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New Jersey Meadowlands, also known as the Hackensack Meadowlands after the primary river flowing through it, is a general name for the large ecosystem of wetlands in northeastern New Jersey in the United States. Originally the area was forested with Atlantic White Cedar before the early Dutch settlers cleared the cedar forests and used dikes to drain the land. The Dutch farmers used the drained tidal lands to create "meadows" of salt hay; hence the area was referred to by locals as the Meadows. In more recent times the Meadowlands became known for being the site of large landfills and decades of environmental abuse. The Meadowlands stretch mainly along the terminus of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers as they flow into Newark Bay; tributaries of the Hackensack include Sawmill Creek, Berrys Creek, and Overpeck Creek. The Meadowlands consist of roughly 8,400 acres (34 km²) of open, undeveloped space in addition to developed areas that previously were part of the natural wetlands. The area includes portions of Kearny, Jersey City, North Arlington, Secaucus, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, East Rutherford, Carlstadt, North Bergen, Moonachie, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park, and Little Ferry.
Before European settlement, the area consisted of several diverse ecosystems based on freshwater, brackish water, and saltwater environments. Large areas were covered by forests. Considered by residents of the area through the centuries as wastelands, the Meadowlands were systematically subject to various kinds of human intervention. The four major categories are:
The Meadowlands Sports Complex, with stadia and a racetrack, is also in the Meadowlands.
The location of the New Jersey Meadowlands near the New York metropolitan area and its outgrowth into New Jersey makes conservation of the vast wetland a difficult proposition. In spite of this, the New Jersey Legislature, led by Richard W. DeKorte, created the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (since renamed New Jersey Meadowlands Commission) in 1968 to attempt to address both economic and environmental issues concerning the wetland region. Even under grave environmental circumstances, the Meadowlands contain many species of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks and are considered to be an important bird habitat.
Money from the United States Congress has been allocated to protect and preserve the Meadowlands and establish organizations to research the unique animals and their interaction with the ecosystem. The ecosystem is a fragile environment that waterfowl and other species of animals need. Richard W. DeKorte Park in the Meadowlands is known for bird watching, particularly for migratory waterfowl.