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Many Mind Creek

From Source to Saltwater

Water has always fascinated humans, whether the flow is as far-reaching and great as the Mississippi or as a modest pond in the backyard. A healthy body of water allows plants to grow and animals to flourish, providing biodiversity which in turn contributes to a sound natural environment. One of the most important water resources in Atlantic Highlands is Many Mind Creek, which runs for 1 3/4 miles from source to saltwater. It marks our eastern and southern borders and runs through the center of the west side of town behind the business district, into Sandy Hook Bay at the waterfront.

This article aims to promote better understanding of the creek's geography, ecology, and history, and to encourage restoration and preservation of its community of plants and animals. Residents wishing to help this process can join the "Friends of Many Mind Creek" -- see how at the end of the article.

What is Many Mind Creek?

Many Mind Creek is a natural waterway which receives rain water that drains from a large land area of Atlantic Highlands and parts of neighboring Middletown. The creek drains into Sandy Hook Bay at the sandy beach between Avenue A and First Avenue. It is part of the Bayshore Watershed Area, which includes approximately 15 creeks between Highlands and South Amboy.  

How did Many Mind Creek get its name?

When early Europeans arrived in present-day Atlantic Highlands from across the Bay in Long Island in the mid-1660s, a first requirement for survival was fresh water for humans and livestock to drink and for growing food crops. They therefore selected the flatlands along the west bank of the creek for settlement. Exploring the creek, they discovered its headwaters starts in the eastern hills, goes south for about 3/4 of a mile, turns west/north-northwest for around half-a-mile, and finally heads north for approximately half-a-mile before emptying into Sandy Hook Bay. So often does the creek change its mind about where to go that the colonists named it Many Mind Creek. 

Where is it located?

Many Mind Creek, for most of its course acts as natural boundary between the Borough of Atlantic Highlands and Middletown Township. The creek begins in the western section of Lenape Woods Nature Preserve, fed by water that drains down 150 feet of elevation in a deep bowl-shaped hollow. Water from the creek rises out as groundwater. Its first outflows are shallow and slow-moving until they reach the corner of East Washington Avenue and Sears Avenue. Running with greater velocity, the creek travels downhill and southward, crossing under Highway 36, until it reaches almost to Many Mind Avenue. There the creek turns west in a relatively level channel, which travels parallel to Highway 36 to the point where the highway meets Leonardville Road. It turns north (again crossing under Highway 36) and moves towards Sandy Hook Bay. At a point near West Highland Avenue, the creek’s fresh water mixes with salt water from the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary and creates naturally brackish waters before entering the bay.  

Are its banks protected?

Along the course of Many Mind Creek are four areas devoted to open space:

  1. Approximately 15 acres in the western section of Lenape Woods Nature Preserve, which contains the creek's headwaters and freshwater wetlands.
  2. A half-acre of open space near Many Mind Avenue playground, which also contains freshwater wetlands.
  3. 6.8 acres of recreation lands on Firemen's Field, also bordered by freshwater wetlands.
  4. Approximately half an acre of grasslands along West Avenue, between Bay and Mount Avenues, which contains saltwater wetlands.

Except for these areas, the banks of Many Mind Creek are bordered by dense development. Included are private homes, six apartment complexes, the Foodtown shopping center, other commercial properties, and a light industrial area. The wetlands in the zone between Highway 36 and the bay are classified environmentally as having intermediate resource value and requiring a 50-foot-wide buffer or "transition area", according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  

How are humans affecting Many Mind Creek?

Non-point pollution (pollution that cannot be identified as coming from a specific source and cannot be controlled through regulations) is one of the biggest human activities that influences the health of Many Mind Creek. Non-point pollutants such as herbicides, pesticides, pet or animal wastes, motor oil, trash, and litter, and some deposits from air pollution affect the creek by adding chemicals and trace metals to its waters. These pollutants lower water quality and reduce the habitat needed for diverse land and aquatic species to exist, including vegetation, animals and fish.

Siltation, runoff and erosion from nearby development has increased the amount of sediment which enters Many Mind Creek. This loose soil builds up in the creek's channel, causing an increase in turbidity and a decrease in the normal flow of water. Because certain areas of the creek bed are therefore raised (especially near bridges) the channel cannot contain peak flows which run over the banks and flood local streets.

During the early 1900s, engineering projects rechanneled the downstream portion of Many Mind Creek and transformed it from a meandering stream channel to its current straightened pattern. This reduced the habitat for aquatic species that require less turbulent flows to reproduce and lay eggs. There was also a loss of distinctive riparian vegetation along the Creek, and a decrease in the forest canopy, which helps maintain cool water temperatures essential for breeding of certain aquatic species. Natural buffers beside the creek channel were largely eliminated, which meant losing the main means of flood control.

In addition, between 1910 and 1949, a private company located near Many Mind Creek off West Lincoln Avenue, produced coal-tar gas for sale to local homeowners as a source of energy for lighting, cooking and heating. Coal-tar and its byproducts included contaminants that eventually entered the creek and neighboring soil. In 1991, the Borough of Atlantic Highlands filed a lawsuit against the current owners of the gas plant, New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG). A court ruling in 1997 forced NJNG to enter a consent decree to clean up the contamination. 

Is Many Mind Creek a current source of drinking water in Atlantic Highlands?

No. All drinking water in Atlantic Highlands comes from underground aquifers, which are natural water-bearing geologic formations confined between clay layers. No surface water is used. The names of the two aquifers used by the Atlantic Highlands Water Department are the Raritan formation and the Englishtown formation.

In Atlantic Highlands, water from these two aquifers goes through several steps (including aeration and filtering) to remove odor and disease-casing organisms. Independent water-quality laboratories regularly test water samples from around the Borough. Results from these water tests show no contaminants present that contain maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), as established by Federal and NJ State government agencies.

Under Federal law, all water users now receive an annual report on the quality of their drinking water, listing only those contaminants that are detected in the water. Water quality reports for Atlantic Highlands have been mailed to homeowners since February 2000.  

Should you be concerned about Many Mind Creek?

The short answer is "Yes." Even with all the degradation it suffered, Many Mind Creek has been an important natural resource in Atlantic Highlands and will be even more valuable to the local environment in the future if its decontamination and restoration are well done.

Different plant species in the creek's freshwater and saltwater wetland areas provide habitat for many species. In addition to microorganisms and invertebrates (which are important for a healthy food-chain), reptiles such as turtles and snakes are common. Many amphibians (frogs, salamanders, and toads) live within the creek's wetlands during at least part of their life cycle. Birds are attracted to the area by abundant food resources, such as insects, berries, and plants, and by sites for nesting and resting. Some mammals associated with Many Mind Creek's wetlands include white-tailed deer, raccoons, little brown bats, and red foxes. Near the mouth of Many Mind Creek, along the sandy beach, can be found several different types of shellfish, such as rock and spider crabs, surf clams, snails, and blue mussels, which add to the area's natural biodiversity.

Both in pre-history and history, Many Mind Creek had significant roles. Near the creek’s mouth, the Lenape brought shellfish they collected in nearby bay waters and river mouths, where they cooked and ate them, and left behind shell deposits; the archaeological evidence is now buried. In 1667, European settlers laid out the first seven lots in Monmouth County on the west bank of Many Mind Creek. From the late 1600s to late 1800s, Many Mind Creek was used as a drinking source by humans and a watering source for livestock and crops. 

What is being done to help Many Mind Creek?

With matching grant funds that the Borough recently received from NJ DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), the Atlantic Highlands Environmental Commission will soon begin planning studies and community/business/government dialogue on the concept of a greenway along Many Mind Creek. The project will develop proposals for stream protection and preservation and for creating a buffer of natural land with public access and numerous other benefits.

The downstream portion that runs through the town's historic and business center is being considered for the first piece of the Greenway, with other sections of the creek’s length (to its source) being considered in the near future. Once established, the Many Mind Creek Greenway will provide seven ecological and economic benefits:

  1. A well-planned, stable sloped creek bank to contain flood waters and resist erosion
  2. A restful corridor of nature through a greatly developed area
  3. A walking path for observing birds, plants, and wildlife in the creek
  4. New access for pedestrians going to and from shops, entertainment and harbor areas
  5. Greater "backyard" appeal for the business district along First and West Avenues
  6. An environmental education resource for children and adults
  7. An eco-tourism attraction that links the Henry Hudson Trail to our waterfront and the Bayshore Trail  

How can I help Many Mind Creek?

The best way to become involved is to join the group called "Friends of Many Mind Creek" whose formation began in late spring 2001. The "Friends" will participate in the planning studies for creating a Many Mind Creek Greenway, in community education efforts or cleanups or other projects which the group will organize.

To offer your time and energy as part of the "Friends" group or to learn about its activities, you can:

  1. Phone Borough Hall at 291-1444 between 8:30am and 4:30pm on weekdays, leave your phone number and a message that you would like to be a friend of Many Mind Creek, and the Environmental Commission will contact you; or
  2. Attend a regular monthly meeting of the Environmental Commission. Meetings are the fourth Thursday of the month (but in November and December it's the third Thursday), at 7:30pm in the Senior Center at the Harbor.