Tag Archives: Great Swamp

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.


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!

Storm proofers: Preparing a New Jersey refuge for the next big event

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

When Hurricane Sandy hit at the end of October, 2012, the refuge staff at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, N.J., just 26 miles west of Manhattan’s Times Square, thought they were prepared. Winter hadn’t yet fully kicked in, and most of its buildings were equipped with generators that would provide backup power.

But no one expected that the severity of damage to the regional power grid would leave the refuge and general area without electricity for nearly two weeks. With numerous blocked roads and regional fuel shortages, trucks scheduled to deliver propane and diesel fuel were delayed, adding additional stress to an already difficult situation.

“We had to go as far as Pennsylvania to get fuel for the generators,” says refuge manager Bill Koch. “Some local gas stations that had fuel and the power to pump it were rationing at limits insufficient to our needs.”

Hurricane Sandy Damages at Great Swamp NWR

A tree blown down by the storm falls on electrical power lines at the refuge. (Credit: David Sagan/USFWS)

Faced with the likelihood that there will be more frequent, intense storms like Hurricane Sandy in years to come, Koch and his staff have been planning and preparing the refuge for the next big one. Thanks to funding from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, a propane tank at the refuge’s visitor center will be replaced by a permanent natural gas pipeline that will feed furnaces and generators. Solar-powered systems will be installed at headquarters and the visitor center. A gas line and generators will also be installed at the refuge’s dormitory and one of the living quarters. These measures will assure both uninterrupted heat and emergency electricity for headquarters, the dormitory, staff housing and the visitor center.

A rooftop solar array similar to the one pictured here is being designed and installed at the Great Swamp visitor center, which will make its electrical system more resilient to future storms. (Credit: USFWS)

A rooftop solar array similar to the one pictured here is being designed and installed at the Great Swamp visitor center, which will make its electrical system more resilient to future storms. (Credit: USFWS)

The headquarters and visitor center solar-powered systems will be installed on new metal roofs which will be more durable, longer-lasting and recyclable. A small diesel generator will be installed at a heated public restroom, to prevent the recurrence of frozen pipes.

“We are in the planning and design stage of doing everything we can to become more self-sufficient,” says Koch.

To learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects, visit our Hurricane Sandy Recovery page. For more about Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

Tuesday Trek: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey

I’m Tom Barnes; you might know me from TGIF with Tom. And now, I’m bringing you Tuesday Trek! Each Tuesday, I’ll give you some insight about a refuge destination you might enjoy. Planning a winter vacation? Spring break? I might know the perfect spot for your upcoming travels! 


Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Mike Tschappat

With over ten miles of trails to experience, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey is perfect for an extended hike. Or if you’re visiting during the winter, cross-country skiing — after all, you won’t win a gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics by reading the Internet!

Check out more Tuesday Trek features!

And with three wildlife observation blinds and an overlook, you could catch a glimpse of all the wildlife making this refuge their home: great blue herons, wild turkeys, bald eagles, and mink. You could even spot human beings if you bring a friend! These habitats are intensely managed by refuge staff, as some of the wildlife here are endangered, so stick to the foot path when you go hiking at the refuge.

Check out more photos of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge>>