Co-sponsored by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) and the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau (MLCVB), the event was part of a concerted effort to make the millions of people living around the Meadowlands that fun does not need to be had far away.
Environment blooms; eco-tourism booms
NJMC executive director Robert Ceberio pointed out a major focal point of the festival. "MeadowFest is a celebration of the rebirth of the Meadowlands and to bring the public down to an area that is in the middle of a transformation," he said, a reference to the environmental rebound seen in the area in recent years.
An area once known more for its pig farms and garbage dumps is now teeming with life, with a recent NJMC study counting more than 181 bird species living in the protected wetlands, including 29 endangered or threatened species.
"All too often, the Commission focuses solely on policy issues," Ceberio continued. "We want to show people that there are many things to do here." Jim Kirkos, the president of the MLCVB, emphasized the role environmentally centered recreational activities with have in the future. "Eco-tourism is going to have a huge economic impact in the next few years. We have 8,500 acres of preserved land that now can be used for all types of outdoor recreation. It's a hidden jewel. People don't realize how beautiful the Hackensack River is until they are out on it. That's what today is all about."
A multitude of Meadowlands activities
The day began for the more athletically inclined with the inaugural Meadowlands Liberty Triathlon, an early-morning event that started with a ten-mile bicycle race, around the Meadowlands Sports Complex, followed by a three-kilometer row down the Hackensack River and concluded with a four-mile run through Secaucus that ended in Laurel Hill Park.
For other attendees of the festival, the day was a combination of wonder and whimsy. Paul Delle Donna, 18, of Ridgefield was one of the recipients of a $2,000 New Jersey Meadowlands Environmental Center college scholarship. On a day when environmental science was an important element, Delle Donna explained why he was excited about his future studies in biology at Boston College. 'It's going to help me in my ultimate goal in becoming a doctor," he said. "People are starting to come around and realize how important science is, even when they use hybrid cars more and more."
Dr. Francisco Artigas served science in his own unique way at MeadowFest. He happily put his face through a hole in a board in order to be hit in the face by beanbags from fest-goers being asked to "Sink the Polluter."
"We're trying to get the kids to soak the bad-guy polluter,' he said. "It's low-tech, and it's a lot of fun."
Dene Jackson, 8, of Hackensack, also had a lot of fun.
"I liked the pig races and the dog that did tricks and jumped over things," she said.
Her mother Shaynea Gandy also liked the educational exhibition booths. "The kids get to learn about the earth and how to conserve it," she said. "Then they can help make the earth a better place."
Representatives of the New Jersey Audubon Society who work at the Weis Ecology Center in Ringwood ran one popular booth. Tony DiLemme was demonstrating the life cycle of local amphibians. "It's important for kids to learn about this stuff because many frogs and salamanders are in a decline around the world," he said. "Kids in New Jersey should learn that what happens locally has an impact globally."
At his booth, Professor Marion McClary Jr. of Fairleigh Dickinson University was showing kids how mussels in the Hackensack River help clean the water. "My purpose is to show people who are interested in science as a career or just overall that they should value the little things too," he said.
Secaucus resident Debbie Nagorny came to MeadowFest with her daughter Nicole, 9. She remarked how what once was a little festival had grown considerably. "I remember when this was called River Fest and was half the size it is now," she said. "I think that it's grown so much because knowledge of Laurel Hill Park has grown. I also believe that people have a higher consciousness about preserving our wetlands and environmental issues. That's the draw."