Pine Barrens Ramble: Into The Woods

Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3343 aSo what is the Pine Barrens anyway, and why is it barren?

Pine Barrens Harrisville_3340 aThe 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.Pine Barrens Harrisville_3295 aThese 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!Pine Barrens Harrisville_3314 aWe 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!Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3359 aWe 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.Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3426 a

Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3371 a

Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3397 a2At 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.

Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3439 aHere’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.Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3395 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”.Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3382 a

Coming Thursday: The Stars and Stripes Forever

Pine Barrens Ramble: Batsto

Pine Barrens Batsto a_3198Wander deep into the heart of the pine woods of New Jersey, and step back in time.  Here lies Batsto Village, a NJ Historic Site that has been restored to its 19th century glory as a bog iron industrial town. From the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s, bog ore was taken from the banks of rivers and streams, turned into iron, and used to make various household items. After the decline of the iron business, Batsto enjoyed a short heyday as a glass-making town.

Pine Barrens Batsto Ore Boat acs_3184The remains of an ore boat used to transport raw bog iron to the furnace.

Pine Barrens Batsto Sawmill_3232 aA sawmill operated at the site for over 200 years.

Pine Barrens BatstoBlacksmith Wheelwright_3208 aBlacksmiths, wheelwrights and other tradesmen had important roles to fill in the life of the town.

Pine Barrens Batsto Corn Crib_3218 aFarmers raised the grains and animals that fed the village. Above is the corn crib. The piggery, below was used to slaughter and process pigs. The water needed flowed from a tank in the tower to a processing tub.Pine Barrens Batsto Piggery a_3190

Pine Barrens Batsto_3270 aThe Village houses consisted of single and duplex cottages dating to the early 1880s. They housed the village workers and their families.

Batsto CollageAround town (clockwise from top left): Water pump, outhouse, wagon and wheel, tools in the blacksmith shop, a mill stone from the water-powered Gristmill (1828) which ground wheat, corn and other grains.

On our recent visit we enjoyed exploring the various buildings and imagining what life was like back then. Pretty spartan living!

Compared with industrial areas today, it’s hard to believe this little collection of wood and stone buildings was considered a state-of-the-art industrial center back then.

I was particularly taken by the wonderful textures and patterns of the weathered wood. And the very funky shape of the corn crib!

I took a moment to wander down to Batsto Lake, drawn as always by the siren call of water…Pine Barrens Batsto_3230 a

Interested in learning more?

Coming up: Pine Barrens Ramble: Into the Woods