The Glades Wildlife Refuge & Visitors Guide
Downe Township, NJ
About The Glades Wildlife Refuge
Located along the Delaware Bay in Downe Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey, The Glades Wildlife Refuge is a conservation project of the Natural Lands Trust, a regional land trust based in Media, Pennsylvania. Extending from Raybins Beach, north to Ackley Road, the Refuge consists of three tracts: the Glades proper, Bear Swamp West, and the Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary. All three tracts are managed by Natural Lands Trust as a single system, which to date totals approximately 5,300 acres.
Although predominately characterized as saltmarsh and broad leaf swamp forest, the Glades Wildlife Refuge is rich in ecological diversity. This productive habitat includes a beach on the Delaware Bay, tidal marsh with interlacing creeks and ponds, farm fields, mixed woodlands, and the mature old-growth woodlands of bear swamp. Over 200 species of ferns, clubmosses, conifers, and flowering plants have been found here, including the narrow-leaved crabapple, mistletoe, and pond pine, which are all near the northern limits of their range.
The Glades is a haven for wildlife, providing year-round habitat for many ducks, marsh birds, hawks, bald eagles, and various upland birds as well as fox, deer, otter, and other mammals. The area is also an important wintering place for snow geese and a crucial habitat for migratory shorebirds in the fall and spring. In May of 1991, the Glades Wildlife Refuge was recognized as an official site within the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, an international program working to protect migratory shorebirds.
Downe Township, where the Glades Wildlife Refuge is located, includes three major communities: Dividing Creek, Newport, and Fortescue. Nestled between Nantuxent Creek, Dividing Creek, and the Delaware Bay, the area heavily relies heavily on the estuary's natural resources for its economic stability and cultural heritage. From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, Fortescue was a center of tourism in southern New Jersey. Trains and excursion boats carried tourists from Philadelphia and New York on a regular basis. At one time, the resort area featured the widest beach along the entire Delaware Bay Coast of New Jersey, as well as a boardwalk, hotels, dance pavilions, and a flourishing recreational fishing industry.
Devastating storms in 1950 and 1976 destroyed homes, portions of the boardwalks, marinas, and hotels. The twentieth century construction of bulkheads (and the backwash created by these barriers) had eroded much of the area's sand and beaches. The sport fishing industry remains strong. The area today boasts the largest concentration of charter fishing boats on the New Jersey side of the Bay, and includes restaurants, hotels, marinas, and other services, which are mostly operated on a seasonal basis.
The Russell Farm Trail
The Russel Farm Trail passes through an uneven-aged woodland and a mature forest, leading to the edge of a cast tidal marsh, where an observation tower offers a spectacular view. Bird life on this marsh is diverse at all times of the year. Look for bald eagles, especially in winter, other birds of prey at all seasons, breeding birds in spring and summer, and waterfowl in fall, winter, and spring. Also note the new interpretive plaques from the Park Service's New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail.
Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary
The Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary is a unique, pristine wild area where forests are rich in breeding birds and plant life. Mountain laurel blooms abundantly in late May, providing the visual high-point of the yearly cycle in this flowering forest.
(Open by appointment only)
Fortescue Beach and Raybins Beach
The Fortescue Beach and Raybins Beach are the sites where thousands of migratory shorebirds, traveling on their long journey from South America to the Arctic, stop to refuel each spring. Here, at low tides, one can witness the amazing phenomenon of horseshoe crabs ascending the beaches to lay their eggs, and flocks of shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers, and ruddy turnstones) sweeping down to feed on the masses of freshly laid small dark eggs.
Turkey Point is where, on spring evenings, many migratory and nesting songbirds, including the elusive black rail, can be seen and heard. From August to October fall-blooming wildflowers create a marvelous display. Here, along Johnson's Ditch, is also a renowned spot for crabbing. The Turkey Point Wildlife Area is the perfect spot to observe wildlife and listen to birds calling during mating season. Dawn to dusk is the suggested time for visiting Turkey Point, however the area is always open all year round. There is free admission, and restaurants in the area.
To reach the Turkey Point Wildlife Area, take Route 553 towards Dividing Creek, pass Beaver Dam Bridge and bear right to Turkey Point Road.
(Photo of Bear Swamp Gum Tree by Michael Bradway)