Monday, June 30, 2008
The people who live in the pine barrens say there is something to the legend of some creatures not natural.Some say shrieks not made by any known animal are often heard deep in the woods.Others say they have seen a large upright creature with large bat-like wings.The debate will continue,but those who have seen or heard it have no doubt.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Look at a map of the eastern U.S. and you will see southern New Jersey is south of the Mason-Dixon Line.In the years before the Civil War,Pennsylvania and N.J. were Free states.But they were also Border states,as Maryland and Delaware were slave states.Runaway slaves making their way north were often caught by paid bounty hunters just over the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.The pine barrens of southern N.J. were so isolated and little-populated as to offer a safer way to journey towards New York City and New England where abolitionist feeling was strongest.
Back in the early 1800s,smugglers used the Mullica River estuary to offload cargo both to avoid tariff duties on imports and to unload pirated contraband.The New Jersey coastline was ideally located south of New York Harbor,Long Island,New England ports,Canadian ports,and vessels coasting south.Philadelphia commerce ships coasted north.The smugglers had the interior of the tidal N.J. rivers to themselves.Devoid of all but tiny settlements,the pine barrens were a place to both hide goods and secretly transport by wagons north to New York or west to Philadelphia.Legend has it of smugglers gold buried and hopelessly lost in the mostly ,to this day ,trackless woods.A spirit of hostility and mistrust of outsiders pervades the area today.
Monday, June 23, 2008
During the Revolution,Hessian troops hired by the British,whose King was of German heritage,often deserted or were captured by the Patriots.Speaking German,they could not assimilate into a mostly English speaking population.Deserters found the pine barrens an area close to the main theaters of campaigns (New York,New Jersey,Eastern Pennsylvania).A live and let live attitude prevailed in the pines,and the Hessians went there in large numbers.Captives released after the war did not relish an arduous return sea voyage across the Atlantic only to return to a feudal society in Germany.To stay in the infant republic was more to their liking,for freedom was a new thing in the world.In the pine barrens they found a life and lent their German heritage that is still to be found in surnames of the pine barrens.
Back during the American Revolution,the men living in the pines were an independent minded group.When recruiting sergeants from both British and Continental Congress armies made their rounds,they were often met with apathy.One story has it a Scots sergeant was drinking in one of the many taverns throughout the pines and made comments about why there were so many able-bodied men and stout lads not rallying to support King George.One local man,Ezra Walker,said to the Scotsman "Damn all you King's Men,and as for King George,a fart for him that I will give to thee."At that,Walker lifted his coat and passed wind.The men in the tavern erupted in laughter as the red-faced sergeant stomped out amidst hoots and insults.
Joseph Wharton,for whom Wharton State Forest is named,had a dream of using the enormous aquifer under the pine barrens as a source of pure drinking water for the City of Philadelphia,less than 40 miles from the pine barrens.About 1873 Wharton,founder of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania,began buying large tracts of the pines.Plans were drawn that still survive to build dams on the rivers of the pine barrens and build pumps to tap the huge underground supplies.But the New Jersey State Legislature found out about his plans and passed a law prohibiting export of state water.This left Wharton with thousands of acres of undeveloped woods.With his plans thwarted,he tried raising cattle with little success,and left the vast woods to his heirs,who eventually sold the land to the state,which created the huge state forest that is protected from development for all to enjoy.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
An impressive set of ruins in the pine barrens is the old paper mill at Harrisville.Located right off N.J. State Hwy. 563,the crumbling remains of the old mill are rapidly giving way to time and abandonement.Another of the lost industries in the pines,Harrisville and it's paper mill is now a ghost town.The mill was run on water power from the Oswego River which glides calmly by the ruins.No one resides there,and few in the area has any first hand memories of what was once a thriving concern.The overwhelming feeling one gets among the ruins is the inexorable way the woods reclaim any work of man.Man creates,builds,clears the woods,cuts roads,but the woods wait,Man leaves,and the woods renew itself.Brings to mind something I once read:In ancient Rome,each time a new Caesar made a triumphal procession through the streets of the Capitol a slave would walk beside him whispering to him;"Remember that All Fame is Fleeting."
Nothing is better on a hot summer's day than the cool cedar water of Lake Atsion.Right off Rt.206,the dammed waters of the Mullica River offer a state -run swimming area that also has cabins rented to the public.Canoeing on the lake is a fine way to spend a day.The water is crystal clean,as it is located in a wooded area.
Fact or fiction?Legend has it in the 1730s a woman named Leeds had 12 children and was so poor she swore if she had another,#13,it would be the devil.Well,she had that offspring.Legend said it had a horse's head,the wings of a bat,and a serpent's tail.At the age of 4,it killed it's mother and father and went off killing hogs,sheep,cows,horses,and people,leaving cloven tracks after it went back into the forest.All legends contain some measure of fact,legends that last for 300 years must.
A few miles south of the village of Tabernacle off of the paved road lies the Carranza Monument,a simple stone pillar in remembrance of the crash of a Mexican pilot whose plane went down during a thunderstorm in the 1920s.A good hike from here will continue south to the ghost town of Friendship.The paved road ends a bit south of Carranza Monument and a sand road beckons.Hike for about 2-3 miles and come on the old crossroads and abandoned settlement that was one time known as Friendship.Only ruins remains.A lonely little bridge crosses a brook named the Featherbed Branch.Topographical maps from 1957 show over a dozen structures,today there are none,as the all-conquering wilderness has left naught but a faint murmur on the breeze.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Over 100,000 acres make up Wharton state forest.Sand roads and trails criss-cross all of it.In winter,frozen swamps and bogs are accessible,and bugs are not a bother.Hiking in the pine barrens is a unique place,for it was never developed,and is now protected.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Chatsworth,in Woodland Township,is the largest and most populated town in the pine barrens.Two-thirds of the people make their living from working the cranberry and blueberry bogs.Moonshining is still practiced.Any fruit or grain can make whiskey.Blueberries,apples,corn,and peaches are favorites.Chatsworth general store was built in 1865.It straddles the town's main intersection.The abandoned railbed of The N.J. Central lies at the edge of town,an ideal highway deep into the woods in both directions out of town.Hiking the railbed offers a route into the mostly trackless forest.
Legend has it that in the pine barrens is a white stag,whose appearance warns of danger.Many sightings have been reported around Quaker Bridge,where the old stagecoach road crosses Batsto River.A night under the stars deep in the pines might hold more than you can imagine.The woods have swallowed many settlements and homesteads.At night these long gone and forgotten islands of human spirit seem to have life.Spend a few nights camping deep off of any sand road or trail to experience the subtlety of these timeless woods.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
The safest and most accesible point to visit the pine barrens is Atsion,N.J. Located on U.S. Route 206 it is a perfect place to park a vehicle safely.There is a state ranger station right there.Hike the sand road past the ruins of the mansion of Samuel Richards,a bog iron magnate from the 1800's.Shortly you'll come upon the tiny Atsion church and it's graveyard with headstones from the 1800's.One inscription reads "Though to Sight Lost,To Memory Dear."Hike on and shortly come to the abandoned N.J. Central RR.When built,it connected Camden on the Delaware River and The N.J. Seashore.Turn left and you could hike for miles on the abandoned railbed through a true untouched wilderness.Or you can continue on the sand road and go for 20 miles before you reach the old center of the bog iron industry of the pine barrens,Batsto.The uniqueness of the pine barrens will impress you.From Atsion to Batsto the sand road follows the left bank of the Mullica River,canoeable from Atsion to the Sea.I personally have canoed the Mullica River many times from Atsion to Batsto and beyond.I can highly recommend it.All areas I have previously described are part of Wharton State Forest,so it is public land that anyone can enjoy.As an alternative,a public swimming beach is directly across Rt. 206 on Lake Atsion,formed by a dam under Rt.206.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Wharton State Forest is a huge expanse of true wilderness in the south of the most densely populated state,New Jersey.I have explored it for 3o+ yrs. and have seen less than 25%.You can easily go so deep in a pathless wilderness as to be 20 miles or more from any sign of man.To spend a night there is unlike any camping experience you may have had.The Mullica,Batso,Wading,and Oswego rivers are all canoeable.Or drive your car to the end of any paved road into the pines and hike.You will not be disappointed.The scent of pine will stay with you when you leave these timeless woods.You will find yourself wanting to return.