th anniversary of JCNERR was an auspicious gathering to celebrate the people and the partners who are most important to the success of the reserve.

“The NERRS system of 29 research reserves, established in 1972 through the Coastal Zone Management Act, marked an important new idea for the nation – science-based management of our coast,” he said.

“We don’t usually take the time to look back, as our staff is always looking forward to the next grant application,” joked DeLuca. “But it’s always good to look back and celebrate with the people who make us a team.

“We have a tremendous reach and have made many achievements as a program – not just in community-based and statewide resiliency management needs, but we have also been national and now, international contributors.”

The JCNERR has also made contributions to improving fisheries management needs through its acoustic tracking of certain fishes and a 30-year survey data of larval fishes that use the estuary as a nursery, noted DeLuca with a nod to partners Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and the Rutgers University Marine Field Station. “Also important is the immersion of students in science and technology.”

DeLuca thanked the staff and volunteers who make up “our exemplary team” and pointed out the “shining stars”: Mike Kennish, research coordinator of the Barnegat Bay Partnership, whose writings on the human impacts that alter the bay led to state legislation to limit the use of fertilizers and also restoration efforts to use oysters as water filtering agents; Greg Sakowicz, data coordinator for the System-Wide Monitoring Program, making available weather, water quality and nutrient data to scientists and the public; and Tom Grothues, whose study of the migration habits of striped bass and flounder aided Marine Fisheries Management. He also maintains the undersea vehicle system.

Volunteer Steve Zeck, a participant in the weekly larval fish netting, has given 2,500 hours to the reserve, said DeLuca.

Tuckerton Mayor Sue Marshall was invited to give a few comments. Marshall remembered when the reserve first began. She was a teacher in Tuckerton Elementary School and the students were invited to participate in an interactive teaching tool using computers to link to Rutgers and the NERR. Each teacher adopted a particular coastal environment for their classroom. “I taught third grade and we did clams, and Janet Gangemi turned her room into a kelp forest,” Marshall said.

“The reserve offers a way of teaching our children in the community about where we live and why it is, what it is. It develops a love of our town and the area we live in. Also, through the program ‘Life on the Edge’ at the Seaport, we continue to learn about our area.”

Little Egg Harbor Mayor Ray Gormley noted how important volunteerism is to the success of the reserve and to his own township. “Without volunteerism, the town doesn’t function,” he said. “So many people take for granted that our fish and clams are always going to be there.”

Gormley also said the township is working toward resiliency after Superstorm Sandy.

Jeff Payne, coordinator for coastal management at NOAA, noted that the JCNERR encompasses 115,000 acres of one of the most pristine areas on the East Coast, and the primary threat to the marsh is sea level rise.

“Reserves like this are national gems,” he said. “We just added our 29th reserve in Hawaii, and we are working on designating one in Connecticut.

“NOAA supports all the reserves and appreciates what the (reserve) system does to improve our nation’s natural lands and all that they give back.”

“Our groups work so well together. It’s one of the most effective state and federal partnerships protecting habitats and training citizens for action so they can make better forward-thinking decisions. We know the world is changing. Sea level rise and its impacts are something we can’t ignore. If we keep doing the same things, we are going to find ourselves getting wet around the ankles.”

DeLuca said NOAA recently awarded a $2.5 grant to the JCNERR for increased operational functions. Part of that money went to increase acquisition support to the Grassle Marsh, which is adjacent to the coastal learning center.

As an ending to the celebration, the officials were invited to cut the ribbon to the new Grassle Marsh Trail, named for Fred and Judy Grassle, the founders of the Rutgers Institute for Marine Science.

The trail is actually split into two trails: the red and blue. They are about a half mile long through pine, oak and holly uplands and down to the edge of the marsh.

The trail was made possible by two grants, one from NOAA and one from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s Recreational Trails Program. A boardwalk and an observation platform out over the coastal wetlands are still under construction.

Ocean County trustees from the Ocean County Jail did much of the heavy clearing for the trail, and it is being maintained by volunteers.

The NOAA grant also paid for an education cart with equipment for citizen scientists and children to learn about the creatures in the marsh.

The Grassle Marsh Trail is open to the public during daylight hours. Dogs must be on a leash and be cleaned up after, and other good stewardship rules should be followed.

— Pat Johnson




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