We had a beautiful Fall day today (along with a power outage for no discernible reason) so I decided to take the kids to check out another one of our County Parks. This time we went to the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center.
The Great Swamp was created approximately 15,000 years ago, when the melting waters of the Wisconsin Glacier poured into the natural basin known as the Passaic Valley. However, the Great Swamp is not entirely swampland but rather a mixture of marshes, meadows, dry woods and brush-covered swamps. It is the intermingling of these four habitats that gives the Great Swamp its unique character, allowing the swamp to support a wide variety of plant and animal life.
As visitors walk along trails and over boardwalks, they can observe plants varying in size from the tiny duckweed to the towering red oak. A multitude of colors emerge, from the yellow marsh marigold to the blue iris.
I used to go to the Great Swamp as a child with my father who has always been a very active bird watcher. This was the first time I had been there in a very long time.
Our first stop was the bird blind overlooking the pond. The bird blind was a wooden wall with various viewing points in it at various heights. I brought along my binoculars and the kids had a great time learning how to use them and checking out some of the wildlife found around the pond.
The view through the bird blind.
After the bird blind we took a walk along one of the nature trails. This particular trail has portions that consist of a boardwalk sitting 3 or 4 feet above marshlands and a portion of the pond. When I was about Vicki’s age, I walked right off the edge of this boardwalk into the water, so I tried to make sure these guys paid attention and didn’t wander too far ahead.
At the portion of the trail in the woods, Georgie had the binoculars glued to his face most of the time. We heard a lot of birds, including a woodpecker, but didn’t see many. The kids were fairly noisy and we probably scared them away.
At the observation deck portion of the boardwalk, we spotted some painted turtles. The kids loved getting a closer look at them with the binoculars.
Originally there were three turtles sitting on this piece of wood but two of them went into the water before I could get a picture. Through the binoculars they looked like painted turtles but this guy looks like he could be a snapping turtle.
Near the end of the trail, we all of a sudden came across an interesting looking structure in the woods, with a ring of tree stump seats next to it. The kids ran right up to check it out.
Turns out it was a replica of a wigwam. From the trail guide - “the wigwam was the typical shelter built by the Lenni Lenape, the Native American tribe that historically lived in this part of New Jersey.”
The kids had fun checking out the wigwam. Georgie wanted to try and start a fire in the pit by rubbing two sticks together and I told him to go for it. He was shocked. “You would let us play in there and start a fire ALL BY OURSELVES?!?!” I did warn him that starting a fire with two sticks wasn’t that easy but if he succeeded to let me know since no, they couldn’t play near fire by themselves.
We checked out the Visitor’s Center while we were there. They had a bunch of interactive informational games the kids played. There were ones telling which animals were endangered or not endangered, identifying dinosaurs, identifying animals and birds of New Jersey, identifying scat and matching animals to their tracks.
There was also a classroom with more fun things to do. George played with some building blocks that were trees, leaves and birds. I actually found the set here. He mostly enjoyed sorting the birds into groups for some game he was playing.
There was a perch set up to try and balance on like a bird. George tried that out a few times and was able to squat down and pretend to sleep while still maintaining his balance. For about 10 seconds.
Vicki’s favorite was a sandbox with animal footprint stamps to use to make images of tracks in the sand. They had raccoons, opossum, mallard duck, Canada geese, deer and a variety of other animals commonly found in NJ.
There was also a small puppet theatre, posters about invasive species, tanks with Madagascar hissing cockroaches and giant millipedes. (I can handle the cockroaches but millipedes give me the creeps.)
All in all, it was a fun and educational day out in the fresh air. And we have another place to add to my list of where we need to go more often. This park does regularly education programs – for homeschoolers, for preschoolers, for school breaks – that we will need to start checking out.