Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

JETPORT WAS PLANNED IN 1950s AT WHAT IS NOW THE GREAT SWAMP NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

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On December 3, 1959, many newspaper readers were stunned to learn that the powerful Port Authority planned to construct the world’s largest airport – a 10,000 acre “jetport” – in the quiet countryside 26 miles west of New York City, in Morris and Somerset counties.

Thus began one of the first environmental confrontations of its time, a small grassroots movement that began in Morris County and grew to historic proportions – a battle that took almost a decade, a President and an Act of Congress to stop.

The jetport story has now been made into a one-hour documentary film, “Saving the Swamp: Battle to Defeat the Jetport,” that will premiere on Dec. 3 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morris County, 57 years to the day of the announcement that the jetport project had been defeated.

“We are honored to have this film premiere in the home county of those who led the battle to stop the jetport and who are responsible for the incredible preservation effort that subsequently created the unique natural marvel we have here in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Director Kathy DeFillippo.

gs66Background
Saving The Great Swamp:  Battle to Defeat the Jetport is an in-depth look at the events, people and politics behind the struggle to preserve a way of life in the communities located near the Great Swamp in Morris and Somerset counties between 1959 and 1968.

The film features interviews with numerous residents, historians, authors and officials connected to the events, and includes such notables as Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, authors Cam Cavanaugh and Jameson Doig, conservationist David Moore, the Fenske family, and many others.

The documentary also features high-end cinematography of the Great Swamp today, and many old photographs and archival materials that bring the story to life.

gs11Award-winning filmmaker Scott Morris and co-producer Larry Fast, who is vice-chair of the Morris County Heritage Commission and a charter member of the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust Fund Board, have been working on Saving The Great Swamp full-time for two years. They were especially inspired by the idea that the jetport struggle serves as a model for environmental action in the face of powerful forces.

Fast is the co-producer, co-writer, lead historian and researcher for the production. Morris is the director and producer. Phyllis Wald-Fast (Larry Fast’s wife) is an associate producer. She also is a board member of the Great Swamp Watershed Association.

Fast explained the origin of the documentary: He said the jetport story is one that he personally watched unfold as he grew up in this region. He recalled reading Cam Cavanaugh’s book chronicling the struggle to save the Great Swamp (1959-1968) and had some initial thoughts of a documentary production back then.

gs44In 2014, Harding Mayor Nick Platt presented a talk about the topic at a Great Swamp Watershed Association dinner, which reignited the concept. Fast knew Scott Morris, also based Morris County, from his PBS documentary work and drew him in to direct the film.  Eighteen months later, after numerous interviews and extensive research, which included use of the Morris County Heritage Commission’s archives, the story is ready for its film premiere.

“Reflecting on what the participants managed to accomplish in the face of prevailing attitudes about “progress” in the 1950s, they not only stopped a jetport and protected a valuable natural resource, but they also invented a new form of grass roots environmentalism which is now universally accepted,” said Fast.

“The national environmental protection laws of the 1970s can trace their roots to this story.  It was set of conditions and people unique to Morris County which allowed the effort to be successful here.”