Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This environmental group started in a swamp

Back in 1959, the Port Authority announced plans to create a new regional airport to serve northern New Jersey, southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania.

It chose a large, flat, wetland area in then rural northern Somerset and southern Morris counties where little political opposition was anticipated.

How wrong they were.

A small group of housewives and other residents began to pull together an opposition movement. Having the good fortune of attracting well heeled backers like Geraldine R. Dodge, they also started buying up properties in the Great Swamp area.

By 1960, they had 1,000 acres. By 1964, they had more than 3,000, which met federal requirements to create a wildlife refuge. On May 29, 1964, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge became the first federally designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi.

Since the 1960s, the little Great Swamp Committee morphed into the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and went on to claim big wins in other conservation causes, most notably in the South Jersey Pinelands and Northwest Jersey Highlands.

Now celebrating its 50th year, the NJCF says it has preserved 100,000 acres of farm and forest, urban and suburban parks.

Mark Di Ionno tells the Foundation's story in The Great Swamp, which appeared in the Star-Ledger's monthly magazine Inside New Jersey.

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