Dave DiSabato and Milo DiSabato plant a tree.

The Peapack Brook is becoming better habitat for trout and other aquatic life, thanks to a tree planting project at the Rockabye Meadow Preserve – a cooperative effort between the borough Environmental Commission and local watershed watchdog Raritan Headwaters.

About 50 volunteers pitched in to plant 350 native New Jersey trees and shrubs over the course of three days in October. Raritan Headwaters and the Environmental Commission were joined by staff from the Peapack-Gladstone public works department, NJ Water Supply Authority, and local volunteers.

“Planting trees along our rivers and streams is one of the top ways we can have a direct impact in improving water quality,” said Dr. Kristi MacDonald, science director of Raritan Headwaters.

Raritan Headwaters purchased the trees and shrubs through a “Roots for Rivers” grant from The Nature Conservancy to restore riparian buffers.

Riparian buffers are the trees, shrubs, and grasses along waterways that help protect water quality. These buffers filter pollutants, improve streambank stability, and reduce erosion and flooding. The trees’ foliage also shades the water during the heat of summer, keeping water temperatures cool enough for trout and other species that don’t thrive in overheated streams.

One of the organizers of the project was Andrew Goode, a longtime Raritan Headwaters volunteer who lives in the borough park neighborhood. Andrew offered to approach the Environmental Commission and Borough Council on behalf of RHA to see if they were interested in the project. “They were so enthusiastic about the whole project and are eager for it to continue downstream,” Andrew said.

John Kappler, Chair of the Borough Environmental Commission and a lead on the project, also organizes the annual RHA Stream Cleanup at the Preserve. He expressed his gratitude for all the hard work that went into the planting. “Hats off to all our valued volunteers’ efforts, which will provide a dramatic enhancement to Rockabye Meadow and the Peapack Brook for generations.”

Members of Delbarton School’s Angler’s Club also helped out. “We explained to the students why we wanted to do this project and they were very enthusiastic,” said Andrew. “This will actually help their fishing in the future.”

Neighboring Bedminster Township’s generous loan of a large augur to bore holes for the bigger trees and shrubs alleviated the need to dig them by hand, an incredibly labor intensive effort. “The volunteers practically planted a miniature forest overnight, thanks to the help of Tom Skillman from the borough DPW and his skills using the auger,” says Kristi.

The trees and shrubs planted included a variety of oaks, blackgum, silver maple, sweetgum, river birch, black cherry, witch hazel, pussy willow and smooth alder. Plastic tubes were placed around their trunks to keep them from being browsed by deer and small mammals.

Next spring, Raritan Headwaters hopes to conduct similar tree plantings downstream from Rockabye Meadow Preserve and along streams in Readington and Raritan Townships, also supported by grants from The Nature Conservancy. Any community interested in partnering with Raritan Headwaters to restore stream buffers in their community should contact Kristi at kmacdonald@raritanheadwaters.org.