Lightning bugs making a comeback in Gloucester County

Firefly Festival slated for late July at Tall Pines State Preserve in Sewell

As a child, the glow of countless fireflies swirling beneath a darkening summer sky was magic.

Most can recall standing amid the yellow, green glow with a firefly — or lightning bug — scurrying to the tip of a finger before watching it take flight.

While many enjoyed fireflies in youth, attention for the insects may have dwindled over the years, and at the same time so has the population of these harmless glowing wonders.

Development and light pollution are believed to be the leading causes of the decrease in firefly population.

However, there are about 2,000 species of fireflies with more than 100 in North America and there are still areas locally where people can observe these creatures in abundance.

On Saturday, July 21, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., locals can visit Tall Pines State Preserve in Sewell for Gloucester County’s first Firefly Festival. The event is sponsored by the Gloucester County Nature Club.

“[Fireflies] are disappearing in people’s neighborhoods. We want people to learn something about them and further their appreciation for the insects,” said Kris Mollenhauer, a member of the Gloucester County Nature Club who serves in an education outreach position.

This idea gained its wings last year after Mollenhauer and group members visited a similar festival held annually at Duke Farms in Hillsborough Township.

More than an hour’s drive away, Mollenhauer and others decided Gloucester County needed its own festival and entered into a conversation with Tall Pines State Preserve. The reserve is known for its hills, meadows and the presence of Mantua Creek — all attractive aspects to fireflies.

While this festival is meant partially to allow people to enjoy the sight of the insects, it is also meant for educational purposes.

Visitors will follow a self-guided, three-quarter mile loop. Along the trail will be educational stations including information about the lifecycles, specie variations and conservation information.

Designed to entertain all ages, youth activities are planned for the festival. Children will be able to sift through pools of wood chips in search of life-stage models and painting sessions will take place. Participants will paint with LED lights attached to their fingers as a photographer takes long exposure shots to capture light trails that mimic the movement patterns of fireflies.

“We are interested in getting kids outside and connected with nature. People don’t go out at night and get a chance to see these fireflies,” Mollenhauer said.

She added, “It is for everybody. Every person can take something away from this.”

The Gloucester County Nature Club hopes to make this an annual event at Tall Pines, an area with a rich history.

This 110-acre property was a golf course from the 1950s until 2006 and owned, for a time, by Ron Jaworski, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback for 10 seasons.

For a brief period, the location was slotted for a 123-home development until the housing market went south in 2007. A combined effort from state and local entities ensured the location as a state preserve in 2015 after years of deliberation and some legal battling.

Fireflies are well known pest deterrents and that is another reason why Mollenhauer and the club urge people to be more “firefly friendly.”

“Because of the development that has happened, there is a lot less open land, less habitat. Fireflies need shrubs and tall grass,” she said, adding that dedicating parts of residential lawns as firefly friendly areas could help keep fireflies in the summer sky.

The festival is sponsored by The Gloucester County Nature Club in partnership with The Friends of Tall Pine Preserve and the environmental commissions of Mantua, Wenonah, Pitman and Washington Township.

Festival attendance is free and the club requests people pre-register by sending an email to Fireflyfest@gcnatureclub.org.