By Jay Watson
In the most urban area of the nation’s most densely populated state, there is a small peninsula along the Hudson River where it widens into Upper New York Bay. It is an amazing haven for nature and wildlife.
Migrating shorebirds, including ospreys and American oystercatchers, stop at Caven Point in Jersey City to rest along the only sandy beach for miles.
Horseshoe crabs mate and lay their eggs there, providing food for the birds. Monarch butterflies sip nectar from wildflowers during the summer. In the winter, snowy owls from far north may visit.
It makes no difference to birds, crabs, butterflies and other wildlife that 21.5-acre Caven Point is practically in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty or that it has stunning views of the New York City skyline. But it does make a difference to humans, since those acres are some of the world’s most valuable real estate.
Caven Point is part of Liberty State Park, New Jersey’s most urban and popular state park.
For years, the owner of the neighboring Liberty National Golf Club has tried to acquire Caven Point to relocate three golf holes, a proposal that has drawn fierce opposition from those who want the peninsula to remain in its natural state forever.
Technically, Caven Point may seem to be protected open space because Liberty State Park was acquired with money from the state Green Acres program and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
But those who are fighting to defend Caven Point as a natural area are worried loopholes could be found by stretching the definition of recreation to include golf holes at an elite private club or that a land trade or “diversion” of Caven Point could be backed by politically connected allies of the golf club owner.
“When you have the crown jewel, everyone’s going to try to steal it, everyone’s going to try to buy it,” Hudson County Commissioner William O’Dea said at an Oct. 8 rally to advocate for Caven Point protection. “But that crown jewel must belong to the people and no one else.”
Fortunately, several state legislators have stepped forward with a bill that, if passed, would preserve Caven Point for future generations by designating it a state natural habitat.
The Caven Point Protection Act, S-2956/A-4468, is short and succinct.
“This bill would designate and preserve the 21.5-acre Caven Point Peninsula in Liberty State Park as natural habitat. Caven Point Peninsula is the estuarine ecosystem for plants and animals, critical bird breeding habitat, and an urban environmental education resource,” says the bill’s explanatory statement.
As speaker after speaker noted at the rally, Caven Point is, quite simply, irreplaceable. If lost, it can never be replicated. Liberty State Park would not be the same free “people’s park” without it.
In addition to serving as an educational resource for the hundreds of local school children who visit it each year, Caven Point is also a refuge for residents who crave the peace and serenity of nature.
“This place here, Liberty State Park, is a place of healing,” declared Barbara Williams, a local teacher. “We need Liberty State Park because we all need to come to the water, to the land, to nature to heal ourselves and replenish ourselves.”
The Caven Point Protection Act has passed out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee and is ready for a vote by the full Senate.
In the state Assembly, it still needs Speaker Craig Coughlin’s green light to be sent to the Environment and Solid Waste Committee for review and approval, then on to the full Assembly for a vote.
If passed by the state Senate and Assembly, the bill would then go to Gov. Phil Murphy for his signature. The New Jersey Natural Areas Council should then include Caven Point in the state parks’ Natural Areas System.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” says park advocate Sam Pesin, son of park founder Morris Pesin and president of the nonprofit Friends of Liberty State Park. “I hope it will pass, but it’s hard to be confident when I have seen what has happened over the past few years.”
The Liberty State Park saga includes decades of grassroots battles against various commercialization schemes. The most recent twist was a fast-tracked bill, passed in June, that again raises the possibility of privatization in parts of the park.
For now, what Liberty State Park desperately needs is vocal public support for permanently protecting Caven Point as a natural habitat. No matter where you live in New Jersey, you can help.
Tell the Senate and Assembly representatives from your district that Liberty State Park is a valuable resource for all New Jerseyans and for the special wildlife species that visit, and urge them to get behind the Caven Point Protection Act.
Also, please contact Assembly Speaker Coughlin’s office and urge him to post the bill to the Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee’s agenda as soon as possible.
To find your representatives and their contact information, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/
To read the bill and see its sponsors, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/bill-search/2022/S2956/bill-text?f=S3000&n=2956_I1
Jay Watson is a co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.