28 July 2010

A pretty Great Swamp and its watershed

Just a few miles south of Morristown is a bowl-shaped valley called the Great Swamp Watershed.  This fall our junior studio will be working with locals, particularly the Great Swamp Watershed Association, to investigate and envision alternative futures for these landscapes as part of the Regional Design Studio.  Within the context of North Jersey, it looks a little small. 

The unusual shape of the valley, and the severity of the hills surrounding it are important to the history of the valley.  After the Wisconsin glacier it was the site of the Glacial Lake Passaic and it is still easy to pick out on satellite images.  It was also hard to reach so has avoided highways and crossroads of any serious size, adding to its rural character.
Upon closer examination, you can see that the watershed is large enough to include the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  You can see that it also includes most of the Jockey Hollow NPS site.  And, the Passaic makes a complete U-turn to get back to its better-known urban environment.

The watershed includes parts of 10 different towns, which used to be represented on the 10 Towns Committee (and the Jersey Jetport Site Association).  In 2000, the total population  of the 10 towns was under 125,000.  While there have been teardowns, add-ons and new commercial sites, it doesn't seem likely that the 2010 census will show this as an area of significant growth relative to its neighbors.  The one town with the largest land area in the watershed is Harding Township, which has been working to retain its rural feel for decades.
Several of the remaining towns are very small and sit atop the ridges that constrict the valley and help keep it swampy.  The ridgetops have good views and create a special sense of character for the communities.

The location of the watershed places it on or near 2 major commuting highways - I-78 and I-287 - with additional service by NJ Transit.  The small towns with great access to Newark and New York include some prestigious, wealthy bedroom communities.  But, the Great Swamp itself remains a a little bit of a pain to get to, so the area's residents can feel safe in thinking that future development in the valley is less likely than in other parts of New Jersey. 

What is the true Great Swamp watershed like?  And what sort of future does it have?

1 comment:

John Reiser said...

You can see some of that recent development here: http://gis.rowan.edu/projects/luc/map_imperv.html?&x=-74.489021&y=40.710833&z=12&t=Terrain

While the new housing brings relatively low amounts of impervious surface, if the development continues, it will significantly impact the quality of the watershed.