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Places We Protect

Garrett Family Preserve at Cape Island Creek

New Jersey

A wildflower field in full bloom.
Garrett Family Preserve Wildflowers Wildflowers of the Garrett Family Preserve. © Damon Noe/TNC

A haven for migrating birds, raptors, bumblebees and butterflies.

Overview

Description

An ever-changing landscape defines the Garrett Family Preserve, with tides constantly flowing in and out of the salt marshes of Cape Island Creek. The saltwater tidal marsh is a nursery for many fish species, a place where shorebirds can forage and fiddler crabs make their homes. With its expansive native wildflower meadows, successional fields and taller tree lines, the preserve is a haven for migrating songbirds, raptors, and pollinators like bumblebees and monarch butterflies. The seasonal blooms of the wildflower fields provide crucial habitat and food sources for pollinators, as well as excellent photo opportunities for visitors. 

The Nature Conservancy has added many people-friendly amenities including a picnic pavilion, bird blind and artists’ easels, to make the visitor experience enjoyable. Visitors can explore over four miles of flat, sturdy nature trails by foot or by bike. The many picnic tables and benches located throughout the preserve give visitors the opportunity to sit back and soak in the sights and sounds of nature. 

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Leashed dogs only permitted November 1 - March 31

Hours

Open year-round during daylight hours.

Highlights

Birding, Walking, Wildflowers, Biking, Photography, Tidal Marsh Views, Running

Size

180 acres

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Photos from Garrett Family Preserve

Tag your preserve visits on Instagram with #GarrettFamilyPreserve to have your photos featured here!

Green vines covering the top and sides of a wooden arch.
A monarch butterfly pollinating goldenrod.
A diamondback terrapin is walking on the marsh floor.
Bright yellow goldenrod plants are against a blue sky background.
A blue tree swallow is perched on a small branch.
A carpenter bee is resting on the flowers of a common milkweed plant.
A garter snake is sticking its bright red tongue out.
An osprey is flying while holding a fish.
Bright purple New England Aster flowers are surrounded by green leaves.
A great egret is flying above water with a stick in its bill.

Visit

  • What to See

    The Nature Conservancy has planted native shrubs, fruit-bearing tree islands and wildflowers, and maintains the formerly overgrown fields in an early successional state which maximizes the benefits for wildlife, especially native and migratory birds.

    • Check out the tall trees at the fields’ edges—they provide hunting perches for raptors like the red-tailed hawk, cooper's hawk and great horned owl.
    • The yellow-rumped warbler and Eastern meadowlark are just two of the species that make use of the native, berry-producing trees and shrubs, like black cherry, hackberry and flowering dogwood.
    • Bird species such as the American woodcock and American goldfinch use the preserve's fields and meadow habitat for feeding, camouflage, singing and nesting.
    • The salt marsh habitat attracts wading birds and raptors such as osprey and Northern harriers that need a steady diet of fish and other aquatic invertebrates.

    Native pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, rely on the pollinator-friendly flowers and grasses planted here at the preserve.

    • Look for common milkweed, wild bergamot, showy goldenrod, purple coneflower, giant sunflower and mistflower.

    The salt marsh at Cape Island Creek is ever-changing, as water flows in and out during the daily tidal cycles. The frequency and level of tidal flooding divides the salt marsh into three distinct zones each with different plants and animals: high marsh, low marsh, and mudflat.

    • High Marsh: Watch where you step around the marsh—busy fiddler crabs could be underfoot! These active crustaceans scurry from their upland burrows to muddy areas to feed on microorganisms that live on the outside of sand grains.
    • Low Marsh: This habitat is partially flooded with salt water except during low tides, and its protected shallows are a haven for young fish, crabs and shrimp.
    • Mudflat and Tidal Creeks: In the area where the mudflat meets the lowland, ribbed mussels attach to each other and to the base of the grasses. They help to stabilize the marsh and filter water. Shorebirds like sandpipers will gather on the mudflat to probe below its surface for food like worms and small clams.
  • Other Preserve Amenities
    • Welcome kiosk with trail map and preserve history 

    • Over four miles of trails

    • Mobile bird blind with hand railings 

    • Picnic tables and benches along trails 

    • Shaded pavilion with picnic tables 

    • Insect hotel for native pollinators 

    • Three adjustable art easels  

    • Flat, wide walking trails accessible by visitors with strollers or wheelchairs.

  • Peak Times
    • Spring Migration: Mid-May to mid-June marks peak activity for migrating shorebirds and songbirds. Migrating and year-round songbirds are most audible and visible during this time, as they are attracting mates. 

    • Weather depending, May-July is when the 4-acre wildflower field is in bloom.  

    • June, July and August are the best months to catch a glimpse of the osprey chicks. With a scope or binoculars, they are visible from the bird blind. During these months the chicks can be seen being fed, learning to fly, and resting on the perch posts.   

    • Fall Migration: Starting late August-October, fall migration for southbound songbirds and raptors takes place. The second week of October is the peak of raptor migration activity. 

    • Fall Migration: Starting late August-October, monarch butterflies begin their journey south to Mexico. During these months, large groups of monarchs can be seen feeding on and pollinating the goldenrod.  

    • Late August- Mid October is when the goldenrod is in full bloom. The preserve radiates yellow and gold.  

    • Winter months are the best times to see Norther Harriers hunting in the marshes. 

  • Preserve Guidelines

    To minimize disturbance of state protected and endangered species of this nature preserve, please follow these guidelines.

    • Dogs are welcome from November 1st- March 1st and must be leashed and picked up after.
    • Bikers, please yield to pedestrians.
    • Please carry out all garbage with you.
    • Visitors should stay on marked trails. 
    • The flowers are for everyone, please don’t pick them.
    • Horses are not permitted on this preserve. 
An aerial view of the Garrett Family Preserve trails.
Garrett Family Preserve Trails The Garrett Family Preserve offers seven nature trails that bring you through wildflower fields, successional fields and taller tree lines. © TNC

Background

Originally slated for development, The Nature Conservancy acquired the property in 2000, as the preserve offered an unusual opportunity to manage a significant piece of land for migratory songbirds, whose stopover habitat, especially at the southern tip of the peninsula, has been all but wiped out. In 2013, the generosity of the Garrett family ...

Originally slated for development, The Nature Conservancy acquired the property in 2000, as the preserve offered an unusual opportunity to manage a significant piece of land for migratory songbirds, whose stopover habitat, especially at the southern tip of the peninsula, has been all but wiped out. In 2013, the generosity of the Garrett family enabled The Nature Conservancy to further protect Cape Island Creek for future generations by acquiring crucial land, improving and stewarding habitat, performing coastal research and installing enhanced visitor amenities.  

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Pollinator Trail Tour

Our Pollinator Trail, which runs directly through a 4-acre wildflower field, comes bursting to life each spring. Native wildflowers and ecologically important plants like milkweed and goldenrod attract migratory birds and native pollinators, bringing the trail to life with the sounds of bird calls and the buzzing of flying pollinators. 

Virtual Visit Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Garrett Family Preserve with our ambient walking tour.

Nearby Preserves

Need more nature? Visit The Nature Conservancy's other preserves.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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