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Park Commission Press Releases

Great Swamp Thwarts Efforts to be A Designated Airport
MORRISTOWN, NJ – Since opening its doors 50 years ago, the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham Township has been a place of preservation and education. The facility of the Morris County Park Commission, comprising 44 acres on the eastern edge of the nearly 8,000-acre Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, has been working diligently to uphold its original mission to protect the land and encourage responsible environmental practices.

And during this milestone year in 2013, the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center is celebrating over half a century of accomplishments, including the big win against the NYNJ Port Authority’s plan to build a 10,000-acre jetport on the land that has since been preserved as a valuable wilderness area.

In 1959 newspapers leaked the news that a plan to replace Morris County communities with a jetport was in the works, resulting in a flurry of resistance. Residents, legislators, and even Congress joined forces to save a quality of life that the Port Authority hoped to pave over. In 1963 the Morris County Park Commission received a grant from Green Acres to open an environmental center—now known as the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center—to offer people a place to enjoy and learn from the natural world that was being threatened. This park facility fueled more enthusiasm to oppose the potential development, and in 1964 the Port Authority suffered defeat when the first portion of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was established as protected land.

The success of the grassroots efforts in the 1960s can still be appreciated today along the 1.4 miles of pristine trails at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center. A variety of plants, animals, and ecosystems are flourishing in the park thanks to the attention that is given to the health of the area. A walk through the park’s hardwood forest, meadows, marsh, swamp, and around the pond will offer views of myriad wildlife and blooms including painted turtles, blue flag iris, red maples, red-winged blackbirds, and mountain laurel.

The Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center is more than just a pretty place, though. The Morris County park, situated between populated towns and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, acts as a buffer for potential environmental threats, such as invasive species and water pollution, that might alter the ecological balance in the park and make its way to the refuge. So the outdoor education center focuses on tackling problems before they escalate and educating the public about why these issues are important.

Water quality is one such issue that needs attention. The water that enters the Great Swamp eventually exits into the Passaic River, a resource that provides over one million people with drinking water. So monitoring the water quality in the park is not only crucial for the health of the environment, but also for the health of the people living within the watershed.

Wetlands, such as a swamp or marsh, act as natural water purifiers by trapping excess nutrients in the runoff from surrounding areas. Pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants that wash over impervious surfaces will either enter the waterways or soak into the ground. If this water passes through the wetlands, much of the harmful substances get absorbed, filtering out cleaner water.

The Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center offers programs for schools, scout groups, and the general public about natural history, water quality, and many other environmental topics. By informing community members of what resides in the park and what areas need special attention people will be better equipped to make positive choices in their lives that affect the preserved wilderness.

Important work is happening every day to keep all the parts functioning in the Great Swamp ecosystem, and after 50 years of service the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center has a lot to celebrate. To honor its rich history and toast to many more successful years, the center will be throwing a party on April 27 for everyone to experience the wonders of the park……

Join the party as we celebrate this wildlife oasis with live animal shows by Eyes of the Wild, live music from Big Jeff, guided tours, myriad educational displays and hands-on activities to engage all ages. See for yourself what lives in the pond depths, make a “birthday card” to add to the Swamp Celebration Quilt, and, of course, have a piece of cake! Visit storytellers, play nature games, and get to know the groups from around the area who continue to work to preserve the Great Swamp. A variety of delicious, healthy food and beverages will be for sale.

Entrance to the event costs $3 per person, ages 2 and older, and supports future programming and exhibits at the Great Swamp OEC. Free parking is provided across the street at the Chatham Presbyterian Church with shuttle busses bringing visitors to the site.

The Morris County Park Commission, the largest park system in the state of New Jersey, currently protects and maintains 18,600 acres at 38 distinct sites and a year-round calendar of events and activities.