The Great Swamp was created approximately 15,000 years ago. The Wisconsin Glacier pushed its way during the Ice Age and in its melting poured into the natural basin known as the Passaic Valley to form Glacial Lake Passaic.
What we call the Great Swamp is what remains of that huge lake which has continued to drain via the Passaic River and many other smaller rivers and creeks.
If the name Great Swamp doesn't sound like an appealing place to visit, you need to look beyond the name. It is not entirely swampland but rather a mixture of marshes, meadows, dry woods and brush-covered swamps.
These four habitats are what make the Great Swamp unique and allow the area to support a wide variety of plant and animal life.
The Great Swamp is one of NJ's 5 National Wildlife Refuges. Their website offers this advice to visitors:
People are encouraged to observe, study, photograph and walk with nature in designated public areas. The best times for observing wildlife are early in the morning and late afternoon. Because of large number of visitors in the spring and fall, wildlife viewing on Sundays is often less rewarding. The refuge has close to 10 miles of foot access trails, with varying difficulty from which wildlife can be viewed. There are also three wildlife observation blinds and one wildlife overlook. Pleasant Plains Road is a good place to view wildlife from your vehicle. The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge also recommends that you visit the Raptor Trust (for information please call 908-647-8211), the Somerset County Environmental Educational Center (for information please call 908-766-2489) and the Morris County Outdoor Education Center (for information please call 973-635-6629). There is also the Watchung Reservation, Morristown Historical Park, Sherman Hoffman Aubudon Center and several other outdoor recreation areas located close to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
If you visit, there are well maintained trails and even boardwalks that allow you to observe without doing harm to the habitat. (This is not a place to bring pets.)
Plants vary in size from the tiny duckweed to the towering red oak. As the seasons change, so does the color of the area - yellow marsh marigold to the blue iris.
One way to learn more about this living, breathing botanical and zoological resource is with a visit to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center. which is part of the Morris County Park Commission and offers many environmental programs for all ages.
If you live in the area, you may want to become involved in the volunteer opportunities there too.
Download the refuge brochure (pdf)