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The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Vanishing Breed; Sun Is Setting On A Generation of Meadowlands Hunters and Trappers

By Tina Traster

May 27, 1999 -- Boys will be boys, no matter their age.

Get Ed Moran and Don Smith together, and it's the Meadowlands rendition of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

"I used to get off the school bus, throw down my books, sling the gun over my shoulder, and go out and hunt," said Smith, 56, who grew up in Little Ferry." I'd walk past the neighbors and they'd ask me to get them a rabbit or pheasant for dinner."

Smith had it easy, quips Moran, because the meadows were in his back yard and Smith's parents were lenient. Moran, who lived in Wood-Ridge, kept his.22-caliber hidden in a pigeon coop. He would trek six miles to hunt muskrat, and then return with 30 rats draped on his back.

The men who grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping in the meadows love to talk about old times, but they know their stories will die with their generation. What's left of this coterie of characters, men with large, strong hands and a wild glint in their eye, is dissipating because many have retired and left the Meadowlands.

They say younger generations do not have any intimate knowledge of the meadows. For men like Smith and Moran and others, a world without wilderness is barren and incomplete.

"Everything for kids today is organized or packaged, "said Moran, 67, a Carlstadt taxidermist. "Kids are missing out on an age of discovery. They've traded in reality for things they see on television and in books."

What saddens these men most is that kids today need to be razzle-dazzled by videos, arcades, and gadgets. Children growing up in the Meadowlands barely know they exist.

In part, this is because a once-windswept marshy swamp has been supplanted with factories, office buildings, housing tracts, power plants, and a gnarled roadway system, including the New Jersey Turnpike.

"We are an endangered species, "said Smith, who spent 30 years as a naturalist for the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission, which steers development and preservation in the region.

Replacing Smith when he retired in December was like finding an old Indian chief to tell campfire stories. John R. Quinn stepped in because he, too, grew up hunting and fishing and trapping in the Meadowlands.

"I grew up at a time when people eked out a living hunting or fishing or trapping, and when that didn't work, they collected metal scrap, "Quinn said. "It was an unforgiving habitat. Kids today know virtual reality. Our childhood was the real thing."

When Quinn was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Moonachie and Secaucus and Carlstadt and Little Ferry were vast expanses of meadows.

Although 60,000 tons of garbage was being dumped in landfills weekly, there was an abundance of wilderness brimming with beaver and muskrats and open waters stocked with fish. The meadows and creeks bordered back yards. Hardware stores on any Main Street stocked guns and muskrat traps. Boys came home from school and beckoned the dog to go out for a hunt.

Roland Donaldson, 63, is among a tiny pack of outdoorsmen who still trap, but only occasionally, because "it's not easy to walk all day in the mud. "Last year he caught about 30 muskrats, which are in the icebox in his basement. The pelts will fetch about $ 1.25 at market and are used mostly as liners in leather coats.

"He went out every day, even Christmas Day, "said Steve Royka, 32 of Little Ferry, referring to his father, William. "He would catch about 30 or 40 a day. Then he would skin them in the house. Hang them by the tail and strip off the fat. He used to do this with his bare hands. No gloves or nothing."

The Roykas used the muskrat carcasses to make stews, but, he said with a grin, his mother never owned a muskrat coat.

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