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Great Swamp
National Wildlife Refuge

An image of the Great Swamp Refuge in early fall.
241 Pleasant Plains Road
Basking Ridge, NJ   07920
E-mail: greatswamp@fws.gov
Phone Number: 973-425-1222
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
The Great Swamp Refuge contains approximately 7,500 acres of swamp woodland, hardwood ridges, cattail marsh, grassland, ponds and meandering streams.
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Origin of the Great Swamp

Roughly 25,000 years ago, where the Wisconsin Glacier reached its furthest point south and stopped, the creation of the Great Swamp began. The melting glacier withdrew leaving a barren landscape of sand and gravel strewn in long ridges that blocked the outlet of an ancient river basin. Water, melted from the glacier, flowed into the basin behind this natural dam to form Lake Passaic- a giant lake, 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. Eventually, the retreating glacier uncovered a second outlet at what is now Little Falls Gap, and the lake waters drained out along the Passaic River. The lake disappeared and was eventually replaced by extensive marshes and swamps which would be named Black Meadows, Great Piece Meadows, Lee Meadows, Troy Meadows, Long Meadow, Bog and Vly Meadows, Hatfield Swamp, and Great Swamp.


For a barrel of rum, 15 kettles, 4 pistols, 4 cutlasses plus other goods, and 30 pounds cash, the Delaware Indians in 1708 deeded a 30,000-acre tract, including the Great Swamp, to English investors. Later, settlements dotted the area and during the Revolutionary War local settlers fashioned wagon wheel parts with wood cut from the Great Swamp. By 1844, farms appeared on cleared uplands; farmers drained marshlands; and "foul meadow hay" became a major crop.

Small farming operations such as these became uneconomical and gradually disappeared. Consequently, much of the cleared upland returned to woods and the lower flats reverted to swampland. Various modern uses have been planned for the Great Swamp: flood control in the 1920s; drainage projects in the 1930s; and a major jet airport proposal in 1959. It was the threat of the jetport that enabled the Great Swamp Committee of the North American Wildlife Foundation to muster the aid of a significant number of volunteers. This effort raised more than a million dollars to purchase nearly 3,000 acres, which were donated to the Department of the Interior. These acres formed the nucleus of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Through the years, additional acres have been added to the original tract. In 1966, the Refuge was designated a Registered National Natural landmark. Then in 1968, Congress designated the eastern half of the Refuge as a Wilderness Area.

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