By Michele S. Byers
New Jersey may be the nation’s most densely populated state, but how many of its citizens know the Pine Barrens?
The Pine Barrens wilderness includes more than a million acres of pine forests, rivers and streams … with few roads, cars or developments. It’s a place with unique plants and animals, fascinating history and culture, and it sits atop one of New Jersey’s biggest underground freshwater reserves.
It’s also highly accessible, located directly west of the busy Garden State Parkway as it crosses through Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic and Cape May counties.
Introducing people to the Pine Barrens is the mission of Pinelands Adventures, an offshoot of the nonprofit Pinelands Preservation Alliance advocacy group. Now in its fourth season, Pinelands Adventures offers an up close and personal look at the region through paddling trips, hikes and guided tours.
Pinelands Adventures was established after Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, realized that introducing more people to the Pine Barrens would help build public support for the region’s protection.
“Unless people really get to experience something, it remains abstract,” explained Rob Ferber, director of Pinelands Adventures. “Once you paddle down a river or take a hike, you see how special the Pine Barrens are.”
In the hot summer, Pinelands Adventures offers paddling on the Mullica and Batsto rivers. The company owns a fleet of kayaks and canoes for naturalist-guided and self-guided trips.
For those who prefer to explore the Pine Barrens on foot, Pinelands Adventures offers a variety of hikes. One popular hike is the moderate “Journey Between Two Rivers,” hike, just upstream of the confluence of the Batsto and Mullica. More serious hikers might enjoy tackling the famous 52-mile Batona Trail in sections with a guide.
Those interested in historic and cultural landmarks can take a Pinelands Adventures bus trip. Try the John McPhee Tour, based on the places made famous by the New Jersey author’s 1968 book. There’s also a fall cranberry farm tour, and a “ghost towns of the Pine Barrens” tour.
Last year, about 8,000 people joined Pinelands Adventures paddles, hikes and tours. Most came from outside the Pine Barrens, in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
“A lot of people don’t know that this incredible wilderness is here in between New York City and Philadelphia, in the most densely populated state,” Ferber said. “It’s such a unique and special place that the people who come are usually interested in learning more about it.”
Pinelands Adventures also runs “Pinelands Discovery Tours,” which include nature walks along the Mullica River at Goshen Pond, wading in the river with nets to find aquatic life, and learning how to conduct water quality surveys. Many schools, including some from Newark and Camden, offer trips to students. Thanks to grants from the Victoria Foundation and Subaru, Pinelands Adventures can provide the programs to these urban districts at little or no cost.
Want to have fun this summer while learning about the Pine Barrens from those who know it best? Try Pinelands Adventures. For more information, visit www.pinelandsadventures.org. For more information about the Pine Barrens, visit the Pinelands Preservation Alliance website at www.pinelandsalliance.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org