Eagle Scout works for Raritan River access, health and safety

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As an avid kayaker, 16-year-old Dionel Esteves knows the importance of having good information about the rivers he paddles. He also appreciates a clean and safe river, free of trash on its banks and in its waters.

Thanks to Dionel, paddlers looking to explore the North and South Branches of the Raritan River will have an easier time finding places to put in and take out their kayaks, as well as the locations of bridges crossing the river. And through his volunteer work with the nonprofit Raritan Headwaters, Dionel has helped make the river a cleaner place.

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Dionel recently earned his Eagle Scout rank for his efforts to help the Raritan River. His achievement was celebrated at a Court of Honor on June 4.

“Throughout my time in Boy Scouts, I have become very passionate about the safety and conservation of our rivers and felt that it was natural to make it the focus of my Eagle Scout project,” said Dionel, a Ringoes resident who’s a rising junior at Hunterdon Central Regional High School.

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For his Eagle project, Dionel worked with the Hunterdon County Division of Parks & Recreation and Bedminster-based Raritan Headwater on a multi-faceted project to improve access to the river and make it cleaner. The projected included:

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  • Preparing complete inventory of all access points of the South and North Branches of the Raritan River in Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset counties.  This includes GPS coordinates, descriptions and photos of access points, and other important information that will be helpful for future use.

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  • Creating an interactive map of access points for paddlers to use.

  • Assisting with Raritan Headwaters’ annual Stream Cleanup for the past four years by putting together kits – consisting of trash bags, gloves, and first aid kits – for teams of volunteers.

  • Building an information kiosk at the South Branch near the corner of Old York Road & Hillsborough Road, Flemington, and cleaning up the area around it.

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  • Including information at the kiosk about “Leave No Trace,” a program urging people to haul away all trash that they create at parks, campsites and other outdoor places, and to clean their gear to prevent the spread of alien invasive species. The poster describes how long  it takes for various types of trash, such as plastic or disposable diapers, to break down in nature.

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“Dionel did an amazing job on his Eagle Scout project, and we’re very grateful for his efforts,” said Angela Gorczyca, water quality manager at Raritan Headwaters, who helped advised Dionel on his project.

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Dionel took up kayaking several years ago with Boy Scout Troop 65 of Ringoes to earn a merit badge. He found that he enjoyed it, and he and his troop have since paddled all over New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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A year ago, Dionel signed up to paddle his home river as part of the Raritan River “Sojourn” sponsored by Raritan Headwaters.  “I wanted to make sure I went on ‘my’ river so I could explain it to other people,” he said.

He described the upper Raritan as very scenic – except for litter at various access points. “At the pickup and dropoff points, that’s where there was the most pollution,” he said. “There were cans, bottles, and I even found three pairs of sneakers. It’s amazing what people will leave.”

 

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For his Eagle Scout project, Dionel and his mother, Wanda, visited and evaluated approximately 150 spots along the river to identify the best places to put in and take out kayaks and canoes. In all, he spent about 300 hours on the various aspects of his project.

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Now that the project is completed, he’ll have more time for his favorite activities – kayaking, fencing on his high school team and practicing his outdoor survival skills.

“I’m a survival fanatic,” he said. “The whole concept of being self-reliant is very interesting to me. It’s a challenge I want to take further over time.”

About Raritan Headwaters

The largest watershed organization in New Jersey, Raritan Headwaters has been working since 1959 to protect, preserve and improve water quality and other natural resources of the Raritan River headwaters region through efforts in science, education, advocacy, land preservation and stewardship. RHA’s 470-square-mile region provides clean drinking water to 400,000 residents of 38 municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon and Morris counties and beyond to some 1.5 million homes and businesses in New Jersey’s densely populated urban areas.

Raritan Headwaters won the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in 2015 and 2016 in the category of Water Resources.