Robert Jahn was the consummate Shore local. He’d lived on the ocean, on the bay, and in between.
He loved taking pictures of the beautiful Ocean County landscape and hoped to help save the bay that has supported communities in the area for hundreds of years, said his longtime friend, Save Barnegat Bay director Willie deCamp.
In 2009, a a few decades of smoking helped put an end – far too early at the age of 62, his friends say – to all of that. But what started as a request to give a presentation at the Brick Township Historical Society's June 14 meeting brought back memories of Jahn – an accomplished author and storyteller – while helping to educate local residents about the bay he loved.
Jahn is the author of Down Barnegat Bay: A Nor’easter Midnight Reader, what deCamp on Tuesday night called a “cultural history” of the bay. For the first time, deCamp – a well known speaker in his own right – displayed Jahn’s photos and memories alongside Save Barnegat Bay’s traditional presentation on protecting the waterway and helping what the group hopes is the bay’s resurgence.
“There have been a lot of environmental victories over the last 30 years,” said deCamp.
As for as the bay is concerned, stopping ocean dumping ranks on top of the list. The bay is flushed through three inlets – Manasquan, Barnegat and Little Egg – that lead to the ocean. It’s the cleanest it’s been since the 1920s, deCamp said.
But Jahn’s photos, interspersed throughout a talk which gave tips on planting rain gardens and native plants, to help filter water before it reaches the bay, showed the waterway at its most pristine in recent memory. An early version of the Mantoloking Bridge - which links Brick Township and Mantoloking Borough - built in the 1800s show little-to-no development on the now busy Mantoloking Road.
A few early marinas popped up eventually, including one off Mantoloking Road called Pleasure Cove. It was later renamed Pelican Cove, then Traders Cove. It was supposed to be turned into condos, but Brick Township bought the bayfront property and is now in the process of turning it into a park.
“We’ve been battling with Traders Cove for 40 years,” deCamp said. “Now the township owns it, there will be no condos, and it’s going to be a park, which is what we wanted.”
Then there was the story of Bill Jenks, a commercial clammer who lived in Brick’s Herbertsville section all his life. Jenks died a few years ago, but deCamp recalls something Jenks once told him: “‘Even if you’re down on your luck, the bay will always be there.”
More of Jahn’s photos flashed on a PowerPoint display: a massive fire in 1960 that burned much of the woodlands of Brick; Jahn’s relatives, the Brower family, who lived off Mantoloking Road and built boats while operating a small farm; and Patricia Nixon walking on the beach in Mantoloking with her famous dog, Checkers.
There was no political bluster, just history and a reminder of what Barnegat Bay has meant to Brick and other communities over the years. To help restore the bay to its once extremely productive clam and fishing grounds, development must be curtailed and New Jersey must enforce its recently-passed law regulating fertilizer content, but locals must pitch in too, deCamp said.
It’s as simple as planting more native shrubs and trees such as beach plum, prickly pear cactus and bayberry, and doing all that can be done to make sure rain water and runoff are filtered before soaking into the ground or heading down a storm sewer into the bay, he said.
It’s not necessarily the proliferation of boating, or overfishing, that has caused the bay and its native sea grasses that protect fledgling species to decline, but overdevelopment and a lack of information being divulged about how to protect the waterway, deCamp said.
If there was a way to prove the worth and importance of the bay to the 60 or so Brick residents who came out for Tuesday’s presentation, Jahn’s photo of a power, crashing bay swell against a bulkhead probably did the trick. For deCamp, honoring a friend – by sharing how to protect the bay he loved – may have been the best of both worlds.
“The bay has much more potential to come back as people realize,” deCamp said. “It never will be what it was when Henry Hudson peaked over the dunes in 1609, but there is a lot to be understood about how it can be restored.”