Because so many people experience New Jersey only when they are flying into Newark and passing through to New York or Philadelphia, the Garden State has a reputation for being anything but scenic. The turnpike, with its industrial sites, warehouses, and oil refineries have made our little state the butt of jokes for years. You know the ones: "What exit?," "Yo, Joisey" (which is the way people from New Yawk pronounce it, not us), "Do you all own guns there like the Sopranos? Hahaha," and finally, "New Jersey, the armpit of the nation."
But the joke, as we Jersey residents know, is on them. The turnpike and the Sopranos’ view of New Jersey is a smoke screen, keeping the treasures of our state a secret to those who don’t venture off the beaten path, leaving the historic sites, rolling hills, farms, valleys, streams, cultural attractions, and the nearly 130 miles of beaches to those of us who will take the time to wander.
Beaches, attractions and historical sites? Barbara Hudgins has very likely seen them all in the course of writing "New Jersey Day Trips" (Rutgers University Press, 2004) through its newly revised 10th edition. Hudgins and her co-author, Patrick Sarver, will sign copies of and talk about their book at Barnes & Noble MarketFair on Thursday, July 21.
Hudgins is passionate about the attractions and gifts that New Jersey has to share. But this expert on the Garden State was not always a Jersey girl. Born in Brooklyn, she spent her formative years on the other side of the Hudson River. Her mother was a teacher, and her father began his career as a journalist, who then segued into the public sector for the city of New York. Hudgins earned a reference library degree from Pratt, then worked for the New York Public Library and Hunter College Library.
She married and lived variously in Hawaii, North Carolina, and Virginia with her husband and two children, but when her (now ex) husband got a job with Allied Chemical, the family moved to New Jersey.
Always interested in writing, Hudgins took a part-time job writing ads, brochures, and press materials for a real estate company while her children were in school. "Because I was a librarian, they asked me to research and do a little portfolio-type brochure on things to do in New Jersey to give out to prospective buyers," she says. Like the good librarian that she was, Hudgins went to her local library to begin her research. "There were only two books there, and neither of them was very good. One was called ‘Away We Go,’ an annotated directory that just took PR materials from the attractions." When she started traveling to some of the locations to make her own assessments, she says: "They weren’t what I thought they would be based on what they said in the book. Duke Gardens said something about miniature gardens under glass, and I thought they would be little tiny gardens under glass. When I got there, I said: They’re green houses!?"
The real estate company never went through with the portfolio idea, but Hudgins realized that she was on to something. Living in Chatham at the time, Hudgins pitched an idea to her local paper, the Chatham Press (which is no longer in business), and soon she was writing "Trips & Treks," a regular column with ideas for day trips in New Jersey.
‘I had an idea in the back of my mind to write the book because the other books I had read didn’t give the right feeling for the places. They didn’t tell you if it was right for kids or anything like that," Hudgins says. After writing the column for several years, Hudgins self-published "Trips & Treks," based on her columns, in the mid-1980s. After hawking the book to local bookstores, she signed a contract with a regional distributor. "He got a good cut of it but I didn’t have to drive from bookstore to bookstore anymore," she says.
After the second printing of the book, Hudgins changed the title to "New Jersey Day Trips," when she was advised that the original title might be a bit too obscure. The book sold well and, after nine editions, Hudgins grew tired of doing all the updates herself. "It was a popular book, but it was getting too much for me; things change all the time," she says. "The hours and prices always change, and there are places that just disappear. And keeping up with all the outlets? It’s a lot of work. I wanted a co-author. I found Patrick Sarver, who was an editor at New Jersey Monthly Magazine."
Sarver, Hudgins says, added a lot to the book. "I was never good at directions, and Patrick cleared them up a bit. And he does a lot of hiking, so there’s more of that – nature centers and camping – in the book too."
Categories in the new edition include flea markets and outlets, museums, historic homes, and places where Washington slept, ate, and fought, as well as the more standard shore points and theme parks, water parks, and amusement parks.
Hudgins, who now lives in Basking Ridge, names Princeton among her favorite New Jersey day trips, and in fact Princeton is the first destination described in the book. She likes Bainbridge House in Princeton, where, she says: "the Princeton Historical Society does a very nice job; they give out self-guided walking tour maps, and they give their own walking tours. And they are open a set time; most historical societies have a few hours here or there. I really appreciate a place that’s open when they say they’ll be open."
Hudgins also has raves for Princeton University’s Orange Key Tours, which leave from the Frist Campus Center on Washington Road. "Every time I’ve done it, the kids who run it do an excellent job. They know the history, they point out architecture." Sometimes, Hudgins notes, there are prospective students on the tour who want to know more about what it’s like to go to Princeton but the tour guides always seem to strike a balance between giving would-be students and curious generalists a taste of the life, history, and fun facts about the university.
Another favorite of Hudgins is Tuckerton Seaport, "a restored seaport village 15 miles south of Long Beach Island, where bay men and duck hunters made a living a long time ago. It’s someplace you could take the kids, and it’s a great stop on the way to the shore."
Other trips highlighted in the book include the Walt Whitman House in Camden, where the poet lived the last eight years of his life; Mohican Outdoor Center in Warren County, where courses are offered in rock climbing, wilderness first aid, Native American lore, bird watching, and astronomy; and the Dover Flea Market, a rope-off-the-streets variety flea market with crafts, collectibles, and antiques.
If you decide to head out for a day trip, Hudgins has a few tips to make your trip easier and more enjoyable.
Call first. No matter how thorough a guidebook may be, places can close unexpectedly, and hours and prices are subject to change. Better to be safe, she says.
Think ahead and save. "I’m very budget conscious," says Hudgins. "And I like a lot for my money." She recommends joining a local museum or getting season tickets to your local theater or state park. "With the state parks, $50 gets you a year-long admission. If you’re going to Long Beach Island or Spruce Run you’d have that all year round. If you go in a few times at $7 each, it all adds up."
Bring more money. Hudgins says to watch out for those unexpected extras like parking fees, sales tax and, if you’ve got the kids along, souvenirs. "Always bring more than you think you’ll need," she cautions.
Have fun. "New Jersey has so much going for it," Hudgins says. "From family attractions to historical sites, nature parks and museums, New Jersey has something to offer everyone." So the next time somebody makes a New Jersey joke, you’ll have plenty of ammunition to fire back. No gun necessary.
New Jersey Day Trips, with Barbara Hudgins and Patrick Sarver, Thursday, July 21, 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble MarketFair, West Windsor. 609-716-1570.