By Word or by Foot To the Pine Barrens

Carolyn Foote Edelmann: Don’t Call Them ‘Barren’:

Bart Jackson: Trekking Along The Batona Trail

Getting There

Pine Barrens Events

Corrections or additions?

These articles were prepared for the May 12, 2004 issue of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

From the Temple of Literati, a Trek into the Heart of the

Pine Barrens

The books are still there, arranged in stacks, but everything else

about the Princeton Public Library is new. If you enter from the main

door and wander through the building, you see that one half – the half

that looks out on Witherspoon Street – ricochets with light and

energy. Light pours in from the huge windows through the glass-walled

staircases. Shaped like the prows of a boat with steel columns for

masts, the staircases float in a space that opens, like an atrium, to

the third floor.

At the opposite end from the entrance, where the windows look out over

Princeton Cemetery, the pace slows. Here are the chairs for

contemplative reading, and even a gas fireplace. On the second floor,

a glassed-in corner conference room is visible from the ground floor

entrance. In that same corner on the third floor, the architects

carved out a glassed-in round room for story time. The windows on that

floor open out onto a terrace with tables and umbrellas overlooking

Witherspoon Street.

In the middle of each floor are the book stacks, and once you are in

them, everything seems to quiet down. The first floor has fiction and

multimedia, and the second floor has nonfiction and biographies. The

third floor is dedicated to children’s books and media, with a special

corner for teens.

Even quieter is the space on the far wall, the wall opposite

Witherspoon Street, where rooms with glass walls are labeled "group

study." Two are on the third floor and four on the second floor. One

can imagine a myriad of uses for these rooms, from children doing

homework to a nonprofit committee meeting to a job interview. The

rules for reserving the rooms are still in flux, says a library

spokesperson, as are the guidelines for using the snazzy-looking

conference room or the J. Seward Johnson Community Room. Both will

require a fee.

Computers for surfing and looking up book locations are sprinkled

everywhere, as are the commissioned art works, including the huge

mosaic wall that incorporates hundreds of Princeton memories on the

first floor, the third floor aerial sculpture of E.B. White’s

trumpeter swan, and an elegant doll house. Princeton Public Library’s

renowned reference department and business reading room each have

their own spaces.

Hillier architect Nicholas Garrison (Princeton University, Class of

1980) designed the three-story, 55,000 square foot building with glass

walls so that it would feel accessible and open. "The old library was

designed to bring daylight from above but to be solid along the

street," he says. "We wanted to invite people in, so that what goes on

inside the library is part of the town’s vitality – a see and be seen

quality. But we created ways to get away from that if you wanted to."

Princeton University is providing the library with a T3 connection for

the 101 public access computers and 150 plug-in ports and

administrative computers. George and Estelle Sands, owners of Hilton

Realty, donated $5 million of the building’s $18 million cost. The

ribbon-cutting ceremony and a street party to celebrate the opening is

scheduled for Saturday, May 15, 9:30 to 5:30 p.m. See page 24 for the

complete list of events.

A first time visitor to the new building, meandering through the first

floor, not looking for anything in particular, might encounter the

sign that says "Quiet Room" and another sign that says "No laptops

please." This room, like the group study carrels, has glass windows

and a door, and armchairs for reading. The object on the far wall can

take one’s breath away. It is a layered hanging, and barely visible

through the layers is a shape. Is it a book? Yes, barely discernible,

the shape could be a book, but with the layers, it all seems very

mysterious, and it seems to say "h..u..s..h..h.."

This hanging turns out to be the work of Princeton’s Margaret Kennard

Johnson (see story page 31). It has yet to get its proper lighting,

but go and see it for yourself. See if you think it represents the

contemplative spirit that permeates the nooks and crannies of a good

library.

— Barbara Fox

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street,

Princeton 08540. Leslie Burger, director. 609-924-9529; fax,

609-924-7937. Home page: www.princetonlibrary.org

Top Of Page
By Word or by Foot To the Pine Barrens

New Jersey readers, voting for the one book to be read throughout the

state in 2004, chose a classic look at an under-appreciated part of

the state by a celebrated native – but just barely. In the One Book

New Jersey (www.onebooknewjersey.org) voting, 23 percent of

participants chose The Pine Barrens by John McPhee. Close contenders

were A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Pay it Forward by Catherine

Ryan Hyde, and Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

The Pine Barrens, one of the first books written by the prolific

Pulitzer Prize winner and Princeton resident, is spawning discussion

groups all over the state in the One Book New Jersey program, an

initiative of the state’s public libraries. In Princeton McPhee

himself will read from his work on May 15 at 11 a.m. at the public

library.

When the book was published, in 1968, it received rave reviews from

publications all across the country. A Newsweek reviewer praised

McPhee’s "fine eye, great ear, and good heart." A Kansas City Star

reviewer wrote that the book "tells how this geographic anomaly has

come to be, describes its people and their distinctive folklore, and

captures something of the dreamlike quality of this incredibly quiet

land in the midst of the noisy clutter of mechanical civilization."

The Pine Barrens was the third book written by McPhee, a Princeton

native. Born in 1931, he is a graduate of Princeton University and of

Cambridge University. It would be hard to find a more appropriate

writer for a state-wide read. McPhee teaches writing at Princeton

University, and has lived in Princeton for most of his life. His first

book, A Sense of Where You Are, written in 1965, was a portrait of

Princeton basketball phenomenon – and later U.S. Senator – Bill

Bradley.

The author of some 30 books, McPhee received the Pulitzer Prize for

Annals of the Former World, an ambitious four-part work on the

geological history of North America. He began the work while writing

for the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965.

An essayist with the ability to make everything from oranges to levees

to bark canoes endlessly fascinating, McPhee also excels at creating

portraits of people going their own way in a homogeneous society. In

The Pine Barrens, he blends observations of unique people and a unique

landscape. His work has helped to draw untold numbers of state

residents into the back roads that lead to the heart of a wild

treasure in the heart of the country’s most densely populated state.

Here – from the opening pages of The Pine Barrens – is how McPhee

describes the metes and bounds of this vast state treasure:

"The picture of New Jersey that most people hold in their minds is so

different from this one that, considered beside it, the Pine Barrens,

as they are called, become as incongruous as they are beautiful. West

and north of the Pine Barrens is New Jersey’s central transportation

corridor, where traffic of freight and people is more concentrated

than it is anywhere else in the world. The corridor is one great

compression of industrial shapes, industrial sounds, industrial air,

and thousands and thousands of houses webbing over the spaces between

the factories. Railroads and magnificent highways traverse this

crowded scene, and by 1985 New Jersey hopes to have added so many

additional high-speed roads that the present New Jersey Turnpike will

be quite closely neighbored by the equivalent of at least six other

turnpikes, all going in the same direction.

"In and around the New Jersey corridor, towns indistinguishably abut

one another. Of the great unbroken city that will one day reach at

least from Boston to Richmond, this section is already built. New

Jersey has nearly a thousand people per square mile – the greatest

population density of any state in the Union. In parts of northern New

Jersey, there are as many as forty thousand people per square mile. In

the central area of the Pine Barrens – the forest land that is still

so undeveloped that it can be called wilderness – there are only

fifteen people per square mile. This area, which includes about six

hundred and fifty thousand acres, is nearly as large as Yosemite

National Park. It is almost identical in size with Grand Canyon

National Park, and it is much larger than Sequoia National Park, Great

Smoky Mountains National Park, or, for that matter, most of the

national parks in the United States. The people who live in the Pine

Barrens are concentrated mainly in small forest towns, so the region’s

uninhabited sections are quite large-twenty thousand acres here,

thirty thousand acres there-and in one section of well over a hundred

thousand acres there are only twenty-one people. The Pine Barrens are

so close to New York that on a very clear night a bright light in the

pines would be visible from the Empire State Building. A line ruled on

a map from Boston to Richmond goes straight through the middle of the

Pine Barrens. The halfway point between Boston and Richmond – the

geographical epicenter of the developing megalopolis – is in the

northern part of the woods, about twenty miles from Bear Swamp Hill."

Two writers who have fallen under the spell of the Pine Barrens are

Carolyn Foote Edelman and Bart Jackson. In the articles that follow

they provide accounts of Pine Barrens pastimes – complete with

detailed driving directions.

Top Of Page
Carolyn Foote Edelmann: Don’t Call Them ‘Barren’:

The Pinelands have never been barren to me. Like so many readers, I

met "The Barrens" with John McPhee’s excellent book as guide. I

thrilled to his quirky characters; yearned for mysterious sandy

reaches; shuddered at the prospect of a proposed jetport. A lengthy

Smithsonian article, with vivid fall photographs, fueled my passion

for "The Pines". But every single treatise on this region was awash in

warnings about (1.) getting lost; (2.) being trapped in sugar sand;

and (3.) meeting the Jersey Devil. Over too many decades, I would

instead take myself to wild reaches of Cornwall, or Brittany’s

Finistere before setting foot[e] in the Pines.

In the decades since McPhee’s Pine Barrens first saw print, the

jetport has been canceled. Piney rumor has it that the author played

Princeton tennis with then-Governor Brendan Byrne, raising government

awareness of the Pinelands’ uniqueness.

This region, whose boundaries are ever in dispute (political?

emotional? geographical? traditional? – all of the above) was named an

International Biosphere Reserve in 1983. The designation means that

the Pinelands is of global importance. Unfortunately, this honor

arrives bearing no legislative clout. McMansions and mega schools now

worm their way into woodlands.

Astronauts are said to identify our Pine Barrens from outer space.

Beneath its unspoiled stretches percolates the Kirkwood-Cohansey

Aquifer – 17 trillion gallons of unmatched purity. In whaling days,

captains put in at Tuckerton – the Colonies’ third-most-important port

in the 1700s – for barrels of Barrens’ water. The deep red water’s

tannins negated spoilage on three-year voyages. Equally vital were

scurvy-preventing wild cranberries from nearby bogs.

Fears of becoming lost in the Pines evaporated once I became a birder.

This, the fastest growing sport in America – $2.4 billion was New

Jersey 2002 take from birders – "took me by the scruff of the neck"

sometime in the 1990s. Our state possesses any number of meccas for

the bird-obsessed. Two prime sites are in the Pines. They are Cape May

and Brigantine/Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Off Route 9, near Smithville, the Refuge shimmers all too close, on

non-fog days, to "the topless towers" of Atlantic City across Absecon

Bay. Even so, the Refuge’s eight-mile dike road beckons among bays and

impoundments, magnetizing in all seasons. Even in winter it is

possible to sit stunned in the car as mute swans taller than the

driver stretch and crane on the sand road outside, and a zingy great

blue heron arrows past marsh weeds to become invisible in a ditch. In

order to get to the Brig – which sometimes harbors snowy owls, catlike

on the ground; secretive king and yellow rails; and elusive American

bittern – I had to learn Pine roads.

These stretches have much to teach, not the least of which is that it

doesn’t matter if I get lost. Most important is that the journey is,

indeed, the destination. Getting to know these unique stretches of

Atlantic, Burlington, Ocean, Cape May, Camden, and Cumberland Counties

will bring nearby riches beyond wildest imagination. The Brig, for

example, is a mere 75 miles from my US1/Alexander Road apartment. "The

road not taken" is never more alluring than in this region formerly

termed "Barren."

That name was, obviously, appended by farmers, who despaired at all

that sand, with its strange pH and swift absorption of rainfall. It

took Lenni Lenapes to capitalize on cranberries, and the Whites of

Whitesbog, especially daughter Elizabeth, to render the Pines the

Cranberry Capital of the world. Elizabeth then partnered with

scientists and Pineys to create the blueberry industry. Most of this

crop throughout America now fruits from cultivars that she developed

from wild ones on all sides, each bush proffering fruit of a different

size, shape, color, texture, and taste.

How do you get to "The Pines"? How do you glean its treasures in any

season, discover new levels of mystery and solitude among gleaming

pines, sturdy little blackjack oaks, occasional groves of radiant

laurel? How to drive empty stretches of macadam (even on major

holidays!) framed by scintillations of sugar sand? Come with me.

Take Route 1 South to Route 295 South. Get off at the

Bordentown/Burlington exit, taking Route 130 at Bordentown. After

about a block, turn right/east on Route 545 (Farnsworth Avenue); and

right/south onto Route 206. After the Route 70 Circle, bear/turn left

at sign for Tabernacle. At the four-way stop (Russo’s Market ahead on

right), turn left/east onto Route 532. At Chatsworth, turn right/south

onto Route 563. Stop at Buzby’s General Store

(thepinebarrens.com/buzby_house.asp) for some refreshment in an

historic setting, and then follow Route 563 South to the turn for New

Gretna. Turn right onto Route 9/Garden State Parkway (for a stretch,

no toll) to the Smithville exit. You will have been in The Pines since

the Tabernacle turn-off.

If you’re pressed for time – and try not to be – you can catch a quick

fix with a hike around the Carranza Memorial in Tabernacle. Go

straight across Route 532 at Russo’s and keep going until you find the

pale stone tribute to a Lindbergh-era goodwill pilot who perished in a

Pinelands thunder-tempest. Trails thread in many directions and a

campground awaits. Under the boughs of Wharton Forest pines (yes, the

industrialist for whom Pennsylvania’s renowned business school is

named), you will hear nothing but the whisper of distant winds, and

the twitters of unseen birds.

In Chatsworth, current heart of the cranberry industry, nestled among

shimmering bogs, Buzby’s General Store presides. This is Pine Barrens

"Information Central," past and present. Proprietress R. Marilyn

Schmidt saved the crossroads emporium from oblivion, purchasing it at

a tax sale. She chose a Pinelands builder for the sensitive

restoration. Their efforts have just been rewarded in the form of

designation on both the New Jersey and the national Register of

Historic Places.

Marilyn is a human dynamo with an elfin sense of humor. Beware her

answer, should you ask where to find the Jersey Devil. She does sell

his footprints, by the way. Her Morris-clone totem cat, Punkin,

actually runs this roost. People come from all over, newspaper and

magazine articles in hand, to meet the feline celebrity.

Media from as far as London have sung the praises of this site. Here

you can collect anything from hewn oak furniture of earlier days to

hand-wrought bird decoys; from strong watercolors of Pinelands

creatures to Jersey Devil cranberry hot sauce. Everything in the shop

is Pine-linked, and Marilyn has stories to go with every piece. She is

the artist behind vital oils on various walls, precise drawings in her

information-rich books, as well as the essential – and only –

Pinelands map.

Buy this no matter what, before setting out! You won’t have to worry

about becoming lost in the Pines. Anything you wonder about, such as

what Pineys think of certain cranberry barons and assorted authors and

politicians, you might just discover from the muse of Buzby’s. Music

of the Sugar Sand Ramblers or Pine Barons may be playing – and is for

sale. Marilyn can even direct you to Albert Hall, where you can hear

the locals live.

Never go to the Pines with a deadline. Too many intriguing roads lead

off in all directions. If you’re rushing, you’ll miss signs near New

Gretna to Bass River State Park, with its exquisite Lake Absegami. In

summer, lifeguards preside over cordoned swim areas. I trek around a

corner to dabble and bask in teak-dark water. Silken, electrifying –

immersion here or in Whitesbog’s back reaches or in tiny Lake Oswego

off off Route 563 – is like sinking luxuriously into champagne. You’ll

never touch chlorine again after an afternoon’s soak in

Absegami-water.

The lake is forest-fringed as in topmost Maine. Trail walks in

springtime yield a sense of magical solitude, Livingston-courage, and

determination as you bushwhack through assorted blueberry bushes. Be

sure you’re long-sleeved, long-panted, well hatted, and supplied with

water and strong bug repellent in season. More pleasurable winged

companions than ticks great and small could be the towhees and

grosbeaks murmuring on all sides.

The Pinelands is legendary for exceptional wildflowers. At Easter

time, you can discover spikes of exceeding rare golden club erupting

below the compact dam. Demi-lune beaches beckon for a short rest or a

lazy picnic. Hefty cabins with generous woodstoves are tucked under

the evergreens at various points. These can be reserved – but only

well in advance – at Absegami’s headquarters building, near the entry

toll booth.

Do not limit yourself to wheels and feet, however, for Pinelands

explorations. Exit your vehicle at any kayak and canoe rental,

especially Bel Haven (www.belhavencanoe.com) near the restored village

of Batsto. You will be ferried either to the luxurious and expansive

Mullica or the secretive and sinuous Wading River. The kayak is my

vessel of choice. Canoeing, of course, goes back to Lenni Lenapes,

whose land this was, although they were nomadic, for centuries before

Europeans came, saw, and conquered.

You’ll be dropped off for two,three, or even eight-hour journeys.

Rivers, unlike our D&R Canal, have currents so delightful that

kayaking is like a Disney ride. All you have to do is steer, and

occasionally back yourself out of tinkly gravelly ripples. You’ll

maneuver among old bridge abutments and under downed pines. Waders and

fisherpersons wave from dappled banks. You’ll be picked up too soon,

refreshed as never before. I have traveled to a good many of the

world’s prime recreation spots, learning that no outdoor pleasure

anywhere exceeds a day on Pinelands rivers.

Now you’ve seen a handful of my favorite sites. If you require

highways, you could catch the Garden State Parkway back where it melds

with Route 9, at New Gretna. Note Chestnut Neck Bridge – where

Revolutionary soldiers and townsfolk were bayoneted and burned in the

days of West Jersey. Piney spirit waxed, not waned, from that battle

onward. Locals intensified their harassing, appropriating, and

scuttling of British vessels, and their sabotage of the Kings’ men at

every turn. Crossroads taverns were hotbeds of Revolutionary fervor

and information.

The water skills of these natives and their indomitable valor served

George Washington well at Valley Forge and at the battles of Trenton

and Princeton. Historians insist we would not have our free country,

had locals not smuggled those cannonballs and wagon wheels forged at

Atsion and Batsto, from "Iron in the Pines."

Top Of Page
Bart Jackson: Trekking Along The Batona Trail

Thank heavens for those soft pink blazes on the shaggy barked pitched

pine. Windswept isles of tawny fallen needles part before me enticing

me on. Trails stray in from all sides. Perhaps they’re old abandoned

iron roads, used for hauling chunks of dark hematite ore to

17th-century iron forges. Perhaps they’re highways for white-tailed

deer, or merely carvings by wind across this open forest floor.

Garden Staters call these pinelands the Barrens.

When the Prohibition boys came down this way in 1919, they took axes

to over 500 wineries – and that’s just the ones they could reach;

where their wheels did not get mired in the soft, sugar-white sand.

Grapes, which crave dry feet and a high water table, loved this porous

sand. So did the cranberries and blueberries. Those tough flora

venturing out into this glacially formed sand plateau either withered

quickly or absolutely flourished.

My wife, Lorraine, and I had selected the short trail segment from the

Caranza Memorial north to Apple Pie Hill. One of our favorite walks

along the Batona Trail’s 50 miles, it takes us through one of the most

scenic and varied pieces of the Pine Barrens landscape. And, amazingly

rare, it boasts a high viewpoint. After parking our car in the lot

behind the Caranza Memorial, verdantly set in Wharton State Forest,

about seven miles southeast of the village of Tabernacle, we located

the trailhead nearby.

Famed flyer Emilio Caranza, in attempting a goodwill flight from New

York to Mexico City in 1928, crashed onto this remote swatch of sand.

Thousands of Mexican school children donated pennies in order to erect

the monument. And every year an astonishingly ebullient festival

blossoms – then vanishes back into the land – to memorialize his loss.

Shortly past the wide sandy swell of the nearby Batona Campsite, the

forest closed hard around us, pushing our steps tightly on the edge of

the Skit Branch, a creek that feeds the Batsto River. At this point,

the Skit ambles as a sluggish swamp weaving around a phalanx of tall,

grey cedar pikes impaling the horizon. A hairy woodpecker hammers

vainly at one of these dead cedars, and is noisily answered by the

issue of a romantic frog, seeking mates with a moan like a knife

prying open a rusty tin can. Fragile skimmer bugs trace broad meanders

on the Skit’s glassy surface, riding just above the lurking cedar

knees, which always surprised my canoe when I was young.

Evidence of beaver gnawings have become increasingly prevalent in the

Barrens this past decade, and dams now proliferate on many creeks. But

today, as chickadees and red wings chorused in the thickets, Lorraine

spied a beaver dragging a fresh hewn birch toward his lodge. By the

time the camera shutter had clicked he was gone, and we continued

northward along the Batona’s pink blazes.

The concept of the Batona Trail sprung in 1960 from the imagination of

veteran hiker Dale Knapschaefer. By early 1961, members of

Philadelphia’s Batona (short for Back-To-Nature) Hiking Club had

readily adopted his idea and were hard at work with the State Forest

Service charting locations, gaining easements, and clearing pathways.

Today the Batona’s 50 miles runs from Route 72 at Ong’s Hat south,

then east, to Lake Absegmi in Bass River State Forest.

Eager to maintain the maximum wilderness feel, planners placed most of

its mileage within protected parks and forests. It cuts by two

accessible fire towers, several swimmable lakes, the scenic Batsto

River, and the intriguing living history of the restored iron-forging

village of Batsto. It is maintained jointly by the Batona Hiking Club

and the State Parks Service. Those interested in trail maintenance can

get more information at www.batona.com.

A mile upstream from the open Skit Branch, the sky fades under a full,

dark cedar swamp. Barrel-thick, indomitable cedars rise arrow straight

from the black waters, their bark swirling in perfect spirals. Their

scent is awesome. Beneath these masters of the grove peep swaths of

fiddlehead ferns and small yearning birches stretching from the grassy

hummocks. Well-watered vegetation thrives in primordial display.

In my own youthful logic, it always made sense that it was these huge

trees that stained the Batsto and Wading rivers’ sweet cedar water to

a deep brunette hue. They were so prevalent as I paddled by, while the

limonite and hematite, the real elements responsible for south

Jersey’s "tea-water," lay buried beneath my view. But they were not

lost on the early Jersey colonists who, as early as the 1670s,

gathered the ore and refined it in furnaces fueled by the hot-burning

pitch pine. Throughout Colonial times and into the early 19th century,

Pinelands forges such as the Batsto Iron Works supplied most of our

young nation’s iron.

Though some parts can get a bit muddy and some of the sand pathways

can engulf the feet up to the ankle, almost all of the Batona is easy

sneaker walking. You can hike it with the same swift pace you would

give the Millstone Towpath. But you will not want to. There are too

many interesting twists through too many styles of life-choked forest.

Pitch pines hem the trail tightly just beyond the cedar grove, so

dense they almost become oppressive. Thus this forest’s passage takes

on the tenor of a Manhattan alfresco cafe. Scores of pines move past

your vision, each with the story of its own striving writ on its own

writhed limbs. Much of the scaly bark shows black – residue of the

frequent forest fires, which serve only to help proliferate the pitch

pine by loosening its heat-sensitive cones.

Toward Apple Pie Hill the forest broadens and a see-through forest

opens to shades of kelly and logan green. The sun lightens heathery

white slashes of flowers amid the pine needle and sand floor. Oaks, as

tough and springy as the pines, range from low scrub to high trees

draped in catkins. They call them blackjack oak, perhaps because of

the shape of the leaf, or the sheer tenacity demanded by those that

survive these environs.

Beckoned by the lure of this open forest, Lorraine and I opt for one

of the broader unmarked pathways that wander west, toward the Batsto’s

headwaters. Swiftly, we begin wading the numerous small creeks that

cut the open sand forest. Water is never but a few feet below this

fast-draining Pine Barrens soil.

In 1876, entrepreneur Joseph Wharton began buying up lands over the

huge Pinelands aquifer. His plan was simple and fabulous: quench the

thirsts of both Philadelphia and New York with conduits from these

pristine, iron-dark waters. Everyone got excited about the idea,

including the New Jersey State Legislature, which nixed the plan by

formally announcing: "New Jersey is not a keg to be tapped at both

ends." Wharton retired to his Batsto village, where he endured as

gentleman farmer until his death in l909.

Since then, and on up through my childhood, the Wharton Tract just

continued quietly, home to a few "Pineys" and playground to those few

campers and paddlers who knew of it. By the mid ’60s, as my family

launched our paddling trips down the tea-colored meanders of the

Wading and Batsto rivers, I began to notice that the label "Wharton

State Forest" took on some meaning. Nature centers and formal camping

areas had been established. At Batsto, the stagecoach we’d clamber on

for imaginary soirees had been put in the barn and a nature center had

been erected. Folks labored to restore the huge house and the old

buildings.

But the land with all its furtive byways and history has been

preserved. A triumph.

At last our compass directs us back to those pink blazes and we walk

north up towards Apple Pie Hill. Now please understand, the term

"hill" in south Jersey is a very, very relative term. My wife, a

native of Boulder, Colorado, still scoffs. But when one makes a rapid

ascent to Apple Pie’s less than dizzying 205 feet of elevation, the

results are astounding. The view is explained by the fact that if the

eastern sea level were to rise 100 feet, here would be one of only

four hills still standing above water in southern New Jersey.

Climbing the metal frame fire tower above the tree line one obtains a

vista of over 100 miles. On a clear day, the Atlantic can be spied on

the horizon. Oceans of dark pines marred only by slender river cuts

sprawl into the mist. So much in our populated state is still green.

The gulls call from above while finches dart on branches beneath. This

fire tower was erected in l950, when human habitation in the pinelands

was at an all time ebb. One of a series of manned towers and fire

trenchings, it was all part of a program to prevent the common

seasonal pinelands fires from engulfing this entire wilderness. Today,

controlled burning and airplane surveillance have retired it.

Slowly, Lorraine and I descend the hill and decide to retrace our

steps only somewhat. Selecting an intriguing side path and taking a

careful compass reading, we are soon totally lost. Wandering by an

abandoned cranberry bog, a couple of old charcoal pits, and countless

landmarks that we swear we remember, we finally return to the Batona

blazes.

As we enter the Batona Campground, just before the Caranza memorial,

we hear a native fisherman telling some Boy Scouts of what treasures

can be pulled out of the pines. He tells them of his youth in this

untrod area, of finding Lenape arrowheads, and of an almost-sure

sighting of the Jersey Devil. The boys listen entranced. It’s nice to

know that a setting still exists somewhere where youngsters stand

wide-eyed before the tales of a sage.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Getting There

Most good New Jersey road maps indicate the Batona Trail and where it

crosses local roads. Starting at Ong’s Hat on Route 72, the trail

slices 32 miles south through Lebanon and Wharton state forests, where

it then swings east, ending at Bass River State Forest’s Lake

Absegami.

From the north, Routes 72, 70, 563, 532, Caranza Road (Route 648),

Route 542 (Batsto), and Route 679 – along with a host of local roads –

all provide excellent access points. While the trail is always level

and the walking comparatively easy, the interest and landscape varies

enormously. Some parts between Lebanon State Forest and Wharton State

Forest have recently been uglified by gobbling developers. Many follow

rivers, including the north of Batsto, and cedar swamps, which run

from Batsto east to Evan Bridge.

Maps can be obtained free at the Lebanon, Atsion, or Batsto ranger

centers, or by mail from the State Park Service, CN04, Trenton 08625.

A full book of events and adjacent historical sites is available from

the Pinelands Commission, Box 7, New Lisbon 08064.

Camping is only at designated sites; permits are available from any of

the ranger stations for $8 per person per night, and the stations stay

open late, until dark on weekends to issue permits.

Caranza to Apple Pie Hill: The short, four-mile hike depicted here,

takes only two leisurely hours each way and involves only about an

hour’s drive from your seat at Thomas Sweet’s on Nassau Street. Take

206 South straight through the Route 70 traffic circle. One mile below

the circle, veer left off 206 onto small road with a sign for

"Tabernacle" and "Caranza Memorial." Go 3.5 miles into Tabernacle,

then proceed straight on Route 648 (Caranza Road) for 6.7 miles later

to the Caranza Memorial, which has parking behind it. The trail begins

100 yards down the roadway. To make the trip one way, spot a second

car at the trail crossing at Route 532, three-quarters of a mile

beyond Apple Pie Hill.

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Pine Barrens Events

John McPhee, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street,

609-924-9529. John McPhee, author of "The Pine Barrens," is featured

guest at the day-long celebration of the Grand Opening of the new

Princeton Public Library. Day features activities for all ages,

including author readings, music, dance, tours, demonstrations and

more. John McPhee, Princeton author of "The Pine Barrens," the One

Book New Jersey selection, is featured guest at 11 a.m. Free.

Saturday, May 15, 11 a.m.

Howard and Doris Boyd, Buzby’s General Store, 3959 Route 563,

Chatsworth, 609-894-4415. Author of "A Field Guide to the Pine Barrens

of New Jersey," Howard Boyd has a booksigning. His wife, Doris,

displays her photography, paintings, and weavings. Both close to 90,

they recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Their passion

is nature, the outdoors, and conservation of the Pine Barrens. Free.

Sunday, May 16, 2 to 4 p.m.

The Pine Barrens, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street,

609-924-9529. Film screening of "The Pine Barrens: Up Close and

Natural," a documentary by the Pine Barrens Preservation Alliance. The

program, which focuses on this year’s One Book New Jersey selection,

"The Pine Barrens," by Princeton native John McPhee, will contrast the

state of the Pine Barrens, then and now. Free. Monday, May 24, 7:30

p.m.

Jim Murphy and the Pine Barons, Princeton Public Library, 65

Witherspoon Street, 609-924-9529. A musical look at New Jersey’s Pine

Barrens. Part of the library’s "Unquiet Fridays" series. Free. Friday,

July 23, 7:30 p.m.


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