SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Break out your old shoes, jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and gloves, and get ready to get wet. For the third year, South Orange is getting the community together to help clean the town's section of the Rahway River. Last year, an estimated 2,000 pounds of unsightly refuse was pulled from the water. That's a ton of garbage, and it took a ton of volunteers.
"We expect around 500 people," said Jim McGowan, Chairman of the South Orange Environmental Commission. "In past years, we got about 300 who signed the waiver and headed down to clean the river, but lots more people flow through and just enjoy the event. This year we’re featuring some great music, and the Rejuvenary River Circus at 2 p.m., which should be really fun for families with kids."
McGowan became involved with the project about five years ago, when the South Orange Environmental Commission was asked to take over the town’s river clean-up effort. "I saw this as an opportunity to help people know more about their ecological address—the place where they actually live, as opposed to just their street address," said McGowan. "If more people appreciated how special this place really is, with an enormous volcanic ridge line flowing down to a rich estuary, and the ocean beyond, they’d be more inclined to protect the way it works for so many species."
Nearly 700 species of plants and animals make their home in and around the Rahway River, which provides drinking water for more 27,000 people in the city of Rahway. Each Spring, the river is stocked with trout. McGowan believes the river's vibrant wildlife flowing through the town also improves the quality of life for all residents.
"People need to remember that anything they throw onto the streets, sidewalks, or parking lots anywhere in town will end up in the river via the storm drains, which function as man-made tributaries," he said, adding that from there, trash flows into New York Harbor and continues into the ocean. "If you want clean beaches, you need to have clean streets."
Residents have shown their devotion to the town by turning out to do just that. "Over the past two years, our volunteers have removed two tons of garbage from the river and its banks," McGowan said, pointing to the South Orange section of the Rahway River. "We've also begun coordinating with Maplewood and Millburn."
River Day volunteers in each of those towns have also hauled out many bags of trash. Thanks to such efforts, the East Branch of the Rahway River is already bouncing back in surprising ways, with turtles nesting on the banks, rare birds returning, and larger fish appearing, he added. "River Day should embrace towns along the entire length of the Rahway."
South Orange River Day takes place Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Skate House, on the duck pond off of Mead Street in South Orange. There will be a "wild edibles" walk and a cook off, an ecology walk, a bike rally, live music and much more. Families looking for a mix of environmental education and adventure are welcome.