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Get Your Swamp On!

Explore the Bounty of Natural Riches at the Environmental Education Center

Remember those days as a child when you would fling open the door and join your friends in backyards and wooded areas, just exploring, spotting wildlife and creating adventures—until the streetlights came on, heralding dinnertime? 

Your family can recreate those cherished memories at the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in Basking Ridge. The EEC is part of lands that were the historic home to Paleo-Indians, the Lenni-Lenape and Lord Stirling, a Major General of the Continental Army, that border the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which was once part of a glacial lake 10,000 years ago. It consists of 550 acres of preserved natural space, including nine-and-a-half miles of trails awaiting discoverers of all ages. Four-and-a-half miles of those trails are boardwalks that allow you to investigate the wildlife and plants in the wetlands. 

The EEC, which serves as a trustee to preserve and maintain these undeveloped lands, was at the cutting-edge of sustainability when it opened almost 50 years ago: It was the first building in the country to have solar panels; it also had geothermal heat. “We are dedicated to stimulating awareness and understanding of the natural world in order to foster a sense of responsibility for its care and use through environmental, cultural and recreational learning experiences,” says Carrie Springer, Environmental Science Department manager. “We want people to care and appreciate the environment around them. So many people do not know what is in their own backyard.”

There is a variety of habitats to explore in the acres surrounding the EEC: field, forest, river, streams, marsh and swamp. On April 24, the EEC will host Swamp Search, a self-guided opportunity for people to explore the trail. The event is free, with no pre-registration required. “It is set up like a scavenger hunt. Participants get a clue book to figure out where to find experts from groups like Friends of the Great Swamp, Somerset County Master Gardeners and our own park naturalists,” Springer says. “When people reach the stations, they can talk about a variety of topics such as ecology, birds, plants and insects. Some stations will include live animals, including a bird from the Raptor Trust and educational animals and insects from the Environmental Educational Center.”

The trails and building are open daily for exploration. “When you walk the trails, you really can begin to appreciate how the wetland systems benefit us,” says Somerset County Commissioner Paul Drake. “These systems provide incredible flood control and habitats for species, some endangered. Bring your binoculars, birdwatch, gently turn over logs and look for critters, salamanders and snakes and all the great animals that call the Great Swamp home.”

At the EEC, visitors can explore “The Great Swamp Experience” interactive exhibit, crawl through a beaver lodge or browse the touchable pieces. The calendar is filled with year-round programs for children and adults. Its instructional classes in canoeing and kayaking—from mid-April to the end of October—are especially popular. After taking the instructional class, people can sign up for various river, pond or canal trips guided by a naturalist. 

“Spring in the swamp is a very fun, wet time,” Springer says. “There’s a lot of splashing in puddles, a lot of mud. Bring your boots.”

Find out more about the Environmental Education Center and other Somerset County parks at somersetcountyparks.org.

  • Blue-Winged Warbler
  • Crocus
  • Swamp Search scavengers