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The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge protects 7800 acres of wetlands and forested areas that are an important migratory rest stop and habitat for over 200 species of birds and other wildlife.
Great Swamp was once the Glacial Lake Passaic formed by the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier at the end of the last Ice Age. Today, the watershed feeds the Passaic River and serves to ease floodwaters and provides water purification for the surrounding water supply.
A good place to begin your visit to the refuge is the Helen C Fenske Visitor Center. Fenske was a community activist who campaigned to stop the Port Authority of NY/NJ from building an airport in the wetlands in the 1960s. There are some displays in the center documenting how grass-roots organizations bought up parcels of lands and donated them to the federal government for inclusion in a refuge.
The Visitor Center has a garden viewing area where you can watch birds come to the regularly stocked feeders. The refuge was participating in the Great Backyard Birdcount the day I visited and had a ranger presentation on the types of birds to be found locally.
From the Visitor Center, I drove the park road to the Overlook, which is a parking area overlooking a swampy area where I’d imagine there are lots of birds during the right season. I could hear some in the distance, but there were none to be seen.
I continued around the park’s dirt road until I came to the Wildlife Observation Center.
This side of the refuge has a mile or two of boardwalk trails through the marsh to three different observation blinds.
These are sheds with slots cut out for viewing scopes. In one of the blinds, a birder with a powerful spotting scope found a yellow eyed duck, but it was too far for me to capture a good image with my camera.
Location: 32 Pleasant Plains Rd, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
Designation: National Wildlife Refuge
Date designated or established: May 1966
Date of my visit: 2/16/2019