Grants plant the seed for projects to grow in the watershed
Conservation fund aids on-the-ground improvements

"Inch by inch, row by row," is how The Garden Song tells us our gardens grow and that also may be how federal dollars are reshaping the Delaware River watershed, especially if we add "vision by vision, partner by partner."

Alan Hunt, the director of policy and grants for the Musconetcong Watershed Association, has been finding partners to help bring to life visions that he and his organization have been planning along this New Jersey tributary of the Delaware River, which reaches up to Lake Hopatcong in Sussex and Morris counties but empties into the Delaware River in Hunterdon County.

Like Hunt, managers at environmental organizations all over the Delaware River watershed have gained in the past three years a federal partner with deep pockets to make those visions come true -- as long as they can find partners willing to match those federal dollars.

Hunt and the Musconetcong Watershed Association this year received a piece of the $8.1 million federal dollars invested in the Delaware River watershed.

The path for that money is the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund -- a relatively new way for federal dollars to make their way to the whole four-state watershed.

The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) is the federal legislation that created the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

NFWF's mission is to leverage public funds to raise private dollars, and award those funds to projects that will do the most good across a wide range of landscapes.

Though the alphabet soup might make your eyes glaze over, the money that's come in through the fund is startling: over $20 million in the three years that the fund has been up and running.

And that's not counting the various matching grants that must be in place for money to be allocated.

The multiplier effect of those matching funds this year equals a total of $30.2 million (larger than simply double since some matches exceed the federal dollars) for 37 different projects in all four basin states ranging from big projects like the acquisition of the 2,700-acre Penrose Swamp in Carbon and Luzerne counties, Pa. The federal dollars for that one is $99,957 and the local match is a whopping $5.4 million from the Wildlands Conservancy, based in Emmaus, Pa.

Most of the grants are smaller, for amounts similar to the one that the Musconetcong Watershed Association received, $225,000. Its match was $225.967.

Hunt's vision is multi-pronged, including repairing the riparian buffers along the river and improvements to the trail that runs beside it.

Also, the grant will enhance monitoring of the New Zealand mud snail -- an invasive species -- a tiny snail that trout will eat, shell and all, which clogs their digestive system and can kill them. The Musconetcong is a favorite for trout anglers so protecting trout is a popular goal.

In addition, the MWA has partnered with New Jersey's Department of  Environmental Protection's Green Acres program to tear down an empty building on an island near its headquarters and create a public park.

There's one part of these plans that's still in the vision stage: maintenance.

As Hunt sees it, conservation groups are good at getting the capital funding for big ideas, but there's often not much money for the on-going expense of maintaining the projects.

On the other hand, most municipalities are hard-pressed to get capital funding, but maintenance is a routine part of their operations.

"We'll create the park," Hunt explained, "and the municipality will maintain it."

For a list of all 37 projects:

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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