New Jersey: 7 Hidden gems

If you think “turnpike” when you hear “Jersey,” it’s time to seek out the many surprises to be found off that well-beaten path.

1. Franklin Mineral Museum

Franklin Mineral Museum gems on display

Franklin is known as the fluorescent mineral capital of the world. From 1850 to 1954, the area was famous for its zinc mines. Within these rich zinc deposits, an astounding number of minerals were discovered, including many not found anywhere else in the world. Franklin’s Mine Hill produced a half-billion dollars’ worth of zinc, iron, and manganese over a period of 106 years.

The Franklin Mineral Museum is dedicated to preserving this fascinating history with exhibits on mineral science, geology, and local mining history. With a total of 6,317 specimens on display, including over 5,000 minerals, the museum is home to the largest, most comprehensive public display of minerals in the world. In addition, visitors can also view fossils, petrified wood, dinosaur footprints, and Native American artefacts.

The museum’s most popular attraction is its fluorescent room, a dazzling 33-foot-long display of brilliantly coloured fluorescent minerals. In addition, a life-size mine replica, constructed with timber, rails, and equipment from area mines, depicts the methods used to mine zinc ore.

Visitors inspired by the glowing nuggets inside can try their luck at one of three collecting areas on the property. In fact, amateur rock-hounds scouring these mineral dumps are still discovering rare specimens!

 

2. Wawayanda State Park

Wawayanda State Park lake view

Spaciousness and excellent upkeep are the immediate impressions of this fine park, partly because of the manicured entrance grounds and the two miles of excellent road rolling from the park headquarters to the parking lot on Lake Wawayanda.

The 250-acre lake offers several islands, a swimming area with a sandy beach, and a shoreline edged with forests, coves, and cliffs. Picnic tables are located in the wooded areas nearby.

A short walk from the beach is a marina where canoes, rowboats, and live bait are available. Several species of trout and bass are caught in the lake. Ice fishing is a popular sport in winter. More than 40 miles of hiking trails lead to small ponds, a swamp, and scenic overlooks.

The park is an excellent place for riding, and horses are available from stables nearby. Bird-watching is another favourite recreation; lucky visitors might glimpse the endangered red-shouldered hawk.

A wide variety of topography is the signature here, from mountains to ravines to swamps to forests. Twenty miles of the Appalachian Trail traverses many of those settings. Camping (but no water) is available at three sites.

 

3. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1960, the refuge has 7,800 acres of cattail marshes, grassland, and swamp woodlands; most of it has been designated a wilderness area, with more than 240 species of birds, both migratory and resident, that frequent the area.

The headquarters of the refuge supplies trail maps and brochures that list the wildflowers, mammals, birds, and reptiles found here season by season. Don’t miss the Wildlife Observation Center, where a boardwalk crosses a small swamp to three wildlife observation blinds.

The swamp, marvellously beautiful, is covered by bright duckweed sprinkled in May with tiny yellow flowers and clumps of delicate purple iris. Here and there are open spots where turtles can be seen napping in the murky water. Peepholes in the blind offer an overlook of a larger swamp filled with pond lilies. The croaks and peeps of frogs and calls of birds are the only sounds in this mysterious and fascinating place.

The best viewing times are early morning and late afternoon. Visitors should cover their arms and legs completely to protect them from this favourite habitat of mosquitoes and ticks.

 

4. Howell Living History Farm

Howell Living History Farm

A visit to Howell Farm is a step back in time. Life passes on this 130-acre crop-and-livestock farm much as it did at the turn of the century. Farmhands in suspenders still plow, plant, and harvest using tools and techniques circa 1900.

A self-guiding tour takes visitors to 20 areas of interest, including an 1809 farmhouse, a chicken house, a hog shed, a sheep barn, an icehouse, and a 1840s barn. Visitors are encouraged to lend a hand with typical farm chores such as milking cows, canning tomatoes, mixing feed, and collecting eggs. Saturdays feature events planned around the seasonal activities of the farm.

During the corn harvest, you can ride to the field in a horse-drawn wagon, help shuck and pick corn, return to the barnyard to help grind and sift cornmeal, and then sample homemade cornbread. Other events have included maple sugaring, ice harvesting, sheep shearing, honey harvesting, butter churning, hog slopping, evening barn dances, and old-time baseball games.

 

5. Double Trouble State Park

Double Trouble State Park

This wilderness of woods and marsh in the Pine Barrens is a nature lover’s delight at all times of the year, and on a grey day, it has a misty, almost otherworldly aura that is especially appealing. Originally a cranberry farm and packing plant the park’s history actually goes back to the late 18th century, when a sawmill was built and a dam constructed for water power.

According to local lore, muskrats repeatedly gnawed through the dam, causing leaks that were announced with a cry of “Here’s trouble” and quickly repaired. One day the owner found two gaps in the dam and shouted to his men: “Here’s double trouble!” The park’s name, at least, was born.

Then in the late 19th century, faced with a dwindling supply of timber, people in the area began to grow cranberries to augment their incomes. The land was sold to the state in 1965, but the sawmill and the cranberry-operation are still open for demonstrations.

"This wilderness of woods and marsh in the Pine Barrens is a nature lover’s delight"

Within the park’s more than 8,000 acres are a general store, cranberry-packing house, one-room schoolhouse, migrants’ cottage, and other early-day buildings, some of which are periodically being restored.

From the cranberry-processing plant a self-guiding nature trail about 11/4 miles long crosses Cedar Creek, winds around the bogs and ends at the sawmill. The air is aromatic with cedar, and in-season rhododendron, mountain laurel, sweet bay, and fragrant honeysuckle bloom beneath sassafras trees, pitch pines, and red maples. Plant-lovers might also find in this moist environment the insect-eating sundew.

Great blue herons, egrets, red-tailed hawks, and quails are seen here. Fishermen can expect pickerel and catfish. Cedar Creek is very popular with canoeists, and canoes can be rented nearby. The park is especially enjoyable in springtime and in autumn. Be sure to bring insect repellent in the summer.

 

6. Island Beach State Park

 Island Beach State Park

On leaving New Jersey’s heavily developed coast, you will find Island Beach State Park a pleasant surprise, with its 10 miles of undeveloped seashore.

The southern end of a long barrier beach, this area became an island in 1750, when raging seas broke through the narrow bar of land at Seaside Heights. The inlet was open until 1812 when another storm closed it.

In the 1950s, to preserve the fragile environment of dunes and grasses found here, the state purchased 2,694 acres for a park with a botanical preserve, a recreation zone, and a wildlife sanctuary; today the park boasts more than 3,000 acres. The nature centre at the north end of the park offers guided walks and has exhibits of the shells, butterflies, and primitive maritime vegetation found all around the island.

A paved road lined with dunes and beach heather leads from the park entrance to the recreation zone (a marvellous stretch of white, sandy ocean beach) and continues to the wildlife sanctuary, which is also open to visitors. At the end of the road, the Barnegat Lighthouse can be seen 11/2 miles in the distance.

The park is especially lovely in autumn, and the good weather can extend until Thanksgiving. The water stays warm, the beaches are empty of people but filled with shells, swarms of monarch butterflies cling to the branches of goldenrod, and the southbound birds are on the wing.

 

7. Wharton State Forest

Wharton State Forest

In this forest of more than 120,000 acres are the Batsto and Mullica rivers, Atsion Lake, several streams, nature trails, along hiking trail, and a number of campgrounds.

The combination of iron ore from local bogs, plentiful forests, and waterways for transportation led to the growth of many small iron-manufacturing centres in southern New Jersey in the 18th century. These ironworks, including Batsto, made pig iron, water pipes, stoves, and firebacks. During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Batsto produced munitions, camp kettles, and iron fastenings and fittings for artillery caissons, wagons, and ships.

When coal was discovered in Pennsylvania, factories with charcoal-burning furnaces found they could not compete. Batsto’s ironworks closed in 1855, replaced by a glassmaking centre that was active until 1867. Batsto would have disappeared, as did similar villages in the area, had it not been for Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton, who bought the property in 1876 and redeveloped it into his “gentleman’s farm.”

The more than 30 buildings preserved here today include the mansion, general store, post office, sawmill, blacksmith shop, grist- mill, and workers’ houses.

The forest is mostly pines with cedar and mixed hardwoods. A nature area adjoins the village, and a section of the Batona Wilderness Trail is popular with hikers. Batsto and all of Wharton State Forest are part of the Pinelands National Reserve.

The visitor's centre features an exhibit on the history of Batsto and the New Jersey Pine Barrens, an auditorium for interpretive programs, and a museum store.

 

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