So what is the Pine Barrens anyway, and why is it barren?
The Pine Barrens is a vast area in the southern New Jersey coastal plain, sandy and heavily forested. It was called “barren” by early European settlers, who found that the crops they planted wouldn’t grow there because of the acidic, sandy soil. The area is by no means an ecological desert. Oak and Pitch pine thrives there, including the rare pygmy Pitch Pine, and there are orchids, carnivorous plants and numerous other plant species. Amongst the forest are boggy wetlands, and tea-colored rivers. Here too are blueberry and cranberry growers, ghost towns, and preserved historic villages.
Like Batsto, which I visited with friends not long ago. Our intention had been to take a guided nature walk led by a friend of Don’s, but we arrived to find it had been cancelled. So we went exploring on our own.These are the ruins of the paper mill at Harrisville, one of many ghost towns dotting the Pine Barrens. Most of it is enclosed with chain link fence. While Ned and I were figuring out how to shoot over the fence, Don and Robb found another vantage point. (Wink, wink) There was just one wall left standing – but it was a really cool wall!We then decided to take the trail to Martha’s Furnace ourselves. Why, is anyone’s guess, as you’ll see in a minute. The trail was my first taste of hiking in the Pine Barrens. The sand road wound through a forest of predominantly pitch pine. The soft white sand is known as “sugar sand” for its consistency. I could hear lots of birds, but didn’t have much luck seeing them in the dense trees. And no bears!We did find an Imperial Moth (above) that was so still, the boys mistook it for a leaf. Then they thought it was dead. (It wasn’t.) We also spent some time with a Fowler’s Toad, (below) wearing Toad Army camouflage. I was the one to find both of these creatures; maybe my wildlife spotting skills are improving.
At a couple of points the road ran down to the Oswego River. Definitely my favorite part of the trip. The dark brown water gets its color from tannins from the cedar tress combining with iron in the ground. Looks like you are canoeing in a tea cup!
Martha is another ghost town, this time centering on a bog-iron furnace. Years ago the state surveyed the ruins, and then buried it and fenced it in. So, of course, when we got there, there was nothing to see but a mound of dirt covered with weedy shrubs and trees inside a fence.
Actually, if the scheduled walk had happened, we’d have had a knowledgeable naturalist to show us numerous interesting plants and critters. It was never really about Martha itself.
Here’s Don trying to figure out why we came. Well, the walk was nice.
Even on our own, my first taste of the Pine Barrens whetted my appetite for more. Conservation Piece: In 1978, the Pine Barrens became the country’s first National Reserve, when 1,100,000 acres was designated the New Jersey Pinelands National Preserve. The area comprises most of seven counties, three state forests, and two National Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Reserve was created to protect not only the natural beauty of the area, but its history, folklore, and unique culture. The place continues to be largely rural, and may be the closest New Jersey gets to “wilderness”.
Coming Thursday: The Stars and Stripes Forever