by Ray Burke, Wetlands Institute Supporter

Growing up on a farm bordering Jenkins Sound, my earliest memories included family adventures into the marshes and tidal creeks between the mainland and Seven Mile Beach. There was, however, one particular event that forever directed my attention to Ospreys inhabiting the marsh.
In 1963 my parents became acquainted with Stephen W. Meader, a local author. He had written a series of adventure stories for young readers, one of the most successful of which was The Fish Hawk’s Nest published in 1952. The story takes place on a 19th century Cape May County farm situated on Jenkin’s Sound. The protagonist is a young man whose family appreciates the beauty and natural bounty of the area where they reside.

My mother, who was always an avid reader, evidently decided that it was time for her nine-year-old son to tackle a full-fledged adventure novel. She drove me to Stephen Meader’s home where the author presented me with a signed copy of the book along with a commentary about how lucky I was to live where I lived.

I am certain that I accepted my special gift with some degree of trepidation, but as I cracked open the cover and began reading I became totally captivated by his descriptions of Cape May County’s natural environment. It was my first experience with a book I could not put down.

It would be more than a decade later that, while tending my oyster beds in Gravelly Run Stream, I would glance off into the distance and notice the construction of a building seemingly rising out of the surrounding marsh. Little did I suspect that events at that location would nurture my tidelands fascination for the next fifty years.

As the decades have unfolded I have always celebrated the annual arrival of yellow school busses full of children getting their first sightings of hatchling turtles and, of course, a Fish Hawk on its nest. I watch the educational staff engaging visitors of every age in hopes of lighting a spark of appreciation for the environmental treasure that is The Wetlands Institute. It is a wonderful thing to behold.

Thanks Mom!

The Wetlands Institute is truly a gateway to discovering the wonders of the marsh and is essential to its restoration.