Situated at the southwest tip of the Cape May Peninsula, the South Cape May Meadows Preserve includes more than 200 acres of critical habitat in the globally renowned birding hot-spot of Cape May, New Jersey. The peninsula acts as a funnel for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. While the land protected here provides foraging and resting habitat for birds before they migrate across the Delaware Bay, the preserve also supports a wide variety of birds and other wildlife year-round.
The nature preserve is replete with dunes, freshwater wetlands, meadows, ponds and a full mile of protected beach. The trail system provides visitors with wildlife viewing opportunities through the preserve’s many habitats, including the undeveloped beach, a rarity on the heavily developed Jersey shoreline. An estimated 90,000 visitors enjoy the preserve’s natural beauty each year.
Established in the 1840s, South Cape May was once a Victorian resort town boasting modest vacation cottages until a storm surge washed much of the town away during the 1950s. Today, remnants of the town lie offshore, scattered on the ocean floor. The few homes that survived were relocated to the nearby communities—The Borough of West Cape May and City of Cape May. Also gone is an open meadow grazed by cattle on the outskirts of the town. The cows were moved to more nutritious pastures shortly after the Conservancy established the preserve, without grazing the area vulnerable to the common and highly invasive marsh reed, Phragmites australis, which quickly overtook the wetland and meadow habitats.
Over the years, the face of the nature preserve has dramatically changed, especially since 2004, when the Conservancy teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to restore freshwater wetland and beach ecosystems. The goal was to return the degraded landscape to a more productive and natural state in order to protect local communities from coastal flooding and benefit wildlife. This ecosystem restoration project entailed:
- Rebuilding and nourishing an eroded beach
- Recreating a stable dune system
- Re-establishing a pathway of flow of fresh water through the wetland
- Restoring diverse native vegetation by controlling invasive plants
- Creating shorebird foraging and resting areas within the wetland, and
- Installing water control structures which allow management of water levels in the wetland to reduce flooding of communities and optimize conditions for wildlife seasonally.