As far back as I can remember, I have taken road trips. But over the past two COVID summers, there hasn’t been a lot of seeing the United States in my Chevrolet or taking my kicks on Route 66.
Instead, I moved closer to home.
I did a few pre-election campaigns across many Pennsylvania swing districts last fall. And recently, I was on country roads for an article on rural broadband service as Congress examines the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill.
But I wasn’t quite ready this summer to dive into the deep end with an epic road trip across the country. Instead, I dipped a toe in the cedar (tea-colored) waters of the South Jersey Pinelands.
Over the winter, when we were all paying less than $ 2.50 for a gallon of gasoline, the US Department of Transportation named a 130-mile route the third New Jersey National Scenic Byway. As my colleague, environmentalist writer Frank Kummer, wrote, the new designation recognizes certain American roads for their scenic, archaeological, cultural, historical, natural or recreational aspects (it is also to raise awareness of certain areas – and attract the tourists).
The Pinelands were already designated as the country’s first national reserve. This happened in 1978 when Congress passed legislation to designate 1.1 million acres (1,700 square miles) as the Pinelands National Reserve in order to preserve its ecology. In 1988, it was designated by the United Nations as an international biosphere reserve.
This is the comeback story. Between assignments to and from the Jersey Shore this summer, I would take a detour through the quintessential Pine Barrens waterways.
The road only winds through the lower half of the Pinelands Preserve, definitely in South Jersey, as it sits well below the Rt.70 / Rt.72 dual carriageway between Philly and Long Beach Island.
This is the best place to say the Byway is NOT like the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National Park or the one-way Park Loop Road through Acadia National Park.
Instead, it winds through the southern half of the million acre Pinelands National Preserve, an area of virgin forest in the middle of one of the most densely developed regions in the world.
I once lived near the village of Batsto, on the Mullica River in the reserve. Archaeological evidence shows that the area has been used by indigenous people for thousands of years. And vestiges of prehistoric life have been discovered. The American history of the village dates back to before the Revolution, when the iron ore of the peat bogs was extracted from the banks of the rivers, the trees became charcoal and the streams fed a steel factory which produced hobs, kettles. , pots and pans for the settlers. During the war, Batsto made supplies for the Continental Army.
Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton, who founded Penn’s Wharton School and one of the founders of Swarthmore College, began buying hundreds of acres in the area.
This was not the land Wharton sought, but access to the 17 trillion gallon Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, still one of the largest reserves of fresh water on the East Coast today. Eyeing the liquid treasure, he hoped to deliver the crystal clear waters to Philadelphia.
By the industrial late 1800s, the city was getting 95 percent of its drinking water from the Schuylkill, which had become an open and polluted sewer. But New Jersey ended its plans with legislation banning the sale of New Jersey water outside its borders. This law is still in force today.
After that, Batsto was a farming estate for the descendants of Wharton, until they sold it to the state in 1954. You can tour the Wharton-Batsto mansion and there are weekend events going on. in the fall (but check their Facebook page for more Covid information to date).
The village is a starting point for exploring the Wharton State Forest, which contains miles of unpaved roads for hiking (check out Mike McCormick’s excellent South Jersey Trails website), mountain biking and horseback riding with many lakes, ponds and fields ideal for wildlife viewing. The State Forest Protected Areas are the largest open space still in existence between the forests of northern Maine and the Florida Everglades. And it’s not part of the Byway.
But I decided to extend my trip a little more in the woods anyway, to see a monument to Mexican aviator Emilio Carranza. From Batsto it’s an 11.5 mile hike on the Batona Trail. I didn’t, and if you’re driving it, follow this advice: don’t listen if your GPS tells you to approach it from the east, off New Gretna Chatsworth Road. If you do, you’ll find a 5.3 mile washboard area on a dirt road. So approach it from the west instead.
Captain Emilio Carranza of the Air Corps of Mexico flew to the United States to return a goodwill flight Charles Lindbergh had made earlier in Mexico City. After arriving in Washington, DC and stopping in New York City, Carranza left Roosevelt Field on July 12, 1928 for the nonstop return flight. But a thunderstorm forced his plane to crash into the remote woods
The American Legion Post at Mount Holly hosts a memorial service for the leaflet every year, keeping a promise made by his ancestors nearly 100 years ago to never forget.
While you’re there, and it’s before 2pm, you could walk a little further from the Byway, head to Lucilles Country Cooking (the sign on their building calls it a Luncheonette). It’s in Warren Grove, not far from Rt. 72, that main east-west thoroughfare that I mentioned before to Long Beach Island. But don’t be confused when your GPS calls it (again) Barnegat. This was one of the restaurants I photographed a few years ago after the death of celebrity chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain. The globetrotting adventurer known for seeking exotic cuisine in remote places celebrated the food and culture of his home state of New Jersey in a 2015 episode of his Emmy-winning CNN show. Unknown parts. “Oh enchanted land of my childhood,” he said at the start of the episode.
Speaking of restaurants, the AC Freeway Exit 33 for Winslow Blue Anchor will put you on your knees with Mr. Bill, a 25 foot tall fiberglass giant in front of Mr. Bill’s Richman’s Ice Cream & Burger Co. He is one of hundreds of characters created in the 1960s and 1970s, as roadside attractions and attention-grabbing highways and back roads in America (think Route 66, as mentioned at the very beginning of this column). On a previous road trip, I photographed a dozen of what are now known as the “silent men” still standing in southern Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Not just for the ice cream, but I often take the old white and black pike rather than the highway. They were once the only way to shore. They stay rural and remind me of what travel was like before the freeways (the AC highway opened in 1964). The White Horse Pike – US 30 – follows an old Lenape Trail running from what is now Camden to the areas inhabited by the Absegami in present-day Abescon. It became a toll road in 1854. The Black Horse Pike – Rt. 168, US 40 and US 322 – was drawn in a straight line by surveyors in 1795.
There’s more to the Byway, and more photos in the gallery at the start, of the village of Smithville and Tuckerton Harbor, the Weymouth Furnace “ghost towns” and other landmarks. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission, which oversees the administration of the Pine Barrens Byway, has created a guidebook and an excellent quick-read map and brochure that even includes places to find restrooms.
As most of this summer is now in the rearview mirror, I look into next year, inspired by the words of New Jersey poet Walt Whitman, “On foot and with a light heart I hit the road …” (Song of the Open Road, 1856)
Since 1998, a black and white photo has been published every Monday in the “Scene Through the Lens” column by photographer Tom Gralish in the local news section of The Inquirer. Here are the most recent ones, in color:
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