Chatham And The Great Swamp

Dated: November 3 2013

Views: 11973

Refuge. In northern New Jersey, the idea comes to us in traffic. With kids screaming. Maybe without knowing it, we're looking for some open space to get out of the house, enjoy peace, quiet.

The Great Swamp National Wildlife and Refuge offers more than eight miles of hiking trails through 7,600 acres of swampland. Pack a pair of binoculars. The Great Swamp is home to ducks, blue-spotted salamander, wood turtles, chorus frogs, woods frogs, snowy egrets, great egrets, and great blue herons.  
While most of us vaguely remember field trips in elementary school to the swamp, in adult life, exploring one of New Jersey's national wildlife refuges is a tranquil experience.   With access hubs in Chatham, Berkeley Heights and New Vernon, the 12-square-mile park is only about 25 miles from New York City. Ambitious urban-bound outdoor enthusiasts can take NJ Transit to Morristown line  and get off in Chatham. It's about 2.5 miles from Railroad Plaza to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education center. Call for Chatham Taxi for cab service at (973) 615-6804.
What to know before you go:
Pets are not permitted.
The refuge is open dawn till dusk, year-round.
Spring through early fall brings deer ticks. Protect yourself by wearing loose, long-sleeves and pants with a hat.
Bug spray recommended. Bring binoculars for bird-watching.
Where you can get binoculars:
REI, East Hanover
How to access: Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center 247 South Boulevard Chatham Township, NJ (973) 635-6629 
From the Morris County Outdoor Eduction Center, you can hike a 1.4 mile round-trip out-and-back on the White Trail. To access the northern section of the refuge, take Southern Boulevard to Green Village Road, to Meyersville Road, or on to Woodland Miller Road access two sets of hiking trails.  
The west side of the park can be accessed via Route 202 to Maple Ave in Basking Ridge. Hit the Somerset County Environmental Center on Lord Stirling Road before heading into the refuge's interior. 
For more information:
The Friends of the Great Swamp, a non-profit organization, tracks the migration of various birds and offers guided sunset tours. (Read: better date than a bar, cheaper dinner if you pack a picnic).  Helen C. Fenske Visitor Center, 32 Pleasant Plains Rd, Harding Township, NJ. 973-425-9510.

The New Jersey Audubon Society will also have information about the kinds of birds that travel through the Swamp and tips on how to spot them. New Jersey Audubon Society Headquarters, 9 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville, New Jersey 07924, (908) 204-8998.
Hiking the Great Swamp in the press:
Backpacker magazine:  search destinations then hikes/419399
Hike New Jersey: go to hikes nj then nwr
The Examiner: search the national wildlife refuge

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