BlueBerriesinHand

Blueberry bushes in an old cranberry bog in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

You’ll find three signs within 100 feet of the entrance to just about any park in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. A notice about Spotted Lantern Flies, a warning about Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks, and a warning about rattlesnakes. Sometimes a warning about black bears as well. Spotted Lantern Flies are a threat to plants, but not people. Lyme disease, not treated early, can make your life miserable. A rattlesnake bite can kill you. A bear can eat you.

You know the risks, and how to mitigate them. Blueberries for the low price of 100 fly bites.

Apply tick repellant, and check for ticks after your hike. Don’t step on or near a snake. Make noise so the bears know you’re coming and avoid you. Don’t pet bear cubs or snakes.

Or, simply stay out of the Pine Barrens.

Snakes!

What the signs won’t warn you about is Deer flies. I can’t think of a more annoying pest. More annoying than mosquitos. Imagine being surrounded by a cloud of tiny needles that fly down and poke your face, neck, hands, arms, and legs, over and over again. The summer of 2022 was bad. Late spring & early summer was hot, and the flies were grotesquely plentiful. I had to hold my hands up by my face, like a boxer, and continuously swat them away. As my arms swung in front of me, dozens of flies bounced off my hands and arms. It was like fighting a ghost made of hundreds of thumbtacks. My face is tingling just thinking about them.

So I learned about Deer flies and bought a hat with mosquito netting and a long-sleeve shirt treated with pyrethrum.

Potential life-altering, and insanity-inducing threats aside, the Pines are a beautiful and mysterious place worth taking risks and fighting the occasional amorphous cloud of flies.

Cranberry bogs — especially those reclaimed by nature — are a beautiful sight to see, especially near sunset on a day when the air is still, and the water mirrors the sun, sky, and trees. Yes, plenty of flies too.
Bog

Take a quiet winding trail or dirt road around bogs, slow streams, and through groves of pines and oaks. Where will it take you?
Trail

Maybe the trail takes you to an abandoned grove of enormous blueberry bushes, where you can feast like a king until your lips & tongue are indigo, and your eyes and mouth widen with ecstasy, allowing the sun, and visions, and flavors of the blueberry bushes flow into your mind as a glorious memory you can always go back to, to lighten up a dark day.
BlueBerries

Or maybe the trail takes you to a serial killer riding a bear using a rattlesnake for a whip, coming straight for you. Because they’re running from a massive cloud of Deer flies.

Yum or None & Done. Make the choice. Bear the flies to get the berries.

JB Pines

Jamesburg Park Conservation Area, Disjunct Pine Barrens

Jamesburg Park Conservation Area is a rectangular park in Helmetta, East Brunswick, and Spotswood, New Jersey. The part in Helmetta is well-manicured, and family-friendly, with a lake to kayak & a playground for kids. The part in East Brunswick is the gritty, sandy, muddy, get-ready-to-dodge ATVs in the woods part. That’s the part I like. Interestingly, the park is part of a  disjunct region of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, specifically called the Spotswood Disjunct Pine Barrens area. Disjunct means it’s geographically disconnected from the rest of the Pine Barrens. Middlesex county, home of East Brunswick, is New Jersey’s second-most populous county — so it is surprising to imagine any forest that has not been raised and replaced with tracts of beige condominiums & McMansions, let alone something exciting as sandy-soiled pine country.

Pitch Pine Cone

People familiar with the better-known Pine Barrens in south Jersey will recognize many of the same plans and animals in Jamesburg park. Fowler’s Toads, wild blueberry-like plants, wintergreen, oaks, ticks, and of course Pitch Pines.

Sandy Soil

The geology is also similar: sandy soil, pure sand in some places, quartz pebbles, and plenty of bog iron/limonite.

Limonite

The roads in the area have so many pot-holes, it’s like gray Swiss cheese, or maybe the Moon. Single-lane Locust Ave (East Brunswick) has a spacious rock parking lot near a trailhead. Here’s a map of the trails. I parked there and entered the most challenging part of the hike — the Red trail — a sloping trail festooned with ankle-rolling stones, and toe-busting roots.  No obvious pines at this point  — mostly deciduous trees. The Red trail transitions to the Yellow trail, with leads to the White trail. Once on the White Trail, known as the Pitch Pine Loop, it’s clear you’re in the Pine Barrens. The ground becomes golden-white sand, and oak and pine trees are abundant, as are the blueberry-like berries, striped wintergreen, and plentiful mushrooms found in Pine Barrens of Burlington County. In spots the soil transitions from sandy to red/brown soil, quartz and bog iron are abundant, but mica schist and sandstone can also be found in places. The overall hike reminds me of Hartshorne Woods as much as the Pine Barrens. Hartshorne contains 4 major geologic formations (Shrewsbury Member of the Red Bank Formation, Hornerstown Formation, Vincentown Formation, and the sandy, gravely, iron-formation-rich Cohansey Formation shared by the southern Pine Barrens). Jamesburg Park features just one (the sandy Magothy Formation), but it transitions through a few soil types, and Magothy isn’t known for the abundant iron I see in Jamesburg. I wonder if more than one formation is exposed in the area.

A word of caution about the park: there are a lot of ATV and dirt bike riders on the trails. Listen for their motors and get ready to hop off the trail when they approach. If you have a hearing disability, come with a friend who can listen to their engines.

High-tension wires border the park on the southwest side. Also a favorite area for ATVs.

High Tension

On the north-east side of the park there’s some kind of foundation, covered with graffiti eyes:

Eyes in the Woods

Pretty but parasitic plants living off trees in low-nutrition soils:

parasitic

Four YouTube explorers to follow for New Jersey content

I try to get out into the wilderness of New Jersey at least twice a month. Mostly the Pine Barrens, but every county in Jersey has great places to hike, discover and explore.

Here are four inspirational YouTube content creators who specialize in exploring the parks and woodlands of New Jersey:

cherri400

Cherri400 has videos of just about every park or woods in New Jersey. What to learn about a park? Check out her videos. I found her channel while looking for Pine Barrens “blue hole” information. “Blue holes” are sand pits that fill in with water. She posts new videos at least once a week.

Here’s her video Our Search For More Blue Holes in the Pine Barrens.

The Wandering Woodsman

I found the Wandering Woodsman’s channel while looking for Pine Barrens videos. He posts new hiking and camping videos from Pennsylvania and sometimes New Jersey, almost every day. My favorite videos are when he visited the Pine Barrens.

Harrisville ~ Ghost Towns of the Jersey Pine Barrens:

DD Explores

DD’s video about the Hibernia Bat Cave inspired me to explore it myself (my article). Like the Wandering Woodsman, DD explores New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Great videos to inspire your next trip.

Rustic Ventures

Rustic Ventures also specializes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She posts a few times a month, and has some great Pine Barrens videos. Her video about ABANDONED BUNKERS in NJ Pine Barrens inspired plans for a future trip for me. I’m familiar with the bunkers in Middletown, NJ, but not in the Pines.

The Abandoned Hofheimer Grotto in Warren, New Jersey

Long story short: there was a guy named Nathan Hofheimer who had a copper mine in Warren, NJ. When the copper mine gave up all the copper it could, Hofheimer filled it with water and surrounded it with a semi-circular, multi-level structure made from rocks pulled from the mine, creating the impressive and eponymously named, Hofheimer Grotto. More info about the copper mine on Mindat.org.

Grotto Plaque

Grotto

The Grotto is currently the property of Elks Lodge 885. It’s open to the public and can be found at 99 Bardy Rd, Warren, NJ, nestled in the woods on the Elks Lodge property.

Sadly, the Grotto has fallen into disrepair. People throw tires, shopping carts, picnic tables, and every kind of trash you can imagine into the Grotto orifice — masks, vape cartridges, dental floss picks, blue bags filled with canine excrement, beer bottles, pizza boxes, Monster energy drink cans — it’s all in there. On top of the garbage, the Grotto is overgrown with all manner of weeds, including the thick-trunked Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which attract the lousy Spotted Lantern Flies that parasitize them. The water in the Grotto is stagnated and green. It doesn’t smell bad though, which is good.

Regardless of the decay, the Hofheimer Grotto is worth checking out. I climbed its Roman coliseum-like structure and chilled for about 30 minutes. Greeted dog-walkers as they entered the park. It was nice.

South-east of the Grotto, you’ll find the Hofheimer Cemetery. I found the Mausoleum, which was totally desecrated, slathered with spray paint, and had a collapsed roof. I walked the nearby trails and saw some mounds that looked human-body-sized.

Hofheimer Cemetery

So what can be done?

I’ve read that part of the problem is getting power to the Grotto to power lights and a fountain to keep the water from stagnating. Allegedly, Warren Township and the Elks need to cooperate on this, and they can’t agree on a path forward. Maybe, solar to make everyone happy? Then get a team of volunteers from the Lodge, a wood-chipper, chainsaws, and a dumpster, and get rid of the brush. Pump put the water. Fix or put in the fountain. Put in some lights. Rainbow LED fountain lights. Make it safe for families. Fix up the cemetery. I’m willing to help.

Hibernia cave

Hibernia Bat Mine Mine in Hibernia, New Jersey

Nestled in a hillside in Hibernia, New Jersey, you’ll find the Hibernia mine (mindat.org page). In the 18th and 19th centuries, New Jersey was a top location for iron production. In the south there was bacteria-created “bog iron”, and in the north, in places like Hibernia, magnetite, magnetic iron ore, was torn from the bellies of mountains.

Map of The Hibernia Mines

It took me a while to find the mine. The trail, starting at the trailhead at Green Pond Road & Lower Hibernia Road, forks in several places. One path leads to the graffitied ruins of a building, one leads to a pile of mine tailings, one leads to more ruins…

Hibernia  ruins

… and the top of the mountain, and one — the one you want — that heads toward the mine. Starting from the trailhead, I think it’s the second fork on the right; you walk up a hill and when you see what looks like the back of someone’s backyard, take the train on the left. When you get near the cave, you’ll feel the air get colder. There’s a wood platform on the left and on the right the final path to the mine.

As you get closer…

Approaching Hibernia Mine

And closer to the mine entrance, you’ll notice the air coming from the mine is very chilly…

Hibernia Mine entrance

Freezing cold, in fact.
Hibernia Mine a chilly 30 degrees

The mine is sealed off to protect it, and the bats who live there, from vandals and ne’er-do-wells. Though you cannot explore inside, what can be seen from the outside is visually impressive, and the cool air is a refreshing treat on a hot summer day.

Geologically speaking, you’ll find all kinds of interesting rocks in the park surrounding the mine: massive glacial erratics, purple & white “pudding stone”, pink granite, magnetite, biotite, milky quartz, and lots of banded, and some folded, gneiss. Migmatite, maybe?

In terms of hiking and discovery, throughout the park, you’ll find the collapsed entrances to mines, piles of tailing from mines, a cemetery for miners, stone ruins of building used to process ore, massive bear turds, and plenty of beautiful New Jersey nature.

1936 Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Bass River State Forest

There’s a Wildland Firefighter Memorial located along East Greenbush Road in Tuckerton, New Jersey, in Bass River State Forest. In the woods behind the memorial, there are foundations of buildings from a former Civilian Conservation Camp (1933-1942). If you walk the trails and explore the woods, you’ll find foundations, slab floors, chimneys, and other chunks of old buildings.

The Pine Barrens are prone to fires, in part, due to the flammability of pine sap. Sadly, fires occasionally take the lives of the brave fighter fighters who protect the Pine Barrens.

The slab floor of the building:
Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Foundation

A chunk of tile from a bathroom:
Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Tile Floor

A lichen that looks like the outline of a cartoon alien:
Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Lichen that looks like an alien

Other stores about the Pine Barrens:

Atsion Furnace in the Pine Barrens

The thing with Google Maps is… it thinks you’re driving a monster truck. Countless times Google Maps has directed me to take my front-wheel-drive sedan down single-lane mud roads with potholes the size of small vernal ponds.

Think I’m joking? Look at this big chungus:
Huge pothole

Sometimes these navigational mulligans lead to an interesting find, like the Atsion furnace. After backing my feeble vehicular contrivance out of the mud and craters death trap road, I took the next lane over. That turned out to be a dead-end — the “Mullica River Canoe Launch” — there was a small dirt parking lot for kayakers and the cola-colored Mullica river. The water in the Pine Barrens is really cola-colored: pitch black at its deepest parts and translucent brown at its edges. I’ve heard the color comes from tannins from pines and/or the bacteria that create bog iron.

As I turned around I noticed a tall (maybe 15′) stone structure resembling a furnace or kiln. I parked the car and investigated. At the base of the structure were layers of charcoal and a scattering of bog ore. Oyster shells — used as a flux for making iron — were also present. I took some photos and walked the nearby grounds, finding the ruins and foundations of many small buildings, and remnants of the New Jersey Southern Railroad.

Atsion Furnace:
Atsion Furnace

A look inside

Remnants of the New Jersey Southern Railroad:
the New Jersey Southern Railroad

Intrigued, I researched the area and it turned out the structure is called the Atsion furnace. I bought a book on eBay called Atsion: a Town of Four Faces by Sarah W.R. Ewing. According to her book, Atsion has had a long history of industrious investors and entrepreneurs, starting in the 1700s. Atsion has been home to industries as diverse as iron refining, iron casting, charcoal manufacture, lumber cutting, paper milling, ice harvesting, and farming cranberries, blueberries, and other fruits & vegetables. I think the only enduring industry has been farming.

Dilapidated house:
Abandoned house

Kayakers, history buffs, and urban explorers will enjoy this location.

More Pine Barren stories:

The Franklin Parker Preserve and abandoned railroad tracks

Back in July, I was hanging out in the parking lot of the Brenda T Byrne State Park welcome center, waiting for the sun to set so I could get some video of Northern Dusk-Singing cicadas singing. These cicadas, as their name suggests, sing after the sun has set. I located a male cicada perched in a tree close to the ground and was poised to film it singing when I noticed the silhouette of a man appear in the distance manifesting like a ghost out of the haze of twilight. He walked directly toward me. Was he a ghost? Was he a serial killer? Turns out the guy was a trucker who liked to hike and stopped by to get some information about the park. We talked for a while and he gave me some tips about other local parks and trails like the Franklin Parker Preserve. The trucker was intrigued by the abandoned train tracks that ran through much of the Pine Barrens as well. I missed getting a video of the cicada singing, but I got some good tips on new trails, and later I snagged a cicada nymph which I was later able to watch molt.

Chatsworth Lake, across the road from the entrance to The Franklin Parker Preserve:
Chatsworth Lake

The Franklin Parker Preserve, maintained by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, is located in Chatsworth, New Jersey, not far from Hot Diggity Dog and the Brooksbrae Terracotta Brick Factory. Ecologically speaking, it is prime Pine Barrens: sandy soil, with obvious dunes in some places, multitudinous pine trees, blueberry bushes, oaks, and a black-water river. The hiking trails are scenic: winding through forests, over dunes, alongside and over swamps, and the West Branch Wading River. The park is recommended for everything from horseback riding, to fishing, to bird-watching — as a naturalist, and someone who enjoys finding abandoned stuff in the woods, it’s a most excellent place to explore. The cicadas you’ll find in the park are the Pine Barrens cicada (June-early July), the Northern Dusk-Singing cicada (July-August), and the Dog-Day cicada (late July-September).

The quiet, cola-black waters of the West Branch Wading River:
Cola-black water

The abandoned railroad:
Franklin Parker Preserve railroad

I’m sure a lot of folks will ignore the railroad that bisects the park, but like the Trucker, I was intrigued. The main hiking trail crosses the railroad — just a step or two and you’re over it. But, if you follow the tracks northeast, you’ll discover a decaying train bridge made of timber, that crosses the West Branch of Wading River. If you go southwest your path will be blocked by a pine forest. The railroad is the New Jersey Southern Railroad. If you start at Franklin Parker on Google Maps satellite view, you can trace the path of the railroad north to Raritan Bay, and south to Vineland, bisecting the Pine Barrens. You can catch glimpses of it alongside the Brooksbrae Terracotta Brick Factory and in Atsion near the abandoned furnace. Over the years the Pine Barrens has been home to many industries including bog iron harvesting, iron forging, charcoal manufacture, lumber, brick making, glass making, paper mills, ice harvesting, and farming cranberries and blueberries. Trains were needed to transport these goods north to New York and west to Philadelphia (the New Jersey Southern Railroad connecting to the Camden & Atlantic and/or Atlantic City lines). With little manufacturing in the area, starting in the mid-20th century, there’s been little need for a railroad. The forest has reclaimed the land, but the ghost of the railroad remains.

More from the Pine Barrens:

Dot and Brooks Evert Memorial Trail Preserve (New Jersey’s Spookiest Hike)

The Dot and Brooks Evert Memorial Trail Preserve is located in the middle of New Jersey on the north-western edge of the Pine Barrens. It is near Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, the Michael Huber Warbler Preserve, and an entrance to the 53.5-mile Batona trail. The preserve is maintained by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The entrance is along the curiously named Ong’s Hat road; it is easy to miss, especially if someone is tailgating you while you’re trying to find it.

Evert Trail

It is near the ecological border between the Pine Barrens and the divide between inner and outer coastal plains. You won’t find the sandy soil and multitudinous pine trees typical of the Barrens — instead, the Evert Trail Preserve is mostly swamp, streams, and trees growing from small lumps of ground periodically rising above the swamp. This is a unique experience! The trail is constructed from planks of wood seemingly floating on top of the swamp. It’s not for horses, bicycles, or ATVs — I weigh north of 250 pounds at the moment, and there were times I was sure I would sink. Good balance and concentration are necessary. This trail/preserve is best for hikers, naturalists, and birders.

Spoilers! Here is a video of part of the trail:

Along the way you’ll see hundreds if not thousands of different types of swamp-loving fungi and plants like this Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus):
Evert Trail Swamp Loosestrife

And even though it is 50 minutes from Leeds Point, I’m sure the Jersey Devil has been here. It’s the spookiest and most memorable trail in New Jersey.

More stories from the Pine Barrens:

Turtles

Jackson Woods & Thomas Booth

When you think of the Jersey Shore, you probably don’t think of nature preserves, hiking trails, or freshwater ponds, but they do exist. Open a map on your cellphone, and look for green open areas — they’re there, but they’re not always obvious. Across the highway from a skateboard park, in Long Branch, NJ, is Jackson Woods — a multi-acre park made up of a pond, a brook, and winding paths bounded by trees, viny plants, and Phragmites australis. From the road, you wouldn’t expect it to be as large as it is — maybe 100 feet wide — but it is deep, and wedged between a few neighborhoods and an apartment complex.  Even though I had passed it hundreds of times in the past ten years, I didn’t visit the park until 2018. I wish I had visited sooner.

Jackson Woods, as it turns out, is a true “hidden gem” of the Jersey shore. The pond — while it doesn’t seem to have fish, it does have turtles and plenty of dragonflies, which are great subjects for fans of macro photography. Throughout the grounds, you’ll find all sorts of trees, vines, flowers, and even the occasional colorful fungus. Within the woods, there are several winding paths that criss-cross through the park, a bridge that takes you over a brook, and even a pyramid-like structure made of blocks of stone. I visit the park to take photos, and for a quick getaway from the stereotypical loud and drunken aspects of the Jersey Shore. Like any park, it has its imperfections — invasive species like knotweed, occasional graffiti, the odd rubber tire sticking out of the earth, and trash here and there — as do most parks and public spaces.

After my fourth visit to the park,  I met Tom Booth. He saw I had a camera, and asked about the photos I was taking. At the time Tom has the caretaker of the park. In the past, he fought developers who would have turned it into yet another gaudy Jersey Shore condo complex, ensuring the park would remain a peaceful haven for the residents of Long Branch. My conversation with Tom left a lasting impression on me. Tom had chosen to devote his life to something he loved — the park — and made certain it would be preserved for others. Tom was the antithesis of most of the people I meet on the Jersey Shore, most of whom are loud, thoughtless, hateful pigs. Tom was a true mensch.

Dragonfly
Pachydiplax longipennis Dragonfly.
Fungi
Clavulinopsis aurantiocinnabarina Fungus.
The Pyramid
The “Long Branch Pyramid”.

Sadly Tom passed away last year. There is a bench by the pond dedicated to his memory.

Jackson Woods on Google Maps.

Facebook Page @VisitJacksonWoods.

 

Map of Jackson Woods
Map of Jackson Woods. 10 is Jackson Woods. 2 is the skatepark.