Innovative and Effective Approach to Wetland Restoration

The Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area is a 97-acre tract of open space that contains an extremely valuable wetland complex at the headwaters of Woodbridge Creek. The site is located in a heavily developed landscape of northern Middlesex County and is surrounded by industrial, commercial, and residential development. As such, the area suffered from wetland and stream channel degradation, habitat fragmentation, decreased biodiversity due to invasive species, and ecological impairment. The site was viewed as one of only a few large-scale freshwater wetland restoration opportunities remaining in this highly developed region of New Jersey.

Recognizing the unique qualities and great potential for rehabilitating and enhancing ecological function on this county-owned parkland, a dynamic partnership between government agencies, NGOs, and private industry, was formed to restore the natural function of the wetlands complex, transform the Pin Oak Forest site into thriving habitat teeming with wildlife, and steward this property back to life. The team designed a restoration plan that converted 28.94 acres of degraded freshwater wetlands, 0.33 acres of disturbed uplands dominated by invasive species, and 1,018 linear feet of degraded or channelized streams into a species-rich and highly functional headwater wetland complex.

BEFORE
View of stream restoration area upon commencement of excavation activities. View of containerized plant material staged prior to installation.

 

We used an innovative approach to restore the hydraulic connection of the stream channel with its floodplain in order to support wetland enhancement. Additionally, to further enhance wetlands with hydrologic uplift, the team incorporated microtopography techniques, which creates a variable surface that increases groundwater infiltration and niches that support multiple habitat communities. This resulted in a spectrum of wetland and stream habitats, including the establishment of a functional system of floodplain forest, scrub shrub, emergent wetlands and open water. Biodiversity was also increased through invasive species management, which opened the door for establishing key native flora such as red maple, pin oak, swamp white oak, and swamp rose. The restored headwater wetland system also provides stormwater quality management, floodplain storage, enhanced groundwater recharge onsite, and surface water flows to Woodbridge Creek.

Completed in 2017, the integrated complex of various wetland and upland communities continues to provide high quality habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species including the state-threatened Black-crowned Night heron and Red-headed Woodpecker. The work done at the site significantly enhanced ecological function, providing high-quality habitat on indefinitely-preserved public lands that offer countless benefits to both wildlife and the community.

AFTER
Post-restoration in 2018, looking Northeast. View of wetland enhancement approximately 2 months after completion of seeding and planting activities.

 

Public and private partnerships were and continue to be critical to the success of this project. The diverse partnership includes Middlesex County Office of Parks and Recreation, Woodbridge Township, Woodbridge River Watch, New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Mitigation Council, GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and Princeton Hydro. The partners joined together as stakeholders to identify long term restoration and stewardship goals for Pin Oak Forest Preserve, and nearly four years later, the partners all remain involved in various aspects of managing the property and this project itself, ranging from fiscal oversight by New Jersey Freshwater Wetland Mitigation Council and GreenTrust Alliance, to permit and landowner access coordination performed by Woodbridge Township and Middlesex County, or the ongoing stewardship, maintenance, and monitoring of the project and the larger park, being conducted by being conducted by GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

This project was funded through the New Jersey Freshwater Wetland In-Lieu Fee program. In 2014, GreenTrust Alliance, GreenVest, and Princeton Hydro secured $3.8 million dollars of funding on behalf of the Middlesex County Parks Department to restore three wetland sites, which included Pin Oak Forest.

The Pin Oak Forest project is a great model for showcasing a successful approach to the enhancement of public lands through a dynamic multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder partnership. And, because of proper planning and design, it has become a thriving wildlife oasis tucked in the middle of a densely-populated suburban landscape.

Princeton Hydro specializes in the planning, design, permitting, implementing, and maintenance of wetland rehabilitation projects. To learn more about our wetland restoration, creation, and enhancement services, visit: bit.ly/PHwetland

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