The State We're In

Edward Babbott: Conservation Trailblazer

Jan 24, 2019

One visit to a park can inspire a lifelong appreciation for nature. Imagine what longer immersions in nature can do!

Edward F. Babbott imagined this well.

A passionate environmentalist, retired teacher and guidance counselor, Ed strongly believed in the power of nature to inspire young people to love and appreciate plants, animals, air, water and natural lands.

In 1992, in honor of Ed’s 70th birthday, his family established the Babbott Education Fund. This fund is dedicated to helping young people learn about the environment and land conservation through internships and education programs.

Thanks to the Babbott Fund, students from across New Jersey are gaining hands-on experience in everything from working with endangered species on preserved lands to meeting with lawmakers in Trenton on environmental legislation.

Ed passed away on January 15 at the age of 96, but has left a continuing legacy of learning and inspiration.

“One of the persistent challenges in land conservation is attracting people to the field and training them to be tomorrow’s leaders,” explains Laura Szwak, who runs the Babbott Fund.  “There are few college programs that train students in the concepts and process of land acquisition, land stewardship and conservation advocacy. Ed Babbott left a conservation legacy for future conservation leaders.”

Ed was born in Brooklyn in 1922 and taught English before finding his calling as a guidance counselor. He served as director of guidance at Summit and Chatham high schools, and authored numerous articles, essays and handbooks on college and vocational options for high school students. He most recently lived in Basking Ridge.

In the 1960s, Ed joined the grassroots effort to save the Great Swamp in Morris and Somerset counties and prevent its conversion to an international “jetport.” The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was born from those early efforts.

The Great Swamp Committee, one of the groups spearheading the fight against the jetport, eventually became New Jersey Conservation Foundation. Ed joined its board of trustees in 1968 and served on and off – mostly on – for 44 years, becoming the organization’s longest-serving trustee.

Ed will be remembered for his dedication to conservation, extreme friendliness, generosity, natural curiosity about people and nature, and willingness to mentor others.

“I always enjoyed his wisdom and advice, as well as his smile and good humor at board meetings,” recalled former New Jersey Conservation president Keith Reed. “He was truly a great friend and unheralded champion in the world of NJ conservation.”

David Moore, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s executive director for 30 years, described Ed as one of his most influential mentors: “Ed was likely the most dedicated New Jersey Conservation Foundation trustee ever. We are sure going to miss him.”

Ed’s love for the Great Swamp continued throughout his life. At age 93, Ed and his daughter, Margaret “Markie” Babbott, co-authored “Into the Great Swamp,” a book of photography and poetry highlighting the beauty, wildlife and mysteries of the swamp.

I loved working with Ed over the past 35 years. He was a great board member, mentor and friend, and the entire New Jersey Conservation Foundation staff will miss him.

Ed is gone, but his contributions to New Jersey’s environment, quality of life and innumerable students will endure. He wanted memorial donations to go to the Babbott Education Fund, ensuring that more young people will have the opportunity for conservation education beyond the classroom.

For information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at, and to learn how to give to the Babbott Education Fund, contact me at

About the Authors

Tom Gilbert

Co-Executive Director

Alison Mitchell

Co-Executive Director

John S. Watson, Jr.

Co-Executive Director

Michele S. Byers

Executive Director, 1999-2021

View their full bios here.


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