Did the Environmental Movement Start in the Swamps of Jersey?

Great Swamp

Great Swamp signThe Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge at one time had been designated by the Port Athority of New York and New Jersey as the preferred site for a fourth New York City area airport. The swamp is in Morris County, New Jersey, about 25 miles west of Manhattan. It was the late 50’s when the PA put forward its plan and at the time there wasn’t a great deal of understanding about the importance of this natural oasis to the surrounding ecosystem.

Residents in and around the site fought for nearly a decade to stop the airport plan. They saved the swamp by raising more than $1 million dollars which they used to purchase nearly 3,000 acres of the land. It was then donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services which designated it as a national wildlife refuge. The issue was finally put to bed in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson signed a bill designating the Great Swamp National Wildlife Wilderness.

River through Great Swamp

I learned the story of the Great Swamp by watching the documentary Saving the Great Swamp. The film, produced by Scott Morris Productions, has had some screenings at film festivals and is expected to be available on DVD and online soon. The movie interviews some of the descendants of the local residents who successfully fought off the airport plan.

While I would recommend this documentary, I did have to hold my nose as they interviewed U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. While his father Peter Frelinghuysen did work to preserve the swamp, Rodney, who apparently inherited the seat, is a GOP congressman who strictly votes party line. He stands with the climate change deniers and the folks who would like to eliminate all environmental controls, thus opening the land for the frackers, the strip miners and the drillers.


View from inside a blind in the wildlife observation area.

The Great Swamp Committee, which was formed in 1960 to fight off the Port Authority plan and to educate the public on the importance of the swamp, was an organization that was ahead of its time. Most date the start of the modern environmental movement to the late 60’s or early 70’s. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wasn’t created until 1970, the same year that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was founded. By then we were finally starting to notice that it was getting a little harder to breathe in some of our cities and that the byproduct of American industry was being dumped into and despoiling our waterways and the very water we were drinking.

The Great Swamp Committee itself later expanded its focus and became the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The group has worked to preserve many other natural lands throughout the state, has been an advocate for environmental legislation and has counseled and mentored other local environamental organizations.

River through Great Swamp

Passaic River

Sign on bench


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6 Responses to Did the Environmental Movement Start in the Swamps of Jersey?

  1. Donna Janke says:

    Interesting story. The Great Swamp Committee was ahead of its time.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I grew up in Morris County and used to love going to the Great Swamp! It’s in a really picturesque area of the state, also a very wealthy part, and I’m sure the rich folks in the area were not happy about an airport anywhere near their country estates!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. BroadBlogs says:

    Donald Trump said he’d drain the swamp but he’s been filling it instead. The New Jersey swamp committee needs to cast a broader net and drain that swampy Trump administration.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. mithriluna says:

    Great post Ken! The pictures are beautiful. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Victor Laszlo says:


    No history of the region can be complete without being aware of the resident/environmentalist Marcellus Hartley Dodge Sr. Not exactly what one would consider a Leftwing tree hugger (the families that took up residences in the area, the old money families were almost all Republicans, as were many of those who built their ‘cottages’ up in Newport and the Gold Coast of Long Island). Marcellus would undoubtedly be considered the main force behind the movement to stop the airport project.

    Please don’t limit and handicap your research (and your thinking) by the oft repeated fallacy that Republicans don’t care for the environment. Quite the contrary. Teddy Roosevelt was one of the pioneers of the movement creating the park system and protected lands and Richard Nixon, yes, that Richard Nixon created the EPA. Please try not to be biased. Certainly there are Republicans who have disrespected the environment, just as there are Democrats. Don’t see the world through the distorted funhouse prism of party politics. Goodness knows there’s far too much of that around all ready. Be open minded.

    I hate to come across nice websites and pages like your own, on topics ranging from cooking to nature, only to have the author make political jibes or rants. A joke is one thing but to whine, well, it’s best served with cheese and among friends.

    Cheers from Tokyo
    (My family lived in Green Village and Harding for many years)


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