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Friends for the Abbott Marshlands Announces Mary Alessio Leck Award

The Mary Alessio Leck Award for 2023 was presented to Bob Simmons (center) with left, Pat Coleman, President of FFAM; and to his right, Mary Leck, Emeritus FFAM, and marsh researcher for 40+ years, and Kelly Rypkema, Director of Tulpehaking Nature Center, Hamilton


Hamilton, NJ: The Friends for the Abbott Marshlands (FFAM) at the Annual Meeting held in April at the Tulpehaking Nature Center celebrated the distinguished 2023 Mary Alessio Leck Award. The award is presented each year to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional volunteer service to the Abbott Marshlands. The award is named in honor of Mary Alessio Leck in gratitude for her many years of service to the marsh. See her in the “Turning the Tide” video on YouTube.

This year, the award was presented to Hamilton resident Bob Simmons, a hard-working and diligent supporter of the FFAM. Bob is often available to help with needed tasks at the marshlands. He has been a wonderful advocate of FFAM. Over the years Bob has done everything from directing parking for night programs, setup and breakdown of tables and chairs, to helping to hang photos/art for Tulpehaking Nature Center exhibits. Even before becoming an Abbott Marshlands Ambassador, Bob joined the welcome team to cover shifts at the nature center’s front desk. He assisted the Stewardship team by joining the Bordentown Bluffs Reboot project to reroute a steep trail near Crosswicks Creek. Bob was an early volunteer for Abbott Marshlands cleanups and is a jack of all trades. Those who are familiar with him were especially delighted with the selection of Bob Simmons for the 2023 Mary Alessio Leck award.

Any member of the FFAM may nominate an exceptional volunteer for the award at the beginning of each calendar year. Persons being nominated for this award will have consistently demonstrated volunteer service in the marshlands. The service listed on the nomination cannot be part of the nominee’s job description or duties and the individual cannot receive monetary benefits from their involvement. Members of the FFAM Board of Directors are not eligible. The judging criteria uses the following weighted formula: 40% – The nominee’s services or actions have made a lasting, meaningful impact on the marshlands; 20% – The length and degree of their service; 20% – The extent to which service is above and beyond the call of duty; and 20% – Their service is recognized and valued by peers/community leaders.

Visitors to the unique freshwater tidal marsh of the Abbott Marshlands over time remark on it being an urban oasis, a critical wildlife habitat in the Delaware River’s estuary to be relished and protected. The public is invited to join in on this important endeavor. Their goal this year is to reach 150 members.

The Abbott Marshlands are situated in Lenapehoking, the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Lenape. These lands include over 3000 acres of open space along the Delaware River in Central New Jersey. Although a satellite view of the area quickly reveals its ecological unity, the lands there are actually divided among two counties, four municipalities, and numerous landowners. Crisscrossed by a canal, a railroad, and even a major highway interchange, the essential nature of the northernmost freshwater tidal marsh on the Delaware River becomes evident. It provides rich habitat for a wide variety of birds, fish, mammals, plants. FFAM is the only organization whose sole focus is the promotion and stewardship of the entire marshlands.

FFAM’s efforts include a volunteer trail stewardship program, an active calendar of programs on marshlands ecology and history, and other community outreach activities including a biennial juried photography exhibition in 2024. They coordinate their work with Tulpehaking Nature Center in Hamilton, the Mercer County Park Commission, the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park and the Point Breeze property in Bordentown. The Abbott Marshlands Cooperative Stewardship Council members include representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the D&R Canal Commission, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Mercer County, and local municipalities of Trenton, Hamilton, Bordentown City and Bordentown Township. The website,, provides extensive information regarding ecology, cultural history, archaeology, recreation, education and stewardship.

Historically, what we now call the Abbott Marshlands was known as the Trenton Marsh or the Hamilton Marsh or sometimes the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. In 2011, a coalition of marsh supporters, working on an interpretive plan for the marsh, saw the opportunity to change the name to the Abbott Marshlands, to acknowledge the historical and natural significance of the area. The Abbott Farm Historic District, on December 8, 1976, became the first National Historic Landmark in New Jersey, designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It is a unique archaeological site, recognized as the site of the largest Middle Woodland village of its type on the east coast of the United States. It was named after Charles Conrad Abbott, whose early archeological work and writings from the 1850s on spurred much research there.

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