Constitution Marsh

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Constitution Marsh is a 270-acre (110 ha) fresh water and brackish tidal marsh located between Constitution Island and the eastern shores of the Hudson River in Garrison, New York. Together with 80 acres (32 ha) of bordering woodlands, it forms the National Audubon Society's Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Wildlife Sanctuary. Part of Hudson Highlands State Park, it is one of five major tidal marshes along the Hudson River.[1] Constitution Marsh is an Audubon Important Bird Area, and has been listed as a New York State Bird Conservation Area since the early 2000s.[2] It is also recognized by the New York State Department of State as both a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat and a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance.[3]

Constitution Marsh boardwalk winter
Boardwalk through the marsh in winter


A small creek called Indian Brook flows to the Hudson River through the southern end of the sanctuary; the estuarine environment near the mouth of the creek attracts a wide array of fish, crustaceans, and amphibians, among other animals,[4] some of which are otherwise uncommon in the region.[5]

Over 200 species of both migratory and non-migratory birds have been identified in the marsh.[6] It serves as a wintering ground and stop-over point for migrating waterfowl, which gather in numbers as high as 4,000 in the fall.[3] These waterfowl include American black ducks, wood ducks, and mallards.[1] Constitution Marsh is also used by migrating pied-billed grebes, ospreys, northern harriers, and peregrine falcons; at least 2 and as many as 30 bald eagles can be found there in the winter. Autumn concentrations of swallows once peaked at 100,000, but have dwindled since the mid-1990s.[1] Over 50 different bird species are known to breed within the wildlife sanctuary,[7] including the least bittern, worm-eating warbler, Virginia rail, Louisiana waterthrush, northern cardinal, spotted sandpiper, gray catbird, common yellowthroat, marsh wren, eastern phoebe, swamp sparrow, and willow flycatcher, as well as the wood thrush, which breeds in the forest near the swamp.[1][3][8][9] The marsh was included in bird habitat studies in 1986–1987 and again in 2005. The results revealed that the diversity of breeding bird species is steadily decreasing as the red-winged blackbird becomes dominant.[10]

In addition to its value as a bird habitat, it is also an important nursery and spawning area for fish, including striped bass, shad, herring, and mummichog.[1][4] Some 1,000 snapping turtles live in the marsh, and frequently lay their eggs at the nearby Boscobel estate grounds.[11] The area contains invasive species like common reed, purple loosestrife, water caltrop, zebra mussels, and mute swans.[1]


The marsh itself is estimated to be 4,000–5,000 years old.[1] It is crisscrossed by a series of channels dug in the 1830s as part of wild rice farming efforts. The site was purchased by New York State in 1969,[1] and has been managed by the National Audubon Society since 1970.[6]

Constitution Marsh sits adjacent to Foundry Cove, which was heavily polluted by industrial waste from a nickel–cadmium battery manufacturing plant that operated between 1952 and 1979.[12] In total, 115,904 lb (52,573 kg) of cadmium was released into Foundry Cove, making it "the most cadmium polluted site in the world."[13][14] Some of the metal spread to Constitution Marsh in high concentration pockets.[15] Sediment dredging efforts in the early 1970s were largely unsuccessful, and extremely high levels of both nickel and cadmium were later observed in the cove and marsh; as a result, the Environmental Protection Agency listed the area as a Superfund site in 1983. Federal remediation of the site was completed in 1995 after extensive dredging conducted in Foundry Cove.[12] Long-term sediment and water monitoring was prescribed for Constitution Marsh, as it was determined that similar dredging there would have caused disproportionate environmental damage. Additionally, the contaminants would soon be buried beneath clean sediment after the remediation of Foundry Cove.[15] Cadmium levels rapidly decreased throughout the area, and after eight years, levels of particulate and soluble metal pollutants were lower than in the Hudson River at New York City.[16]


Recreational opportunities include hiking trails that lead to a 700 ft (210 m) boardwalk exploring the marsh,[8] and limited paddling access through the network of man-made channels.[17] The current boardwalk replaced a much shorter version in 2001,[18] and was dedicated to James P. Rod, an environmentalist who served as the warden for the sanctuary from 1982 until his death in 1998.[19] The trails and boardwalk offer expansive views of the Hudson Highlands, including Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge, as well as the United States Military Academy across the river.[18]

Panorama of the marsh looking northwest in October 2012
Panorama of the marsh looking northwest in October 2012

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Important Bird Areas: Constitution Marsh Sanctuary". National Audubon Society. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  2. ^ Michael F. Burger and Jillian M. Liner (2005). "Important Bird Areas as a Conservation Tool: Implementation at the State Level" (PDF). General Technical Reports. United States Forest Service (191): 1272–1273. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Constitution Marsh BCA Management Guidance Summary". New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Jon Bowermaster (2010). Oceans: The Threats to Our Seas and what You Can Do to Turn the Tide. PublicAffairs. p. 121. ISBN 1586488309. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  5. ^ "Constitution Marsh is an Important Bird Area". National Audubon Society. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  6. ^ a b John M. Anderson (2010). Wildlife Sanctuaries and the Audubon Society: Places to Hide and Seek. University of Texas Press. p. 108. ISBN 0292783949. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  7. ^ Bayer, Stuart (August 8, 2004). "Constitution Marsh aims to protect bird populations". The Journal News. p. 1. Retrieved February 8, 2017 – via access publication – free to read
  8. ^ a b "Information about the marsh". National Audubon Society. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  9. ^ Bayer, Stuart (August 8, 2004). "Birds of Constitution Marsh". The Journal News. p. 8. Retrieved February 8, 2017 – via access publication – free to read
  10. ^ Alan W. Wells; et al. (2008). "Temporal Changes in the Breeding Bird Community at Four Hudson River Tidal Marshes". Journal of Coastal Research. Coastal Education & Research Foundation (55): 221–235. doi:10.2112/SI55-018.1. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  11. ^ Wayne Hall (May 21, 2016). "A celebration of the snapping turtle". The Times Herald-Record. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Site Information for Marathon Battery Corp". Superfund Information Systems. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  13. ^ Jeffrey Levinton and Josepha Kurdziel. "Foundry Cove and Constitution Marsh: History and Ecology of a Polluted Site and its Restoration". Stony Brook University College of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  14. ^ Trapani, Carol (April 11, 1999). "Cleanup rescued cove from curse of toxic metals". Poughkeepsie Journal. p. 7. Retrieved February 8, 2017 – via access publication – free to read
  15. ^ a b National Research Council (2007). Sediment Dredging at Superfund Megasites: Assessing the Effectiveness. National Academies Press. p. 101. ISBN 0309134102. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  16. ^ Mackie, J. A. (September 2007). "Declining metal levels at Foundry Cove (Hudson River, New York): response to localized dredging of contaminated sediments". Environmental Pollution. Elsevier. 149 (2). doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2007.01.010. PMID 17382440.
  17. ^ "Paddling the Marsh". National Audubon Society. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Cynthia C. Lewis and Thomas J. Lewis (1992). Best Hikes with Children in the Catskills and Hudson River Valley. Mountaineers Books. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0898863228. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  19. ^ Andrew C. Revkin (July 11, 1998). "James P. Rod, 53, a Caretaker Of an Audubon Society Preserve". The New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2017.

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