It was one of those crystal-clear October days. The sun was out with a light breeze and the fall colors were showing in the tips of leaves as we entered the floodplain. With his video camera rolling, Todd Leatherman followed Nathaniel Sadjak as they snaked their way through the waist-high reed canary grass. Sadjak stopped to examine several recently planted 10-foot trees along the bank of the Paulinskill River and said, “These look okay here…I think they’ll make it.”
Documentary filmmaker Leatherman was shooting Sadjak for the first of three videos on watershed management “best practices” being produced by Open Space Institute as part of its work protecting watersheds through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, funded by the William Penn Foundation. To combat erosion and sedimentation on lands that have been deforested and overgrazed by cattle, Sadjack and his partners are planting trees along the bank to help filter water, limit erosion, absorb flooding and cool the river for fish. Their strategy is called “floodplain forest restoration.”
Several of us from OSI had joined Leatherman and Sadjak for the day’s filming, which is following closely behind the Delaware River Watershed film we recently produced, A Watershed Moment. During the day, we got an exciting overview of the ambitious restoration effort that Sadjack, who is with the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority, is spearheading along the Paulinskill River in the New Jersey Highlands. He has help from many different partners, including The Nature Conservancy and many other organizations. In fact, there are now so many partners that their logos now barely fit onto their promotional map.
Sadjak explained that the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group has planted about 20,000 trees in four years throughout approximately four miles of river corridor, with the help of over 100 volunteers. The project’s impact has extended beyond the floodplain and into the local community. School groups have visited the project, which has also sparked the interest of bikers, walkers and joggers using a trail with views of the floodplain.
The tree planting is part of a larger effort to protect and restore the Paulinskill River, one of the three major New Jersey tributaries of the Delaware River. The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, New Jersey Audubon, and others are working along the 41-mile river on a range of projects that include land acquisition, dam removals, and other restoration projects.