By REBECCA HERSH
Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation (A5822) renaming the Dismal Swamp and Dismal Swamp Preservation Commission as the “Peter J. Barnes III Wildlife Preserve” and the “Peter J. Barnes III Wildlife Preservation Committee.”
Dismal Swamp, which spans Edison, Metuchen, and South Plainfield, represents one of the last remaining wetland ecosystems in the region.
The late State Senator and Superior Court Judge Peter Barnes III, who passed away at age 64 in February, was a lifelong Edison resident and graduated from John P. Stevens High School. After succeeding his father in the New Jersey General Assembly in 2007, he was elected to State Senate in 2013, and in 2016, was nominated and confirmed to the New Jersey Superior Court.
Before joining the New Jersey General Assembly, served on the Edison Township Council, where he served until 2007, and on the Township’s Planning Board from 2001-03. During his tenure on the council, one of his primary goals was preserving Edison’s open spaces, including forming the Dismal Swamp Preservation Commission to protect the Dismal Swamp, a 660 acre freshwater wetlands, forest uplands, and meadows that is home to over 175 bird species and dozens of other animal species.
The Dismal Swamp Conservation Area (DSCA) is the largest contiguous wetlands in northern Middlesex County and one of the last remaining viable wetland ecosystems in highly urbanized Central New Jersey. Known as the “Everglades of Central New Jersey,” the DSCA is designated “priority wetlands” by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acts as a floodplain for the Bound Brook and its headwaters. Its plant life absorbs excess water and helps to filter out impurities before they empty into the Raritan River Watershed, according to the website.
“Talk about an upgrade in the name of something,” Murphy said before signing the bill at a ceremony at the preserve on Aug. 10.
In the governor’s statement, he added that Barnes “worked to make the lives of others safer, healthier and better. He saw beauty in everything and sought joy and purpose in everything he did. Pete was passionate about the preservation of these wetlands, as they are a place of wonder and beauty, a home to hundreds of species of animals, and a place where people come to reflect and find purpose. This is a wonderful way to honor Pete’s legacy and all of his contributions to New Jersey.
“Serving his community wasn’t for Pete just a deeply held value. It was part of his identity,” the governor said of Barnes. “The existence of this protected land is a perfect example of the legacy Pete has left behind.”
“Sen. Barnes was a champion for the environment,” said Taylor McFarland, acting director of the Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter, in a statement on the Sierra Club website. “The Dismal Swamp is one of the jewels of New Jersey and preserving this habitat was crucial for open space and flooding protections. As you drive around Middlesex County and see open space, clean air and clean water, that is part of Peter’s legacy. He dedicated his life to make New Jersey a better place. Renaming this space after Sen. Barnes is a fitting tribute.”
In a statement, the Barnes family added, “Pete lived a remarkable life dedicated to his community, and one of his greatest accomplishments as a public servant was working to protect this natural treasure for future generations. We can think of no greater tribute in recognition of his public service. Thank you to all who made this possible at the local, county and state levels.”