|Entrance to the Visitor Center. Trail heads are scattered throughout the refuge.|
|One of two one-mile-long boardwalks.|
I'm glad it's all grasslands, swamp woods, and marshes today but I didn't appreciate how intense the battle had been to save it until I met two Friends of the Great Swamp volunteers at the Visitors Center. I neglected to get their names but was treated to a first-person account of what it took to keep the land out of the hands of the New York Port Authority. Halfway through their recollections, the gentleman behind the information desk looked over at his wife as she was helping a visitor in the gift shop. "You know, there's a movie about all this. It's better to watch it than listening to us go on and on!" (See Notes.) But he hastened to add that the success of this story was made possible because of the wealth and political influence of certain members of the community. This is no David versus Goliath story, he said, it was Goliath versus Goliath. But I was intrigued and knew there was more to the story. I wrote the name of the documentary down in my sketchbook to watch when I got home.
|Abundant meadowsweet was fragrant and full of pollinators.|
What I needed and wanted at the time was to walk off my stiff body and take in a new (to me) national wildlife refuge. I love the NWR system and want to see and explore as many of these "blue goose" gems as I can. So I set out to do a three mile walk on just a few of the trails available and promised myself a return trip to walk the rest in the fall.
|Another boardwalk. All lead to blinds over wet meadows and marsh.|
From the Visitor Center several trailheads are just a few miles drive or bike away and I was soon at the parking area for the popular boardwalk trails.The air was heavy but also wonderfully saturated with the distinct aroma of acres of Meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia) in full summer bloom. The open glades were loaded with it. I walked both one-mile-long boardwalks through a collage of wet woods, cattail meadows, and broadleaf marsh and loved the thick perfumed air so much that I forgot about the heat. It was intoxicating.
|Song Sparrow plucks supper from the grasses.|
|A Great Blue Heron squawked from somewhere deep inside this Cattail marsh.|
|Blue Dasher, female.|
As I learned later, the story of how the Great Swamp was saved makes for a good case study that highlights what powerful influences can achieve when natural places they value are threatened. But it also revealed how complex the human efforts were to make the area a national wildlife refuge. Stakeholders represented a wide cross-section of local residents and local-to-national organizations. Housewives and farmers played important roles. Over 450 towns and 60 non-profits banded together to save the swamp. Scientists, naturalists, and conservationists from around the state came together to support the effort. And it took a lot of community activism and political savvy. The whole history makes a good case study for one of the earliest efforts in community-based conservation before CBC was even a thing.
|Great Blue Skimmer|
With two miles completed just following the boardwalks, I needed to add another mile so I walked from the parking area down the road to a road bridge and back. All along the road I heard the booming calls of bull frogs until, when I came to open water that came nearly to the edge of the road, the sound was intense. I believe they were alerting to oncoming thunderstorms as air pressure changed and high clouds stacked up overhead. I looked up and down the road, through the thick wet woods, and out across the marshes and remembered what the docent had said, quoting a line from the film. "The Great Marsh may have been saved but it is not safe."
There are innumerable challenges and risks associated with surrounding land use changes as well as changing weather patterns. The oncoming storm could drop many inches of rainfall in a short time, I thought, and I could find myself stranded in the low flooded road before the marsh could absorb it all. Frequent heavy summer deluges have become the norm for Mid-Atlantic and I've already had some very close calls with flash flooding at home - while hiking and behind the wheel. I hurried to get back to the car as the first rolls of thunder shook the ground. As I slipped behind the wheel, drops of rain, fat and loud, crashed on to the car. It was a quick shower, however, yet full of thunder and wind. Better than the roar of jet engines, I said aloud, as I pulled out into a stream of small frogs hopping from one side of the road to the other which were better than a line of baggage carts on tarmac!
Plant List for Great Swamp NWR https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Region_5/NWRS/North_Zone/Great_Swamp_Complex/Great_Swamp/GSWildflower.pdf
Friends of the Great Swamp https://friendsofgreatswamp.org/site/
Great Swamp Watershed Association https://www.greatswamp.org/
"Saving the Great Swamp: Battle Against the Jetport." Available on Amazon Prime https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Great-Swamp-Battle-Jetport/dp/B07K7ZM5F7 )