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New Jersey’s Great Swamp: A Lasting Legacy of GCA Zone IV Clubs


May 03, 2023

Garden Club of Morristown and Garden Club of Madison instrumental in establishing wildlife refuge

Sixty years ago, GCA clubs in New Jersey played a valuable role in the preservation of the Great Swamp, an ecological haven only 25 miles west of Manhattan that is a vitally important resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds. Thanks in part to their hard work and determination, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was established by an act of Congress on November 3, 1960, and formally dedicated in 1964. The clubs continue that legacy to this day.

The Great Swamp Committee formed to resist plans by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build a major international jetport in Morris County, New Jersey. Jo Lloyd of the Garden Club of Morristown served as its chairman, and Grace Hand and Helen Fenske of the Garden Club of Madison were founding members. Today, the Helen C. Fenske Visitor Center welcomes visitors to the refuge. 

GCA members were integral to the awareness and fund-raising efforts. Members of the Garden Club of Morristown, Jo Margetts and Anne Pitney co-chaired the Women’s Division of the Jetport Action Association which worked tirelessly to educate the public about the threat posed by the jetport. When the Summit Garden Club and the Short Hills Garden Club co-sponsored a 4-week long nature exhibit in a ninety-foot glass-walled area at Short Hills Mall, 500 volunteers came out to help. 

In less than a year the campaign had raised enough money to purchase the land which was donated to the federal government.

The work of the GCA clubs did not end there. In 1965, Summit Garden Club and the Garden Club of Somerset Hills received a Founders Fund award to build a wildlife observation blind. Five years later GCA members, with the support of local companies, rebuilt the blind after it had been destroyed by fire.

Many of the GCA Zone IV cClubs have also supported the Great Swamp Watershed Association in the years since it was formed in 1981 to help protect the watershed from damage by encroaching development. In 2020 the Garden Club of Madison and GSWA received a $10,000 Founders’ Fund grant “Growing it Green,” to build a school rain garden.

Today, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge receives well over 350,000 visitors a year and the Great Swamp Committee is now the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which has helped preserve 100,000 acres of farm, forest, and urban parks.




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