By Vanessa Camargo
New Jersey is the home of garbage, bumper to bumper routes and toxic waste all over the state. But still there are some good areas of farm and forestland, full of fresh green and wild life. These landscapes were preserved by the campaigns of citizens and a popular taxpayer-funded Green Acres program.
The oldest and first campaign was the struggle to save the Great Swamp. As described in “Saving a Swamp and Other Landmark Campaigns,” the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey planned on turning it into an airport. Neighboring citizens wanted to maintain the peace and quiet of this beauty of a natural world. Neighbors began to organize a campaign to stop the Port Authority from demolishing this natural haven for wildlife. During five years they got the help of over four hundred local organizations in twenty-nine states. They also purchased the main part of land they planned on saving by raising over four million dollars.
This put environmental issues on the map in the years before Earth Day was created in 1970. Stewart L. Udall, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, dedicated the Great Swamp as a national wildlife refuge in 1964. He praised the residents’ campaign for saving a “unique outdoor place” from development. The Great Swamp supporters further raised awareness of the wetlands by holding an event that labeled it as a national wilderness area to make sure that it would stay unharmed. Counties like Morris and Somerset were convinced to go the extra mile by constructing county parks and environmental education centers along the borders.
The spot that the Port Authority claimed needed a new intercontinental airport was conserved as an East Coast rest stop for migratory ducks and geese. The Great Swamp is currently one of the most frequently visited swamplands by birds and birdwatchers. Although the Port Authority’s plan for a new airport fell through, they still managed to serve millions of traveling people by remodeling their major airports in Newark and New York.
A Passaic River historian said that the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a memorial to all of those who devoted their time, hard work, and financial support to achieve a dream come true. Democratic Governor Richard J. Hughes said the campaign was the perfect example of how citizen actions can change the outcome of things. The governor got aboard the mission to save the Great Swamp after many of the Republicans had joined.
The Great Swamp salvation was the start of many other environmental projects. The Great Swamp Committee started a statewide protection movement. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation began helping other eco-friendly protestors protect more cherished areas. Many contributors documented the Great Swamp campaign and retold it in a book. So many citizen action events are recorded badly and therefore not featured in U.S. history books.
When Cam Cavanaugh wrote, in Saving the Great Swamp, about how the United States constantly faces plans that threaten areas for jetports or dams or a mall center, she provided information on how activist groups can successfully appeal to government agencies for help. A good way to bring attention to the cause is to advertise it. Try getting politicians and power brokers involved. Make sure to make a statement in the media to be recognized in a public way. And most importantly, try getting others involved, especially organizations that deal with similar matters.