Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1960 and lies 26 miles west of New York City's Times Square and 7 miles south of Morristown, New Jersey in Morris County.

This "oasis of wilderness" in the midst of urban and suburban areas provides important habitats to fish and wildlife and a unique opportunity for the public to enjoy wildlife and wilderness.

It consists of approximately 7,600 acres of swamp woodland, hardwood ridges, cattail marsh, grassland, ponds and meandering streams.

The Great Swamp is divided up into two sections, the Wilderness Area and the Management Area. No permanent structures, motorized vehicles or equipment are allowed in the Wilderness Area. The Wilderness Area serves as an outdoor laboratory and provides a more primitive outdoor experience for the general public. Hiking on almost eight and a half miles of trails is permitted. By limiting use in this sensitive area to foot travel, the wilderness experience can be preserved.

The rest of the refuge (Management Area) is intensively managed to maintain optimum habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Water levels are manipulated in five shallow refuge impoundments to favor growth of a desirable mix of native plant communities.

These area provide habitat preferred by waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and other species during spring and fall migrations and the nesting season. Wood ducks and mallards are the most common waterfowl while Canada geese, black ducks, pintail, widgeon and teal are also abundant during migration. The wood duck has favorably responded to habitat protection and enhancement efforts. Artificial nesting structures are used to supplement natural nesting sites, which have declined throughout the wood duck's range.

Several hundred acres of grasslands are also maintained on the refuge by mowing on one to four year rotational cycles. Grasslands provide diverse wildlife habitats, food resources and nesting cover for a wide variety of wildlife species, including the eastern bluebird and several raptor species. Numerous research studies are conducted on the Refuge.

The Refuge has identified more than 222 species of birds according to their seasonal occurrence. Mammals found on the Refuge include the white-tailed deer, river otter, muskrat, mink, beaver, raccoon, skunk, red fox, coyote, woodchuck, gray squirrel, opossum, cottontail rabbit and the federally endangered Indiana bat. An variety of fish, reptiles, and amphibians, including the federally threatened bog turtle and the state endangered blue-spotted salamander, are also found on the Refuge.

The refuge has become a resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds. The refuge also provides a "home" for more than 39 species of reptiles and amphibians, 29 species of fish, 33 species of mammals and approximately 600 species of plants (including 215 species of wildflowers). Additionally, 26 of these species are listed by the State of New Jersey as being threatened or endangered, including the wood turtle, blue-spotted salamander and bog turtle (also federally threatened).

The links below are to brochures (pdf format) for the animals that occur on the Refuge.

The Refuge provides an excellent opportunity for learning about a variety of ecosystems. The Friends of Great Swamp NWR provide much of the environmental education and interpretation available at the Refuge through guided tours and a Discovery Den located at the bookstore on Pleasant Plains Road. Two separate Environmental Education Centers in the swamp provide additional education and interpretation opportunities and are located adjacent to the Refuge.

Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center
, operated by Morris County Parks Commision, is located on the eastern side of the Refuge off Southern Boulevard in Chatham Township. The Center offers a varied natural science program of classes and guided tours and provides one mile of trail and boardwalk for the public.

The Somerset Environmental Education Center is operated by the Somerset County Parks Commission. It is located on the western border of the Refuge in Lord Stirling Park. The Park has a varied program of environmental education courses, guided field trips, and 8 ½ miles of walking trail.