A swamp in New Jersey? I suppose you could call it a swamp. But if the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge had been named today instead of in the 1960s, we might be calling it a wetlands. In fact, the 35,000 acres also include grasslands, sandy knolls, ponds, brooks, marshes, woodlands, and ridges.
I saw the Great Swamp on the day before my granddaughter graduated from Princeton. Since I live on the far side of the country, the “other grandparents” kindly invited me to stay at their house in New Jersey for a few days on either side of the graduation. They had entertained me with a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art the previous day, so now it was time for some exercise and a dose of nature in all its green serenity.
The first thing we came upon after a quick restroom stop was this snapping turtle preparing to lay her eggs. When we first saw her, she was digging a hole with her back legs, pausing now and then to soften the ground with her urine. You won’t be surprised to hear that the whole process was very, very slow.
The turtle had a curious audience for her labors. We watched her for a long time. Finally we left her alone to finish the job.
Following the boardwalks and trails, we came upon some wild irises, also called flags,
crossed a little bridge with lily pads below,
and admired some fresh green ferns.
Can you see the frog and the two turtles?
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, nobody loved swamps and wetlands. They were just junk land, a place to be drained and filled in. The Port Authority of New York had what they thought was a good use for this part of New Jersey: turn it into a huge jetport with four 12,000-foot runways. (Jets were new and cool back then.) The Port Authority would bulldoze the hills, fill in the swamp, and in the process destroy 700 homes and other structures. Local residents were not happy.
Those were the days of paving over the wilderness, but a group of people pushed back against the Port Authority. Among them were enough determined, rich, influential, and environmentally conscious people to be successful in stopping the project. In less than a year, two organizations purchased, assembled, and donated to the federal government enough property in the core of the swamp to qualify for perpetual protection of it as a National Wildlife Refuge. Crucially, eminent domain does not apply to federal land.