Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Raritan River Poo Paddle
Raritan River Festival Half Paddle - Half Festival a.k.a. the Poo Paddle
by Monica Orso

Sunday, September 22, 2019

OK, I know you have questions about the Poo Paddle thing so let me start there.

The plan was to do some paddling, then do some festival, hopefully catching the very amusing cardboard canoe races. Well the night before I find out that the cardboard canoe races were cancelled due to "high fecal content" in the river! I got in touch with someone I know on the New Brunswick Environmental Commission and he felt it was an overreaction. The concern was that many children participate in the Cardboard Canoe Race, and pretty much all of them wind up in the water at some point or another. So I sent out an email to the 4 participants that signed up for the trip to get their feelings on the situation, and none were deterred. We will paddle.

Myself, Peter W., Joe M., Betty W., and Christine C. made our way in a caravan to the Rutgers Boathouse parking lot which was right next to the festival grounds. We had no problem parking right next to the ramp. We launched in kinda funky looking water, vowing not to fall in.

Since the river is tidal and it was just after low tide, we decided against heading upstream where it can get pretty scratchy. Instead we went towards the direction of Raritan Bay at a leisurely pace.

It was only minutes before we started noticing jumping fish (shad)...and a lot of them! Clearly the river was full of life despite the recent poo alert. As we approached the Route 1 bridge, we spotted several bald eagles that were crossing back and forth over the river, even saw one dive down to try and grab a fish. Also along the way were numerous herons and egrets who had adapted quite well to this somewhat urban environment. The marshes on the south side of the river provided a comfy habitat.

By this time some power boaters and a lot of jet skis had made it out on the water, apparently unfazed by the water quality...they were getting pretty wet on those jet skis! We continued to paddle past the NJ Turnpike still seeing fish jumping like crazy all along the route. Just past the Turnpike we went through a giant flock of seagulls and some cormorants that were just hanging out...you could smell the salt air at this point. Then we ducked into the Lawrence Brook to do a little exploring and saw some kingfishers, more egrets, a hawk (Sharp Shinned or Cooper's?), another eagle, plus a lot of miscellaneous little birds. The water was still funky looking even in the brook. We decided to head back at this point as as Betty and Peter had commitments later in the afternoon.

The paddle back was accompanied by slightly cleaner looking water (tide changing?) more egrets, an osprey that was carrying around a fish (former jumper), another eagle or 2, and and you guessed it...a lot more jumping fish! Some were really big too...it was a bit comical! One very sad sight was a wounded fish that could not swim and was struggling on the surface...I could only hope an eagle or hawk would soon put it out of it's misery, there was nothing we could do.

I also spotted the Rutgers Crew team practicing in the far distance. Still a lot of jet skis and small power boats who were for the most part courteous as they passed. As we approached the Rutgers boat ramp we passed a lot of people fishing off the dock...I hope they weren't planning on eating them!

The festival was in full swing so after wiping down our hands with rubbing alcohol, Joe, Christine, Peter and I walked over and grabbed some food and beverages. Peter had to leave so the 3 of us hung around for a bit cooling our feet in the overflow from the fire departments giant water sprinkler. Kids had a blast making a big muddy mess while cooling off. A passing dog plopped down in the water and refused to move for a while providing us with some entertainment. We stayed for the Rubber Duckie Race and then headed out. I don't think our duckies won.... :-(

A nice day for a paddle, I was particularly amazed at the number of eagles thriving so close to major highways. Yes, a bit funky on the water quality. But no one died. Or even got sick.

Oh, did I mention there were a LOT of jumping fish?

> Photos from Monica and Betty