Great Swamp’s wilderness is one wild place

If you haven’t heard, the Wilderness Act is turning 50. It’s big news for us here in the Northeast, since Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey is the first designated wilderness in the Department of the Interior. We partnered with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to get a crew out on the refuge to clear trails that sustained damages from Hurricane Sandy. Hear from Emily Bowles, a member of the crew, as she reflects on her experience working in one wilderness treasure.

Emily (right) will be sharing her experience about her and the crew’s work at Great Swamp. Never miss a post!

In the most famous passage of the Wilderness Act, writer Howard Zahniser defines wilderness beautifully and concisely: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” As my crewmates and I work to prepare Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge to host the Wilderness Act’s 50th birthday party—which will include a visit from the public lands manager to all public lands managers, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell—we’re finding Zahniser’s words to be astonishingly accurate.

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Great Swamp Refuge has 8 miles of public trails and some are in the wilderness area. All refuge trails sustained damages from Hurricane Sandy with fallen trees and debris, but cleanup in the wilderness area isn’t so easy. The crew has a unique challenge, as hand tools, not power tools, have to get the job done, to maintain wilderness character. Learn more

Over the course of our efforts, the Great Swamp’s untrammeled community of life has been on impressive display. Yesterday we saw a juvenile bald eagle first thing in the morning, followed by a native praying mantis. As the day progressed and some dead and dangerously inclined trees were felled, the crew and I came across dragonflies, and a katydid (Tettigoniidae: a bug that to me looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a preying mantis). While we chopped apart an all day blowdown, Ed, strangely, found a spotted turtle… odd since our worksite was a considerable distance from water.

On the way back to the car the crew spotted a large bird in the woods. We couldn’t quite identify it, but the wingspan was large enough for it to have been a hawk. Early this morning, a gray catbird observed us stretching from its nearby perch. “Meow, meow!”  After lunch we spotted a little goldfinch eyeing a puddle to make his birdbath.

The highlight of the day came when we…finish reading this post at SCA’s Follow Me Field Blog!

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