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Situated in the outer coastal plain on the Cape May peninsula and within the richly diverse Cape May Forest, Lizard Tail Swamp Nature Preserve is home to a lush and diverse habitat. The nature preserve protects a globally rare Cape May lowland swamp community located at the headwaters of Bidwell Creek. Bidwell Creek, which flows into the Delaware Bay, provides sediment to surrounding beaches and salt marsh that birds like the red knot depend on for stopover habitat during migration.
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Fed by groundwater, the lowland swamps are replete with a variety of natural communities: pine-oak forest, coastal plain mixed-oak forest and sweet gum and red maple swamp. Lizard Tail Swamp Nature Preserve adjoins the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge thus extending a corridor of forest which provides critical feeding and resting habitat for migrating birds and the primary source of drinking water for people who live in and visit the area.
The Nature Conservancy has developed a trail system on the nature preserve funded through a grant received from the Federal Highway Administration and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The three-mile trail system allows for visitor access while avoiding sensitive ecological areas.
Protecting Land to Protect Clean Water
As the world’s population grows and develops, demand for water has increased rapidly, putting increased pressure on watersheds. The United Nations estimates that in the year 2017, close to 70 percent of the global population will have problems accessing fresh water.
Protecting the wetlands along the spine of the Cape May Peninsula protects both the quantity and quality of drinking water. By preserving the health of land around rivers and lakes, we can effectively keep pollution out of our water.
Continued resort and year-round development is increasing stress on the forests and groundwater that sustain the streams and wetlands of the peninsula. These activities not only endanger the ecological integrity of the peninsula, but also threaten a critical part of the global system of bird migration.
Cape May is especially important in the fall migrations of songbirds and hawks that have only just hatched in the summer. While adult eastern songbirds and hawks migrate further north, along the Kittatinny Ridge and Appalachians, young birds migrate along the coast at places like Cape May, making this area critical to maintaining and even increasing bird populations.
The Cape May Forest Priority Conservation Area
Lizard Tail Swamp Nature Preserve falls within New Jersey's Cape May Forest, identified as a priority for conservation by the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
In early 2007, the Chapter identified high quality land and systems characterized by rich assemblages of plants, animals and natural communities facing multiple immediate and serious threats. Destruction of habitat through residential and commercial development was identified as the top-ranked threat to these natural lands and waters.
The Cape May Forest contains one of the largest unbroken forests remaining on the lower half of the Cape May peninsula. While approximately one-third of the Cape May Forest is protected to some degree through ownership or easement (for example, the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge and the Conservancy’s Indian Trail Swamp, Lizard Tail Swamp, Bennett Bogs and Goshen Ponds nature preserves) homes and businesses continue to sprout along shorelines of the Atlantic and Delaware Bay, and related sprawl works its way inland - threatening natural lands and waters.
Some boundaries of the forest are just yards from busy roads, blacktopped parking lots, housing developments and commercial strips. Strategic land protection in the Cape May Forest can have an amplified effect on protection of this rare, productive and increasingly pressured habitat.
Land protection continues to be a primary strategic tool in our work to conserve the best and most threatened of New Jersey’s lands and waters. As we look ahead, we do so with an ever-increasing understanding of the need to focus our strategic vision on larger natural areas and systems.
The preserve is open to visitors from dawn until dusk. Please note: The preserve is closed from October to the end of January do to hunting.
Middle Township, Cape May County
What to See: Plants and Animals
Lizard Tail Swamp Nature Preserve protects a number of rare species, including the eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). The nature preserve was named for the lizard's tail plant which grows abundantly in the swamp and produces long, tail-like spikes of flowers.