The Meadowlands Before the Commission: Three Centuries of Human Use and Alteration of the Newark and Hackensack Meadows

by Stephen Marshall

P.O. Box 524, Lincoln Park, New Jersey 07035


Human use and alteration have caused dramatic changes in the Newark and Hackensack meadows during the three centuries following European settlement of northeastern New Jersey. Human activities have historically fallen into four major categories: extraction of natural resources; alteration of water flow; reclamation, land making, and development; and pollution by sewage, refuse, and hazardous waste. By the time of the creation of the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission in 1969, the original 42-plus square miles of tidal and freshwater wetlands had been radically transformed. Tidal flow of saltwater extended much farther into the estuary's waterways, transforming previous freshwater portions of the wetlands into brackish and saltwater habitats. The southern third of the Meadowlands had been entirely developed, and the remainder was a patchwork of developed upland and undeveloped wetlands. Total wetland acreage had been reduced to about 13 square miles, much of it polluted by sewage and solid waste.

Key Words: estuary; garbage; Meadowlands; Hackensack River; land making; landfills; municipal water supply; Passaic River; pollution; reclamation; tidal wetlands.