The Raritan River has been a companion of Rutgers University–New Brunswick for so long that people in the community couldn’t be faulted for taking its soothing presence for granted now and then. Fortunately, there are dedicated people who have always kept the Old Raritan uppermost in mind. One of them is Judith Auer Shaw, an environmentalist at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy who leads the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, formed by the Bloustein School and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in 2009. Its sister network, the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative, is a cadre of passionate scientists,  environmentalists, engineers, business and community leaders, and government officials representing more than 130 organizations who are working together to strike a balance between the competing social, political, economic, and environmental objectives found  up and down the river and the common goal of restoring the Raritan for its value to the state’s economy and environment and to the public’s psychic good.

Balloons over the Raritan River


Hot-air balloons drift over the Raritan River in Raritan Borough, with the Nevius Street Bridge in the foreground. Photograph by Barbara Frankenfield. Top image, a segment of the Raritan River meanders through Manville.

The 90-mile Raritan River (and its 2,000 miles of tributary streams) begins in the bucolic headwaters of Morris County and empties into the industrialized region of the Raritan Bay, making it the longest river contained within the state. The river is the subject of The Raritan River: Our Landscape, Our Legacy (Rutgers University Press, 2015), a lushly illustrated book written by Shaw that showcases, in photography and paintings, the natural beauty of the river, its teeming wildlife, and the human activity that takes place along its banks. It documents as well the considerable challenge of restoring and permanently protecting the Raritan, a serpentine waterway that paradoxically features long swaths of protected woodlands but also lands ravaged by industrialization, the state’s largest contiguous stretch of wildlife habitat but some of the most densely populated regions in the nation. Shaw makes the case that to win  the long-term battle to save the Raritan—requiring a sustainable balance of development, public access, remediation, and stewardship—policymakers have to facilitate the replacement of old infrastructure while reimagining dated design and management practices that limit progress toward a clean river basin. Shaw also outlines how everyone can help, in big ways and small, in protecting the Raritan, calling on us to make the effort  our legacy.

Raritan River Towers


Raritan River Towers, an oil painting by Gary Godbee, depicts one of the more developed stretches of the river in Edison. The Raritan flows through some of the most bucolic and industrialized parts of New Jersey.

“A sense of place matters to us in New Jersey, and the Raritan River, as one of the state’s major river systems, stands for both its proud history and its natural beauty,” writes Shaw. “But as much as we take pride in the Raritan, it is also a resource that we have taken for granted over the years.”

“We want a unified commitment that goes beyond chasing ratables and focuses on creating places of harmony and tranquility in a very busy world—so that we can take the time to enjoy nature as part of our daily lives.” •