ImageIt is late October along the bay. As I drive around the Bayshore region of Monmouth County, I can't help but notice how fall color is coming into sight. It might be a bit slow this year, but it is approaching, especially to maple, beech, and sassafras trees. The eye-catching fall colors on some of the tree lined streets in Atlantic Highlands, Leonardo, Port Monmouth, and Keyport provide a striking backdrop to blue bay waters and khaki colored sand of the coast. 


Usually, the woodlands, parklands, and shade trees near the bay are at their peak or near peak color the final week of October or the first week of November. To view some of this brilliant seasonal color, local parks such as Lenape Woods Nature Preserve in Atlantic Highlands, Natco Park in Hazlet, or Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge Township provide some of the best viewing locations in the Bayshore region. Due to the small size of the Bayshore region in Monmouth and Middlesex counties, however, you are never far from a picturesque foliage viewing area. My advice is to get out now and enjoy the beautiful fall color and great views of Sandy Hook Bay and Raritan Bay before any future windy storms destroy the full glory of peak color.



(Brilliant fall color can be found in the Bayshore region now, especially along Lake Matawan)


Besides peak fall color in the Bayshore, this time of year coincides with peak politicking and campaign time during the last week in October and early November. Every day there are more yard signs, more stickers, more press articles about candidates, and more fliers filling a mailbox.


Most times the campaign season can get ugly as people and parties fight over ideas, power, and the reins of government. Yet, in New Jersey we are fortunate for at least one thing. By and large both major political parties consider the environment to be an important issue in their state platform. Yes, it is true that some state candidates and politicians are better than others when it comes to really understanding that the health of the economy and that the well-being of every person are tied to the health of the environment. We are fortunate, though, that both major political parties in the Garden State, unlike other states in different parts of country or even in different countries around the world, are now really making an effort to view the environment as an essential piece of our quality of life, and not a mere incidental concern. Political leaders might fight over how best to undue damage to our environment, or to protect a natural, scenic, or historic area, but I would rather have that debate than none at all.


Over the years, our injured environment in New Jersey, once only a concern to scientists and environmental activists, now concerns everyone. What family or individual wouldn't care about having clean drinking water for a child, or living in an unpolluted neighborhood, or not having enough safe, healthy places for a child to play or experience the great outdoors, or places where kids can learn to respect all of nature?  



(Brilliant colorful leaves of a Beach tree during autumn found in Lenape Woods Nature Preserve within Atlantic Highlands)


Each year, more and more people around the state are starting to understand the need to protect our urban forests and open spaces, preserve our freshwater and coastal wetlands, and improve water quality in our bay waters, rivers, streams, and the Atlantic Ocean, where so many people go swimming and fishing. More people than ever before are working hard to create sustainable communities and to become good stewards of our land, air, and water. These issues are important to many people and are beyond party affiliation for countless folks. Indeed, I think that overwhelming public concern for environmental quality is impressive and shows that few areas match the potential to build broad bipartisan support in New Jersey.


Unfortunately, when it comes to local politics in the Bayshore region, there isn't always ecological harmony. Locally, some people in both major political parties are very good, if not excellent, in their approach to protecting our environment in the Bayshore region. While some other candidates and politicians in both parties are still trapped inside old, outmoded, narrow ways of thinking about science and acting politically to clean up and protect our environment.


This is why I believe strongly that it is so important for people who care about our local environment to study and truly understand a local candidate's thoughts, ideas, and individual platform. Too often, long struggles over environmental policies and protective measures are bogged down or go nowhere due to local politicians who have conflicting interests that harm the environment. Some local candidates prefer to campaign around the theme of business as usual.


Quite frankly, I am encouraged by how many people in local communities in Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, Middletown, Keyport, and Aberdeen take seriously now climate change, water quality, open space, the purchase of locally grown foods, and the protection of endangered species and habitats. Nevertheless, the struggle goes on to educate more people in the Bayshore region about the importance of a high degree of environmental quality over the pressures of over-development, sprawl, and poisoning the air, soil, and water.


On Tuesday, November 6, you have only one vote. Make that vote really count for the benefit of your entire local community by voting for someone who is environmentally oriented and will work hard to assure the emergence of a strong, healthy environment and a high quality of life for everyone.


(Colorful and decorated pumpkins can also be found during this time of year to bring pleasure to many folks)

Although it might be difficult, there is no doubt that we need to judge each local candidate not by party, but by the individual. Of course the best way to do this is by having a conversation personally with each candidate. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Yet, you could try investigating an individual candidate's ideas and platform via the Internet. Check out a candidate's website or just type in a person's name within a search engine and see what pops up. Attend local political debates or other local political functions to ask questions. Check your local library for any newspaper articles about a candidate. Also, don't be afraid to send a local candidate an email to find out what a she or he believes in.

Nothing distinguishes a local candidate more than her or his views on the environment. This election, look at a candidate's record, not just the rhetoric. Make the most informed and meaningful decision this elections season to vote for a local candidate that will make a real positive difference in the health, quality, and long-term sustainability of your community.

Where will we be, what kind of life will our children have if we don't have open spaces, green places, and a healthy environmental for all. This should be more than just rhetoric, it is actually working hard to preserve that quiet spot along the bay where a family can go on a weekend to relax and be together. It is trying to create more places where people can have more forms of outdoor recreation, and preserving that historic old building that provides invaluable stories about our past and economic revitalization towards the future. Which local candidate in the Bayshore region will best be able to provide leadership to get these things done and proper stewardship to care for our environment? It is up to you when you vote!