NJ Environmental Giants Working for Responsible Tomorrows

New Jersey has a rich and diverse environment with many protected areas and parks. It didn’t “just happen.” Much of the beauty and the health of this environment is due to a few environmental heroes, some of whom EarthShare New Jersey has recognized and honored at our annual EarthShare Celebrates NJ event.

One of those early EarthShare New Jersey honorees was Candy Ashmun, a giant in our environmental history. Candy fought for the legislation that set up environmental commissions in the state. She then went on to organize the local commissions into a statewide body (ANJEC – Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions). They provide training, funding and general assistance to these local organizations. She remained an active leader and then consultant to the group until her death this past month. Candy also worked with Gov. Brendan Byrne to pass the Pinelands Protections Act and became one of its first commissioners. It was a position she held right up to her demise. Planning and land use were her two primary tools for saving the environment, so it was natural that she was asked to serve as an original member of the state planning commission. The state master plan was partly her creation.


Marie Curtis (left) awarding Candy Ashmun (right) at EarthShare Celebrates NJ


Ms. Ashmun was more than just an environmentalist, though. She saw the value in collaboration and worked with other organizations whenever she could to further her goals. Early on, she established a group of environmental leaders from the state’s environmental and conservation organizations. The group was called the collegium and met at Rutgers University. The idea was to share informally what we were all doing and learn from one another. Candy was the discussion leader. Over time, the group grew to become the environmental summit with members meeting and, when possible, working to support each other in various causes. That effort continues to this day. And finally, we have to note that she was also a trustee of the Fund for New Jersey. In that role, she frequently cautioned organizations as to what foundations could, and could not, accept for funding. Her advice saved a lot of time and effort.

Another giant of the time was Dery Bennett, founder and long-time executive director of the American Littoral Society. Dery was one-of-a-kind. Barefoot most of the year, with a mop of blond curly hair, Dery stood out in any gathering. He had a great sense of humor and a great love of nature. He, too, fought for legislation to protect our environment. He was in Trenton often where he testified and pushed for salt water wetland protection, the Coastal Facilities Review Act (CAFRA), freshwater wetlands protection and more. He began several projects and programs at the Littoral Society that later took on a life of their own. Clean Ocean Action (COA) began in the Littoral Society and eventually became a separate organization. The Delaware Riverkeeper was another such organization that began as one of Dery’s projects. The New York/New Jersey Baykeeper is yet another one. Dery was hands on and could frequently be found helping to run programs across Sandy Hook including seining adventures with children of all ages. EarthShare New Jersey recognized all of his accomplishments shortly after his passing.


Dery Bennett at Sandy Hook. Photo Credit: Jerry McCrea/The Star-Ledger


Dery was more than willing to share his expertise and help others, both individuals and organizations. One of his close allies through the years was Willie DeCamp, another giant in NJ environmental history and EarthShare New Jersey honoree. Willie began in the Isaac Walton League and came to the shore in the summer. Over time, though, the shore became his home and he became an advocate for the Barnegat Bay area. As a result, we now have the Save Barnegat Bay organization where Willie served as executive director for many years. He remains involved to this day.


Paula Aldarelli (left) awarding Willie DeCamp (right) at EarthShare Celebrates NJ


The list of these environmental pioneers is lengthy. There is Helen Fenske, a housewife who gathered neighbors together to fight a proposed jet airport in Morris County. She succeeded, and, from that fight, grew an organization, the Great Swamp Watershed Association. Helen has passed on, but the Great Swamp remains an attraction for education and enjoyment even today.


Helen Fenske


Yet another EarthShare New Jersey honoree with almost mythical credentials is Ed Lloyd – lawyer, teacher, environmentalist. Ed began his career with New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (PIRG.) One of his early law suits against polluters resulted in a large sum of money that Ed used to set up a foundation for environmental organizations. He then went on to teach environmental law at Rutgers where he began the Environmental Law Clinic. The clinic actually took on pro bono cases. Ed left Rutgers to accept a position teaching environmental law at Columbia University, but the clinic he left behind in NJ moved on as well and became, eventually, the Eastern Environmental Law Center. Ed remains involved there as well. He helped found the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and served on its Board of Directors for several years. He is a member of the Pinelands Commission here in New Jersey. Ed truly is an environmental hero.


Ed Lloyd


There are many more. The list is impressive. But these mentioned above are the giants among giants. We all owe them a debt of gratitude. They worked hard so that we could all have a better tomorrow.


Marie Curtis
An environmental giant in her own right and
the founder of EarthShare New Jersey