East Brunswick is a fast growing suburban town in Central New Jersey, situated midway between New York City and Philadelphia. Close to 50,000 people call East Brunswick home.
Much has changed in East Brunswick during the past 80 years. With modern Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Digital Historical Aerial Photographs, we can glimpse back in history and make comparisons to current conditions in ways we never were able to do before. I have attached two aerial photographs of East Brunswick, one from 1930 and the other from 2007. They are both at the same scale and are high resolution, so they can be enlarged to take a closer look at details.
In 1930, East Brunswick was a patchwork of small farms interspersed by woods and streams. Extensive tidal wetlands were present along the South River and the Raritan River. It must have been incredible to see at that time. A real breadbasket of farms on some of the most productive farmland in the state and with vast natural communities that were at the intersection of northern and southern habitats. A few roads bisected the township linking the small areas of development with surrounding towns, but most (if not all) of these were likely dirt at the time. During the next 80 years, East Brunswick, like most of Middlesex County, would undergo significant suburban development altering the natural landscape in many ways. Extensive forests and farms were converted to housing, commercial development and other uses (landfill, golf course, the NJ Turnpike, etc.), streams were channelized, diverted or piped and wetlands and vernal pools were filled in. This is not to be critical of these changes, but simply to acknowledge that they occurred and to understand the changes to the environment.
We are very fortunate that remnants and even extensive portions of these original habitats remain in East Brunswick providing a glimpse, if not an even a wider view, of what East Brunswick used to look like. Stroll through the incredible Pine Barrens habitats of Jamesburg Park, or through Frost Woods, or hike into the tidal swamp along the South River at Keystone Park, or explore the southern portion of the township near Dutch Lane, Church Lane and Fresh Ponds where a number of farms have been preserved and woods still dominate much of the landscape. This is our natural history, and although much has changed, there are still many gems that remain. We can also use the aerial photographs to learn from our mistakes and from our successes in terms of conserving our remaining natural landscape as well as setting priorities on preservation and restoration. As the saying goes, "Think Globally, but Act Locally." If we aren't stewards of what is in our own town, you can be certain no one else will either.
Check out the Parks Guide on the Friends website at www.friendsebec.com/ebparks to learn where some of our best remaining natural areas are. They are well worth exploring. The Parks Guide is a work in progress and new Parks will be featured over the next few months. There are also high resolution aerial photographs www.friendsebec.com/salamandercrossing of the vernal pools along Beekman Road where we have worked so hard to protect our migrating salamanders and frogs.