The 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.
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.
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.