55 Years Ago Today: A Victory For Birds

Misty Morning at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)
Misty Morning at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

November 3, 2015:

Fifty-five years ago today an Act of Congress preserved this place in Morris County, New Jersey for wildlife.  It was a victory for the land, water, birds, mammals, plants and everything living in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

What good is a swamp?

In 1959 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey thought the Great Swamp would be the perfect place for a huge new airport to serve metro New York.  After all, swamps are useless until they’re drained and filled and cease to be swamps … right?  The residents disagreed.

Can an individual make a difference?

You bet!  The swamp would have become an airport, but four women stood up and said no.  Residents Kafi Benz, Joan Kelly, Esty Weiss, and Betty White found out about a December 3, 1959 meeting, not open to the public, that was intended to promote the airport’s construction.  They went to the meeting and got thrown out of it.  The newspapers picked up the story, opposition to the airport mobilized, and within a year supporters of the Great Swamp had bought enough land to make it a National Wildlife Refuge.  Morris County would have been blindsided if four women hadn’t made the news.

Today the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a 7,768-acre patch of undeveloped land in a sea of suburbs.  Half the land is a Wilderness Area, a quiet haven for wildlife.  Though it’s only 26 miles west of New York’s Times Square it’s a great place to find birds, especially during waterfowl migration when ducks and geese stop by to rest and refuel.  244 species have been tallied at Great Swamp NWR.

Thanks to the hard work of dedicated people 55 years ago, this land is wild today.  It was a victory on so many fronts, and in retrospect a victory for birds.


p.s. See the comment, here, describing Dorothy Whitehead’s efforts.

(photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

3 thoughts on “55 Years Ago Today: A Victory For Birds

  1. Sewickley Heights Park is an example of this . The land was to be bought to build a ‘Super School” in the early seventies. But some residents did not want the school and the traffic in that neighborhood, so they bought the land and donated it to the Borough as a park. Doug Cunzolo

  2. Dorothy Whitehead was instrumental in instigating resistance to the airport. She chaired meetings, met with influential members of congress and society, and invested much time in the effort to defeat the Port Authority. She was motivated to keep the area as natural as possible. Fittingly, in her later years in New Vernon she lived on the outskirts of the Great Swamp. Lou Whitehead

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