When you picture The Great Swamp and Newark Liberty Airport, you’d never imagine that the two have an interesting albeit unlikely connection.
Newark Airport wasn’t originally planned for Newark/Elizabeth NJ. in 1959 the Port Authority planned to build it in central New Jersey. In a swamp located in Morris County. They planned to filling and level the area, since swamps, at the time, were viewed as wasted space and not treasured for their biodiversity, flood control, and water purification abilities. Spoiler alert, it didn’t happen. The locals opposed the plan won and the Great Swamp was created in Basking Ridge and was one of the first of the National Wildlife Refuges in the nation.
The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge started life as the Wisconsin Glacier receded and created Glacial Lake Passaic over 15,000 years ago. Bounded and constrained by the Watchung Mountains and Basking Ridge, a glacial deposit, the lake sprung a leak and the Passaic River was born and the basin became The Great Swamp.
The swamp has over 11.5 miles of trails and 7,800+ acres and covers a variety of habitats not just swamp. It is a stop over for spring and fall bird migrations making a great place to bird, home to beavers, muskrats, foxes, raccoons, and bears to name a few and many turtles, snakes, frogs and other reptiles and amphibians. There is a whiteboard with a sightings list where people can post what they saw, at a few of the main trail heads.
Best times to visit depend on what you want to see. Birding is best at dawn and dusk. Animals are mostly active at that time as well. Reptiles and amphibians need the sun’s warmth, so midday can be the best time to see them. Dragonflies are legion and their aerial acrobatics are fascinating. Every season has its own beauty from the quiet stillness of winter, the dawn chorus of spring, the lightshow of fireflies in midsummer and the riot of reds, oranges and yellows of autumn.
Speaking of bugs, there are mosquitoes, ticks, and no see ‘ems. Take proper care and dress appropriately and bring your favorite bug spray.