Imagining a Climate Park in the Meadowlands

Envision a future in which, rather than building walls, we protect coastal communities from storm surge and sea-level rise by restoring or enhancing the ecological value of places as “climate parks.” These places would absorb floodwaters and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, while providing greater access to nature and recreation. They would also provide communities with the opportunity to learn about the intensifying effects of climate change in real time.

In the Fourth Plan, RPA proposed such a future for the Hackensack Meadowlands region, a low-lying network of at-risk, New Jersey communities located in the floodplain and amongst the wetlands of the Hackensack River.  Rather than attempt to harden the largest remaining wetland system in our region – protected over decades through the tireless work of groups such as the Hackensack Riverkeeper –  the Plan envisions a nature park whose boundaries will expand as sea levels rise and the  coastline shifts inland.

In order to imagine this future and help get the conversation around a climate park, RPA hosted its first Meadowlands Park Summit last month with representatives from environmental NGOs, academia, local municipalities and businesses, NJ Department of Environmental Protection and private philanthropists. The summit included a captivating boat tour of the Meadowlands, and was followed by a wide-ranging round-table discussion that encouraged participants to consider a more climate-ready future for the Meadowlands.

Over the course of the three-hour boat tour lead by Captain Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, the group saw expansive mudflat habitat and estuarine wildlife, including nesting ospreys, snowy egrets and a pair of bald eagles. The tour also provided a unique and up-close view of some of the region’s most critical infrastructure that all comes together in the Meadowlands, such as:the crisscrossing networks of rail lines and highways that keep our region moving, including the Northeast Corridor and the New Jersey Turnpike; the interconnected system of pipelines, generating plants and transmission lines that power our region; and the toxic legacy of abandoned chemical plants and capped landfills, all juxtaposed with the beauty of the wetlands.

During the round-table discussion of the summit, attendees envisioned a future for the protected areas of the Meadowlands as a consolidated park focused on engaging and educating the public about climate change. The Meadowlands’ past as a contaminated wasteland would be incorporated into the discussion of how conservation positively transforms vulnerable regions. Together, attendees worked together to find common ground and signal their commitment to advancing a climate change park in the Meadowlands. Over the coming year, RPA will continue its work to advance this concept and will widen the conversation to an even broader array of stakeholders.  

A close up view of our crumbling infrastructure

Hundreds of thousands of people commute daily through the NJ Meadowlands, often taking bridges, tracks and roads for granted. But this is what that infrastructure looks like from the water, and some of it isn’t pretty. The base of bridges show cracks, holes, and general deterioration, and show the need to rebuild these critical arteries. Below are images of the base of PATH “Lift” bridge over the Hackensack, the Portal Bridge, along with some images of the new Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge (a road bridge).   


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