by Peter Dolan, New Jersey Program Coordinator
The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, only 26 miles west of Times Square in New York City, is 12 square miles of largely undisturbed nature straddling the border between Morris and Somerset Counties. Its 10 miles of hiking trails vary from primitive cleared walking paths to elaborate boardwalks that span wildlife management and wilderness areas.
As one of more than 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System (and the very first to receive Wilderness designation), the Great Swamp just helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. The Trail Conference is proud to be invited to help with stewardship of the hiking trails in this Wilderness area on the heels of this historic occasion.
Federally designated Wilderness areas are chosen from existing federal lands of at least 5,000 acres which have minimal human imprint, opportunities for unconfined recreation, and educational, scientific, or historical value. The Wilderness designation aims to minimize human impact, so permanent structures and roads are rare or nonexistent. Motorized and mechanized devices aren’t allowed unless deemed absolutely necessary, so biking is prohibited as are chainsaws, except in the most extreme times of need. When downed trees need to be sawn through, sawyers use giant crosscut saws that many of our volunteers may never have seen before.
Like many Wilderness areas, the Great Swamp had its brush with annihilation–the refuge was established in 1960 after a year-long legal battle in which local residents fought to keep the land from being turned into a major regional airport to accommodate large jets for Newark Airport. Today on these 7,768 acres, instead of jet airplanes, more than 244 species of birds fill the sky. In addition, 39 mammal species and 42 species of reptiles and amphibians variously crawl, run, and slither across the refuge. Beautiful vernal pools and ponds dot the woods to be appreciated by animals and hikers alike.
We look forward to helping the Great Swamp volunteers and staff maintain their trails by bringing in workshops, training, and new volunteers over the coming years.
Hope to see you out there!
For more information about the geology and history of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/great_swamp/.