With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to make everything more challenging, a dedicated group of volunteers for the nonprofit Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA) stepped up during the past year to keep its science, education, and land stewardship programs going strong.

On Feb. 23, Raritan Headwaters honored five outstanding volunteers at its annual Member Meeting, held remotely on Zoom. They are Kerry Haselton of Bernardsville, Tracy Gordon of Denville, Ray Croot of Hillsborough, Ronald Redling of Bernardsville and George Schaberg of Montague.

“We owe our volunteers a huge debt of gratitude,” said RHA Executive Director Cindy Ehrenclou. “They put in extraordinary efforts and we’re so lucky to have their dedication and support.”

Kerry Haselton received the Suki Dewey Volunteer of the Year Award for her overall efforts to improve the environment of the upper Raritan River watershed region. “Kerry defines environmentalist,” said Ehrenclou, noting that Haselton is an avid bicyclist who picks up roadside litter on her rides. “And here at RHA, we can’t thank her enough for her tireless work.”

A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Haselton grew up in New Vernon and is a 30-year resident of Bernardsville, where she has been active on the Environmental Commission. She has served on the Raritan Headwaters Board of Trustees of since 2020, where she chairs the Stewardship Committee.

Haselton started volunteering for Raritan Headwaters years ago, when her two now-adult daughters were young. After attending events at RHA’s Fairview Farm and chaperoning field trips there, she offered to help maintain trails on the preserve.

Haselton said she enjoys restoring local ecosystems by removing invasive plants. “I love clearing trails and decimating populations of invasive species – privet, barberry, honeysuckle, wineberry and porcelain berry are my foes,” she said. “I’ve been known to gather a few friends and cut down 8-foot-tall stands of knotweed at a local park, just for the fun of it.”

Tracy Gordon was chosen for the volunteer award in the category of education for the many hours she volunteered running Saturday hikes for families at Fairview Farm. “Through rain, snow, ice and hot weather, Tracy led folks on the trails to enjoy time outside together during the height of the pandemic,” said Lauren Theis, RHA’s education director. “Tracy’s exuberant personality brings out the kid in anyone, and through these programs she helped many folks connect to nature when they needed it most.”

An educator with Raritan Headwaters since 2017, Gordon has spent days wading through the streams of the Raritan Headwaters region. She has a passion for insects and said one of her favorite jobs was working as a mosquito inspector searching for larvae in nearby swamps and woodland pools. Her hobbies include bicycling, canoeing, camping, beekeeping, and gardening, and she enjoys any opportunity to share her love of nature – especially bugs – with children.

Ray Croot received an outstanding volunteer award for his work with science and stream monitoring programs. “Ray is a rock star among volunteers,” said Dr. Kristi MacDonald, RHA’s science director, noting his dedication to the organization’s mission, his skill at collecting high quality stream data, and his enthusiasm and interest in new conservation projects. He began as a volunteer in RHA’s stream cleanup and monitoring programs over seven years ago and also became involved in an intensive chemical monitoring program that takes place on a bi-weekly basis.

This past fall, Croot helped RHA assess the connectivity of 150 stream sites as part of the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity (NAACC) and Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) programs. “Because of Ray’s commitment to this project, RHA was able to assess stream crossings in critical wildlife corridors so we can learn where bridges and culverts need to be retrofitted to allow for streams to stay connected and terrestrial wildlife to have safe passage under roadways,” said MacDonald.

“I like volunteering because it allows me to be out in the woods and rivers and to help protect the natural environment I love so much,” said Croot, who is retired. “I have a hard time saying no to anything.”  Ray also enjoys spending time outdoors camping, canoeing, and hiking.

Ronald Redling was chosen for an outstanding volunteer award in the land stewardship category. “He’s a powerhouse, helping to remove invasive vines and shrubs, maintain tree plantings at our preserves, as well as assisting with installing several rain gardens in Bernardsville. In one project, he helped RHA plant 240 native trees and shrubs as part of a forest restoration project at Fox Hill Preserve in Tewksbury Township,” said Dr. MacDonald. “We love that he is always accompanied by his dog, Polly. Ron has gone over and above in his contribution of stewardship work for RHA this year.”

“I like to give back to causes that have a tremendous benefit to individuals, communities and nature,” said Redling, who is retired. He volunteers for the local Boy Scouts, and as an Emergency Medical Technician in Bernardsville. His hobbies include beekeeping, traveling, photography, and cooking.

George Schaberg, who was employed for several years as Raritan Headwaters’ land projects manager, has remained active as a volunteer since leaving in 2019. He was nominated for a volunteer award in recognition of his outstanding work during the past year in conducting the annual monitoring of Raritan Headwaters’ conservation easements, including landowner outreach and reports.

“George saved us this past year,” said Ehrenclou. “We’re so grateful for all he does for RHA.” He also pitched in to help out at Raritan Headwaters events.

Schaberg serves as vice president and head of land protection at the Ridge and Valley Conservancy, a nonprofit located in Blairstown. Passionate about conservation and protecting open space, he works as a New Jersey real estate professional. He is an avid dog walker, hiker, mountain biker, kayaker, skier, and snowshoer.