Mile #3: The River Line

A River Line train pulling into the Hamilton Avenue, Trenton, N.J. station
A River Line train pulling into the Hamilton Avenue, Trenton, N.J. station.

 

The flat New Jersey landscape whizzes by, offering a short unofficial tour of typical Delaware River dry-land neighbors: tidy homes on tidy lots; lots of single-story businesses and warehouses; some urban blight.

There’s hardly a better way (especially when the days are chilly) to get to know this section of riverside from Trenton to Camden, N.J., than taking a ride on the River Line, a New Jersey Light Rail line that was once only used for freight. The River Line takes its name from the peek-a-boo that this line plays with the river. In some places it runs right at the water’s edge, in others the only reminders of the river are the tops of bridges glimpsed above the trees.

river_line_mapThere are contrasts along the line as well. Just south of Trenton is the Trenton-Hamilton Marsh — 1,250 acres of protected wetlands and wildlife preserve. Also known as Abbotts Marsh, It wraps the River Line and hugs the river from just south of Trenton to Crosswicks Creek just north of Bordentown. For more information on the marsh check out: http://hiddentrenton.com/swamp-fever-trenton-hamilton-marsh/

That’s only one rail stop away from a former Superfund site: the Roebling steel mill. Likely the old buildings at this site would have been fascinating, but the Environmental Protection Agency  determined that the toxicity of the site demanded that the buildings be torn down and carted away. The only reminder of what was once housed at the 240-acre site is the former gatehouse, carefully restored, which now houses the Roebling Museum: http://www.roeblingmuseum.org

Fans of the Delaware River might recollect another Roebling landmark that crosses the river near Lackawaxen, PA., in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. The Roebling Bridge there was built by John A Roebling, and the company that was housed on this New Jersey site was set up by his sons: John A. Roebling’s Sons Company.

The museum’s focus is not just on the company or on the Roebling family, but also on the social history of the workforce employed there and on the village where they lived. The village is still largely preserved.

For further info, check out two stories from nj.com:

On the steel mill:

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2014/12/former_roebling_steel_dumping_ground_now_37-acre_riverfront_park.html

On the hamlet:

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2013/05/roebling_a_little_hamlet_with.html

No story about this line would be complete without a reference to the remarkable little city of Bordenton but don’t go jumping to conclusions: None of its history is related to the dairy company of the same name. Check out the Wikipedia entry for this city and you’ll find references to a sizable handful of Revolutionary War patriots, several Bonaparte family members (not Napoleon, of course). Other notable people who have lived in the city include Clara Barton, who in 1852 started the first free public school in New Jersey. Later she founded the Red Cross.

Really, Bordentown should start its own version of those Access Hollywood bus tours.

If you are intrigued by this little rail line (top to bottom, the ride takes about an hour), buy your ticket before you board the train (single trip is $1.60) and get it time-stamped at a different machine just before you board. Each ticket is good for a specific time limit. The time allowed can change but sometimes there’s enough time to hop off to take a quick look around at one of the 21 stations on the line. And if you get so engrossed that you get into overtime, you just buy another ticket and get it time stamped again.

On the two trips I took, there was no conductor. It was all on the honor system. But conductors do come on board for ticket inspections and there’s a fine if you don’t have a ticket — in case you need a reason to be honest!!

At the top end (Trenton) the line connects with Northeast corridor trains to New York as well as SEPTA and Amtrak trains to Philly. In the south (Camden) you can connect with different trains at different stations to get to Atlantic City or via PATCO to Philly.

Bikes are welcome, and with most stations less than 10 minutes apart, the flat New Jersey terrain seems quite inviting for folks who’d like to get some train/bike experience.

Check ticket info and train schedules at NJTransit.com

Oh, one last thing to mention: The two last stops in Camden are at the very kid-friendly Adventure Aquarium (http://www.adventureaquarium.com) and at the Entertainment Center at what used to be called the Susquehanna Bank Center. In 2015 it changed ownership and its name to BB&T Pavilion. Near there, too, is the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial and a minor league baseball park, Wiggins Park.

There are all sorts of plans afoot too develop Camden’s waterfront as this article from the New York Times (9/29/2105) explains:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/realestate/commercial/camden-nj-waterfront-revitalization-efforts-are-announced.html

Looks like Camden needs a blog entry all its own.

Mile No. 2: NYC Watershed

WS-WOH-mapThe first clue I had that the Delaware was not as simple as I thought (OK, pause here to consider how is it possible I thought ANY river was simple!) was the New York City water supply thing.

Now, I did know that NYC had reservoirs in Delaware, Ulster and Sullivan counties — what is called “upstate” by the city folks. But I really only had a faint notion of where the water in those reservoirs came from, how much they held or how it got to the city. For more on this, check out New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection www.nyc.gov/dep/watershed

Some facts and figures here. Time to get your math hat on.

The 9 million people in the New York City area use over 1 billion gallons of water every day. Hard to wrap your head around a figure like a billion.

Well, if you wanted to have a pool in your backyard that contained a mere million gallons, you’d have to have a pretty big yard. It would be about as long as a football field, 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep (Thanks to the USGS for giving me this image.)

That’s one million, so multiply that by 1,000.

1,000,000 x 1,000 = 1,000,000,000

That’s a lot of football fields!

The six reservoirs west of the Hudson supply as much as 90% of the city’s drinking water. The Delaware system’s four reservoirs on their own, supply more than half of the city’s drinking water — that would be half a billion gallons or 50 million gallons. The Delaware system consists of four reservoirs: the Cannonsville, the Pepacton, the Neversink and the Roundout. The first three “take” water from the Delaware, or more precisely, from rivers that become the Delaware.

Whether that “taking” is good or not, that’s hotly debated in some quarters. What can’t be denied is that the water system is really an engineering marvel. Most of it is gravity fed, with the waters flowing from reservoirs to collection points, and then through yet more tunnels under the Hudson. But back to the Delaware River.

The Cannonsville — 95.7 billion gallons — is filled by the West Branch of the Delaware River, and the Pepacton — 140.2 gallons —  is filled by the East Branch of the Delaware. Not very imaginative names for the beginnings of my favorite river, I know.

The Delaware doesn’t “become” the Delaware River until those two branches meet in Hancock, N.Y. which is after the reservoirs.

Here’s an odd thing. When some folks write about the Delaware they write that it is one of the largest undammed rivers in the US. But that’s only if you don’t count the reservoirs that NYC built, and if you don’t count the rivers that fill those reservoirs as part of the Delaware itself. Your call.

Anyway, the third reservoir is the Neversink, which holds 34.9 billion gallons — it is filled by the Neversink River, which itself flows into the Delaware in Port Jervis, N.Y..

IMG_2393
Hidden away, under the thrum of traffic from I-84, at the far end of Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Jervis N.Y. the monument that marks the intersection of three states: New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can see the Delaware, and behind you is the Neversink River.
IMG_2398
The specific site of the boundaries of three states. It’s a little closer to the river down about 25 feet from the tall monument, which is far more visible. Recent renovations to the site include a couple of parking spaces, and it’s far less overgrown.

By the way, there’s a cool spot in Port Jervis, at the southern end of the Laurel Grove Cemetery, where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. Not very celebrated, it lies in the shadow of I-84, where I-84 crosses the Delaware. But as you can see, you can step on the three states with one foot!

Anyway. One could argue that New York City took advantage of its position in New York State to “grab” the water it needed — though it’s also true that NYC really did need that water. Reminds me of the various pipeline wars — OK — disputes we’re having today about what sorts of benefits/ detriments there are for landowners/residents when gas or oil is piped through sparsely settled areas (or even densely populated areas) for the benefit of more densely populated areas far away. Do the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few? And with specific reference to these gas pipelines, should the government align itself with commercial interests that will make money off the contents of those pipelines? But folks in those cities like to drive their cars and be warm in winter just as much as I do.

With these waters, there are lots of questions we’ll be returning to.

First Mile: Washington’s Crossing

Looking downriver from the bridge at Washington's Crossing
Looking downriver from the bridge at Washington’s Crossing

As those of you who have read the account of my initial attempts to start a business know, I didn’t know much. (You’ll find that on Medium.)

That’s always been a good place for me. Or if I’m honest, it’s a place I find myself in a lot!!

I think that’s a good place for any journalist. One of our professional skills is to be a sort of blank slate that allows us to see what is, not just what we want to see.

I live in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, where it borders New York and New Jersey, and the border is formed by the river. Every time I want to go to the city I cross the river and drive through New Jersey. Every time I travel to New York State, I cross the river.

I’ve lived here for about eight years, and before that near Middletown, N.Y., which was about a half hour from the river, so the river has been a part of my life for a while. But it was for a long time, just a river.

Things got more interesting when I realized that this part of the world is part of the Pocono plateau, and because of that we have AWESOME waterfalls. I’m a big fan of waterfalls! That subject needs a blog or two of its own.

But once those waters had spilled into the Delaware, it all got sort of (Forgive me!!) same old, same old. I’m not a big fan of swimming in the river, mostly because I can’t swim. I have done some rowing and rafting, which is fun, as long as there was someone along for the ride who knew what they were doing. I had the sense that the river, though it looked mild, could be wild.

There are deaths, mostly from folks who weren’t wearing life jackets. I figured I was safe enough on dry land, admiring how the river steamed when the temperatures changed, how it surged brown when the rains came, how it shivered with the first ice of winter.

Through this blog, you and I can discover just how many faces this river has, just how many stories it can tell, beyond that well-known fact that we learned in school: That George Washington crossed the Delaware when the river was icy.

So, here’s a pop quiz: Which direction was he going in? Why does it matter?

Our first story: The Revolution wasn’t going well, and Washington decided to attack Trenton, NJ, which was manned by Hessians as they were called. (This is before Germany united under Bismarck, but that’s not this story). It was 11 p.m. on Christmas Day when he started the crossing with 5,400 troops from three separate locations. He crossed from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and even though he didn’t connect with the other two forces, he attacked the party-weary Hessians and routed them, capturing 1,000 with the loss of only four Americans.

Mostly because the other two sections of his force never crossed the river, he wasn’t able to hold the city, so it wasn’t an important victory in a strategic sense. But it came at a time when the American side wasn’t winning battles and the British seemed to have the upper hand.

See? A story of the Delaware that you thought you knew, and now you really do!! Every December there’s re-enactment of the crossing. Here’s coverage from December 2015: http://www.poconorecord.com/article/20151226/NEWS/151229676

That’s what this blog will be — a discovery and in some cases a re-discovery of the river next door: The Delaware.