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Maurice River Recollections Project
River Reaches
Debra A. Barsotti
Research Journalist
Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River
and Its Tributaries, Inc.

The Maurice River Reaches Project - River Recollections
Jane Morton Galetto
Conservation - Handing Down A Legacy

"C-o-n-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-o-n. Conservation."Jane Morton Galetto learned how to spell that word when she was in 2nd or 3rd grade. "I was so proud," Galetto said, admitting that spelling and reading did not come easy to her at the time. Other environmentally friendly words did not become part of Galetto's vocabulary until long after this spelling triumph.

Her teachers would have surely prepared Galetto had they known just how passionate their student would become.  "Spell greenway, Jane," they may have instructed. Or, “Spell osprey."  Or, "Jane, please use the term environmental impact study in a sentence.”

As Galetto studied for that grade school spelling test, it was Galetto's father, Walter Dorer Morton, who actually planted the seed that eventually germinated into Galetto's life passion. Galetto's father told her that her great-uncle was a conservation-ist. "This really fascinated me," Galetto said, as she recalled making a connection between learning and real life.

Galetto learned that her great-uncle, Richard Dorer, is one of Minnesota's leading conservationists. In 1951, he established a revolutionary program called "Save the Wetlands," a novel initiative to protect and preserve the state's fragile wetland ecosystems.

Galetto's own involvement in conservation efforts didn't begin until 1986. At the time, she was involved in a program that was designed to protect and save endangered and non-endangered species in Cumberland County. Galetto was setting up osprey nests when she was approached by a group of residents who were planning a protest against a proposed hazardous waste site.

These residents, loosely organized under the name "Citizens United," enlisted Galetto's help with their protest. Because of the imminent threat to the local environment, the group decided to establish themselves as a non-profit organization. Their first mission was to develop strategies to publicize their objections to the waste-site proposal.

Recognizing her passion and skill, the group looked to Galetto for leadership. She served as vice president and then president of the organization whose focus eventually broadened to include other environmental concerns. Under its more defined name, "Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries" (C.U.) became an advocate for policies that would protect the natural environment along these waterways.

C.U. worked to raise awareness of the fragile landscape, lobbying against not only the hazardous waste site, but also against other practices that would adversely effect the health of the Maurice River and its tributaries. As C.U.  publicized their support for good environmental practices, their membership expanded to include a diverse group of individuals who actively support conservation and protection efforts in the region.

The joint efforts of C.U. and other conservation and community groups helped to defeat the plans for a hazardous waste site in the region. But the preponderance of work that C.U. does today has nothing to do with being against something. One example of C.U.'s refocused energy was the effort to bring parts of the Maurice, Menantico, Manumuskin, and Muskee into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This was a real victory for Galetto.

"I was excited, not because the hazardous waste site proposal was thwarted, but because we were laying out strategies that highlighted conservation and resource value. Our strategies had less to do with fighting against something. We were fighting for something." 

Galetto often points to C.U.'s underlying mission: To raise awareness and to educate the community about watersheds, greenways, and the legacy of waterways like the Maurice River. C.U. carries out their mission in a range of wide-reaching projects. They created a comprehensive science-based curriculum for teachers in the region, and they hold regular in-services to introduce local teachers to the scope of the integrated, multi-grade content that provides perspective about the interaction of residents with their Down Jersey environment. C.U. also schedules programs in the communities, bringing in local experts to discuss and highlight the unique character of the area. Other outreach efforts include an informative website, a series of award-winning films that promote the region's special places and people, and a visible presence at the hearings and meetings that set the environmental direction for the region.

In an article in the Press of Atlantic City dated August 2004, journalist John Froonjian captured the essence of C.U.'s mission. Froonjian wrote: "When she took the meeting microphone on the night of Aug. 16, Galetto addressed this specific development - The Preserve at Holly Ridge - but she could have been sounding an alarm about threats to the region's entire way of life. ‘Your decision goes far beyond the impacts on endangered species,’ she told the board as 11 p.m. approached. ‘The snakes and birds and plants on this site are indeed barometers of our own future.’"

One important result of the Wild and Scenic designation was a renewed awareness about the value of planning and managing undeveloped lands as the county and its municipalities faced the challenges of providing for the citizens who live there. But to Galetto, "the real silver lining was not the grand use management plan" that was approved by the local and federal officials. "Rather," she said, "it was the amount of focus conservation groups gave to large tracts of land on the Maurice River. Today tens of thousands of acres have been preserved in and about the watershed." Galetto sighed with contentment. "This is what is so rewarding," she said.

Galetto has had some other satisfying moments in her life. Many had to do with her love of the water. Her parents, Terri and Walter Dorer Morton and their two daughters moved from northern New Jersey to Millville in 1965. Jane Galetto was 11 when she first saw Union Lake.

"I was so excited about the lake," Galetto recalled. "They had a sailing and canoe club," she said, describing the old building with its wooden clapboard sides that became the base for her water adventures. "I used to go up to the lake on my bike - with my dog and my fishing pole," she said. She and her friends headed out on the lake in their canoes and Sunfishes. "I have so many fond memories of Union Lake," she said. She remembered the "pirate" games, the canoe races and the kangaroo races, "where you would stand on the gunnels in the canoe."

After learning to sail on Union Lake, Galetto decided to give windsurfing a try. She was NJ's first state champion wind surfer. She became a Junior Commodore and then the first woman Commodore at Union Lake. And off the lake, Galetto gained proficiency as a marksman and entered into competition. "I was the ladies' state champ in Sporting Clays and was All-American Shooter on the US Sporting Clay Team, which earned a bronze medal in the 1993 World Games.”

And many years after that small academic victory, way back in grade school, Galetto graduated Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, PA.

Back in Millville, Galetto eventually became involved in numerous organizations, including the NJ Audubon Society; the Fish and Game Council; the Dept of Environmental Protection; the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife; the Endangered and Nonendangered Species Advisory Committee (ENSAC); the Stockton Alliance (a group of corporate and environmental committees that talk about common ground); and a NJ wetlands advisory council. And then there's that prized photo in her office: There in the Oval Office is Galetto, watching as President Clinton designates the Maurice River and its tributaries part of the nation's Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1993.

Galetto admitted that her knowledge of "the long river to the Delaware Bay" was limited until she became a full member of the community - a married homeowner with two kids (her lovely daughters Amanda and Ashley) and a dog - or two. "That is pretty true for most of the people in Millville. The residents of Port Norris and further south are acutely aware of where the river goes. Their livelihoods have been closely related to that resource," she said.

As development and urbanization of the region unfolds, the Maurice River and its tributaries will continue to be a valuable resource for residents, recreationalists and future generations. Saving the legacies of these waterways will take planning and good management.

When Galetto's great-uncle, Richard Dorer, proposed the protection of Minnesota's wetlands, he was one of the visionaries who realized their enormous value. An article about Dorer and other early conservationists summed up the special perspective with which they see the world: "They’d seen how ducks, geese, herons, and other water birds flocked to remaining wetlands in spring and fall. They’d also watched the birds disappear as wetlands were converted into cropfields."

For an indication about how well her generation is faring in their conservation efforts, Galetto watches the osprey nests that have been built along the waterways of Cumberland County. And from her perspective, the health and vitality of the Maurice River has been renewed. There is no doubt that Galetto will not only continue to monitor the new hatchlings in the osprey nests, but she will also continue her work to protect and preserve the quality of these waterways - waterways that support the communities of both the humans and wildlife that use this valuable resource.