The Upper Passaic River Water Trail

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The Upper Passaic River offers wonderful opportunities for recreation within easy access of millions of New Jersey residents. Below I’ve gathered data that highlights potential access points for those interested in exploring. Of course one must paddle at their own risk and do their own research but hopefully with your input I can continue to add information to this map that fosters confidence in the use of the river for paddlers.

Please comment with helpful edits/updates and send photographs of launch sites to davidethanalexander

Passaic River Facts

  • Passaic or “pahsayèk” is a Native Lenape American word meaning “valley”.
  • Native Lenape indians lived along the river before European settlement.
  • The first colonial settlement along the Passaic was in 1666 at present day Newark.
  • The Passaic River is about 80 miles long and flows through forty-five municipalities and seven New Jersey counties .
  • Everyone lives in a watershed or land that drains into a body of water. The Passaic River is one of 20 state-wide watershed management areas within New Jersey.
  • By using and sharing your appreciation of the river we can work together to protect the health, safety and ecological integrity of the resource.

If you would like to join or schedule an Upper Passaic River Paddle trip check out the following resources:


The Critter Camera – All Scavengers Invited

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The Critter Cam was setup by a group of middle-school age students during a Swamp Exploration-Wild About Wildlife program. The trail camera was positioned over the remains of a recently harvested and butchered white-tailed deer to catch the mix of scavengers that might take advantage of an easy winter treat and forest feast.

Within the first few days and nights the camera captured coyote, fox, red tail hawk, vulture, crow, red bellied woodpecker, blue jay and deer.

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Simulated Native American Artifact Excavation Activity


If you ask kids today how we know what we know about a subject they often will answer “google” or the “internet”. Try it.

To get students to think of themselves as seekers of knowledge, I’m always trying to create lessons that allow them to comprehend information through their own discoveries. This makes lessons more personal, meaningful and memorable.

To help elementary age students learn about the Lenape or Delaware Native Americans I create a simulated artifact excavation activity. I’ll bury animal bones (mostly deer and bear), pottery shards, arrowheads, shells and stones. The students become archaeologists making exciting discoveries as they excavate, clean, record and organize findings.

When ready we circle around the findings and one at a time discuss what we think an item is, what it was used for and what the modern equivalent might be.

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Can You Dig It!

Uncover and analyze artifacts in an

attempt to reconstruct aspects of 

New Jersey Indian Life and Culture.



Participants approach excavation site to uncover artifacts of the Lenape people in a simulated archaeological dig.

    • Job 1 Digging: This team works to take layer by layer the soil including artifacts from the site to provide to the sifters.
    • Job 2 Sifting: at this station material from the dig is sorted through to remove the artifacts.  The team works together to find everything they can.  Encourage the group to be meticulous in the sorting process, small objects may be harder to find.
    • Job 3 Sorting: This team is responsible for sorting the objects in similar piles.  This can be done in containers of different sizes.
    • Job 4 Recording: Using the grid view data sheet recorders document what quadrant and depth level items were discovered.


  • Arrowhead Necklace: Allow participants to search in a simulated archeological dig to find arrowheads. The arrowheads can be tied up with cord to make a necklace.  Explain that in a real dig the archaeologists would never take anything because they would go to a museum for everyone to study and enjoy.
  • Ask participants to make a mystery box of artifacts from their life. Allow teams to try and reconstruct the persons life from the items brought in to share.

Lenape Site and Native American Day

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Together with Mike Dennis of Traditional Earth Skills we’ve created a Lenape Learning Area where students can experience and participate in Native American educational programming including field trips, camps, workshops and special events.

The site creates wonderful opportunities for program and event visitors to participate in a variety of experiential hands-on and skill-based activities and crafts.  Some of the offerings have included Three-Sisters Garden planting, Sewing Medicine Bags and Moccasins, Dyeing bracelets with Native Plants, Crushing Corn with Mortar and Pestle, Throwing Corn Cob Darts, Fire-Friction and Fire Building Skills, Cord Making, Simulated Archaeological Digs, Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant Walks and much more.

The Lenape Learning area includes: Wigwam Shelter, Mortar and Pestle Corn Grinder, Garden Area with Deer Antler and Scapula Gardening Tools, Food Cache Pit, Corn Cob Dart Throwing Station, Fish Drying Station and Hide Tanning Display.

To learn more about program opportunities in NJ, check out Mike’s site at 

Buzzfest Bee Celebration


This past weekend my workplace held a Buzzfest Celebration providing an opportunity for visitors to harvest honey with the Beekeeping Master Gardeners and complete crafts and activities with 4H and Environmental Center staff & volunteers. Participants could uncap the frames with a heated knife, pour the honey into jars, take a honey taste test, make native pollinator seed balls, bamboo bundle bee shelters, look at bee and insect parts with a microscope, use bug eyes to experience bug vision, try on a bee suit, build-a-bee, roll a beeswax candle, read all about bees and more.  Prizes like pollinator seed bags were provided when participants had their agenda booklet stamped at four or more activity stations.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

Raising Luna Moths

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I raised Luna Moths a member of the Saturniidae family, also known as “Giant Silkworm Moths” as part of an educational display at the Butterfly Tent Safari. The process was the same as when I raised  Polyphemus Moths  except that the Luna Moths ate Sweetgum Tree leaves as their host plant. These Luna moths turned out to be the first of two generations to mate, lay eggs and die.  The second generation will over-winter in a wrapped leaf cocoon.

Luna MothLuna Moth Caterpillar

Luna MothLuna Moth Caterpillar

It is easy to tell a male and a female apart when comparing their antennae. The males have larger bushier more feather like antennae to smell the pheromones of a female to find her for mating. The female has smaller thinner antennae and tends to stay put waiting for the males to sniff her out.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at


Butterfly Tent Safari 2015

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Every summer I work with staff and volunteers at the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland, New Jersey to host a Butterfly Tent Safari event.  The aim is to educate guests about butterfly conservation through wonderment that leads to active conservation and enhancement of our own backyard, schoolyard and community habitats. To learn bout hosting your own butterfly tent safari or bugfest event check out “Buzz Into Action, The Insect Curriculum For Grades K-4“.

Below are a few photographs of the program and an article from the Star Ledger that includes photographs of kids within the tent.  As always I’m happy to share information if you have any questions about setting up a similar event.

NJ Families Flock to Butterfly Tent Safari – Star Ledger Article

David Alexander, senior naturalist with Essex County Parks, has been involved with the butterfly event since it started in July 2010. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get connected with nature,” he said.  According to Alexander, the tent is filled with a variety of nectar plants and host plants and over 50 butterflies.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

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