Wildlife abounds in historic Teaneck park
By Howard Prosnitzs, Staff Writer
Teaneck Suburbanite, January 23, 2008, p. 2
Looking down the slope that divides upper and lower Brett Park, a visitor will observe a series of earthen mounds extending about 100 yards horizontally and gradually veering west to the Hackensack River.
The mounds appear to be man made and are of unknown origin. But New Bridge Road resident Mike Trepicchio believes that they may be the remnants of British earthen fortifications from the Revolutionary War.
The land that today is Brett Park was a battlefield during the American Revolution. Trepicchio, a member of the New Bridge Landing Historical Commission, notes that the British had earthen fortifications directly opposite Brett Park at Cherry Hill in River Edge.
In Colonial America, there would have been a direct line of sight between the two sets of fortifications.
"The view would have given give the British an excellent perspective over the whole Valley," and Trepicchio, who concedes that only an archeological dig could determine the origin of the mounds.
Its sanguinary past norwithstanding, Brett Park today is home to an abundance of wildlife. Foxes and deer roam the lower park. Waterfowl such as cornorants osprey falcons and hawks fish the Hackensack River. Mallards, wood ducks and merganser winter on the cove of the river that juts into the park.
More than 100 separate species of trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and grasses were identified on a single August day in 2000 in a botanical survey by the Torrey Botanical Society.
Although foxfoles are visible in various locations in the lower park, the best chance of seeing a red fox is at dawn or dusk.
"These are the times that the foxes are visible, although they are out all night," said Trepicchio.
"Animals are opportunists," he explained. "A fox will find a gopher or a groundhog hole and expand it to make it its lair."
Deer are becoming increasingly common throughout northern New Jersey.
Pomander Walk resident Dee Anne Ipp recalls spotting a deer one night in the Riverside Mall parking lot. Northwest Teaneck has an abundance of wooded areas that provide habitat for deer, said Trepicchio. These include Brett Park, the Matthew Feldman preserve on River Road, and across the Hackensack River, the grounds of the Van Stueban House and Riverside County Park.
Trepicchio recalls walking in lower Brett Park on recent morning and encountering five deer.
"I was walking south and they were going north," said Trepicchio. "There were a lead deer and four deer following. I stopped and watched. I realized that I was on their trail and they weren't going to move, so I walked passed them further and went further down the trail and they continued on their way."
It is not uncommon to see deer grazing in the upper park on summer evening, he said.
Despite the grass and vegetation that cover the park, Trepicchio notes that underneath the soil are sand dunes similar to those at Cape Cod. The park itself sits on the sandy shore of prehistoric glacial Lake Hackensack.
"The lake was a remnant from the glaciers and originally had a much large water supply," Trepicchio said. "As the lade drained, it left the estuaries that became the meadowlands and different inlets."
Even today, he noted, after heavy rainfall, Old New Bridge Road and Riverview Avenue are often coated with sand washed up from the sub-surface dunes.
For many years, the banks along the Hackensack River were considered a wasteland, and for that reason the DPW yard was located there, Trepicchio said.
"They looked at the riversaide as a place to bury debris, and that is why the land degenerated to where it is today. There was an amazing estuary here with abundant wildlife, plants, mussels, oysters and millions of fish. It was a natural wonderland that generations have polluted and killed."
The Hackensack River and the meadowlands are the upper reaches of the New York harbor, he explained.
"If you look at early maps, you see the finger of the Hackensack River goes inland right off the ocean," he saidn. "The river is the ebb and flow of the Atlantic Ocean, and the what is left of the meadowlands is the remnant of the great estuary. The Dutch and everybody else thought they could control the meadowlands. They've drained it, damned it, and produced dykes and culverts, but they could never tame it. And people still think today they can fix the flooding but they don't realize it is the Atlantic Ocean."
More about Brett Park:
Brett Park: 12 cares of history -- By Howard Prosnitz, Teaneck Suburbanite, January 9, 2008, p. 2
Brett Park: Two centuries, many changes -- By Howard Prosnitz, Teaneck Suburbanite, January 16, 2008, p. 5