Sustainable Jersey: Planting Trees to Restore NJ’s Floodplains

October 25, 2018


Sustainable Jersey partners with The Nature Conservancy for the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Program

 With flooding having a devastating effect in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, the importance of resilient floodplains has drawn renewed attention. Tree planting near our rivers’ banks can play a significant role in preventing flooding and is a low-cost way to make real impacts on water quality and habitats for fish and wildlife. In New Jersey, dense development has led to many of our trees being removed from the floodplains. Trees help filter water, absorb flooding and cool the river for fish. For the past five years, The Nature Conservancy has worked with local, state and federal partners in northwestern New Jersey to reforest the floodplains of a key tributary to the Delaware River, the Paulins Kill.


This year, Sustainable Jersey partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help catalyze floodplain restoration efforts across the state. Over $48,000 was awarded to seven New Jersey municipalities and one school district for floodplain reforestation projects. This important work, completed by volunteers in our Sustainable Jersey communities, contributes to our mission to create a more sustainable New Jersey. The partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Jersey is called the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. Michelle DiBlasio, the watershed restoration coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said, “Through the Nature Conservancy’s Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grants Program, we hope to inspire others to improve New Jersey’s freshwater resources by restoring floodplains, the critical land adjacent to our rivers. Our goal of planting 50,000 trees throughout state floodplains by 2020 will only be made possible through many partnerships, including a key collaboration like this one with Sustainable Jersey.” Here is a snapshot of some of the Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant-funded projects. 

Schalick High School Students Plant Trees to Protect the River (Salem County)

Students from Arthur P. Schalick High School (APSHS) in Pittsgrove Township School District worked collaboratively with the American Littoral Society and South Jersey Land and Water Trust on an important reforestation project. The volunteers planted nearly 800 trees and expanded the forested buffer of the unnamed tributary of Muddy Run by 1.9 acres. APSHS was awarded a $12,195 grant from the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. The grant was used to cover the cost of tree saplings and other protection measures.

 1,000 Plantings along Passaic River in Chatham Borough Provide Shade for Future Generations (Morris County)

sjtrees2In Chatham Borough, the municipality loses trees faster than they can replant them with their available funding. Thanks to a $14,949 grant, Chatham Borough was able to purchase trees. Approximately 125 volunteers came together to plant over 700 two-foot shrubs and saplings on a trail along the Passaic River. The Department of Public Works planted an additional 300 trees to meet the goal of 1,000 plantings. The project will help to stabilize the stream banks and improve the water quality by absorbing storm runoff and filtering out pollutants. The shade provided by the new trees will help to cool the river for fish and will also provide shade for generations to come.

Colleen Truppo, the chair of the Chatham Borough Shade Tree Commission, said “One of the reasons we have beautiful mature trees in our town is due to Borough residents of prior generations who clearly recognized the value and importance of trees. Each and every one of our volunteers who came and planted as part of this project embraced the Borough’s long history of stewardship and these efforts at Shepard Kollock will help to continue that legacy for the benefit of future generations to enjoy.”

500 Plantings along the East Branch of the Rahway River in South Orange Village (Essex County)

Erosion and invasive plants are degrading the floodplains along the East Branch of the Rahway River in South Orange. The South Orange Environmental Commission is always looking for ways to manage and care for this dynamic landscape. On the south end of town, the Village’s Department of Public Works facility sits beside the river near a soccer field, Chyzowych Field, just to the south. While it is a public area, it experiences frequent flooding, is overrun by invasive species and doesn’t invite much public appreciation. “We knew with a little love and some native trees we could improve the air quality, water quality, diversity of habitat for native species and the overall aesthetics of the place,” said Bill Haskins, the South Orange Environmental Commission Chairman. Thanks to a Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant, the Village of South Orange received $6,516 to cover the costs for over 500 trees and shrubs that were planted in the floodplain area.


The project was led by Bill Haskins and landscape designer Neil Chambers who is a former commissioner of the South Orange Environmental Commission. They managed a dedicated group of nearly thirty volunteers that worked 200 hours over eight consecutive weekends to get the work done. The project was made more difficult because about one-third of the site was covered with storm damaged trees and invasive species like Japanese Knotweed. The volunteer crew spent the majority of the time cutting and clearing knotweed, mugwort, wisteria and other invasives. They said that the actual tree planting was relatively easy by comparison, although volunteer crews had to be aware of the soccer field boundaries and making sure to maintain access lanes to power lines and light poles.

South Orange Village Trustee Walter Clarke, who participated in the planting, said “The Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant enabled us to purchase trees and shrubs and get one of our many projects along the Rahway River moving forward. We hope to see this area rejuvenated by the natural beauty of trees and a multi-story canopy of native species that will also attract more native wildlife. Our goal is to transform this place into a multifunctional but environmentally friendly place where pedestrians, commuters, cyclists and soccer players can pause in the shade of river birch surrounded by calls of red-winged black birds. Roots for Rivers has helped us on that path.”

Volunteers Plant Trees along Passaic River in the Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary (Somerset)

The Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, bisected by the Passaic River, has lost tree canopy along the riverbanks and flood plains due to deer browsing and storms. The Bernardsville Green Team, recognizing the need for trees, applied for and received a $2,513 Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant. With this grant, volunteers planted three-hundred Atlantic White Cedar trees in the flood plain and banks of the Passaic River and Indian Grave Brook, which is a tributary to the Passaic. The river has protected status due to the presence of wild trout and wood turtles. The planting was done primarily in the tree gap areas created by storm events.

The Bernardsville Green Team managed volunteers including Boy Scouts, college interns and New Jersey Audubon staff. They even recruited corporate volunteers from Johnson & Johnson and Verizon. Over twenty Johnson & Johnson employees performed their Earthshare Corporate Green Day Challenge by participating in the planting. This group pruned, trimmed and removed the invasive bamboo. The bamboo stalks were re-purposed to serve as stakes for the 85 trees they planted.

Over 300 Plantings along Rancocas Creek in Monroe Park Located in Mount Holly Township (Burlington County)

sjtrees5Mount Holly has four parks that are adjacent to the Rancocas Creek that flows through the center of town. For this Roots for Rivers Reforestation project, Mount Holly Township received a $3,418 grant to plant 192 shrubs and 125 trees in Monroe Park along either side of the creekside walking path and in open spaces outside of the existing baseball fields. The plantings will enhance the creekside and relieve stormwater runoff that comes from the baseball parking lots.

Nearly 50 volunteers including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school, middle school and college students helped in planting the trees and shrubs and installing the tree protectors. Randi Rothmel, chair of the Mount Holly Environmental Committee, said “This project is one step in providing more resiliency for Mount Holly which has experienced major flooding issues during heavy rainstorms and tropical storms. It is hoped that we can once again participate in a grant program to continue the floodplain restoration in the other parks especially Iron Works and Mill Dam Park to increase the riparian buffer to protect the Rancocas Creek from the impact of storm water runoff and non-point pollution.”

We are pleased to announce that The Nature Conservancy will partner with Sustainable Jersey again to offer a Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. The program will support municipal and school district efforts to undertake floodplain reforestation initiatives on public or private land. Program participants will receive technical assistance to design planting projects and funding to cover materials (trees and protection) associated with plantings.

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