A significant historic site located in the South Central Pinelands called Batsto Village is part of Wharton State Forest, a former bog iron and glass-making industrial center. The post office there is the oldest in the state and the second oldest in the country, where you can cancel mail without a zip code. We have been here once before about three months ago, and since the weather around here has it feeling more like Autumn than the middle of August, it was an ideal time to take another trip. As much as we still want to walk through the village, our mission was to conquer the four mile Batsto Lake Trail that takes you on a tour through a portion of the 120,000 acres which make up the forest, home to unique species and open sandy roads. It followed a part of the Batona Trail, a far more challenging fifty mile trail that extends into two other forests and is not for those who enjoy hiking as a hobby.
By now we have learned to bring proper supplies such as plenty of water and some sort of snack – my husband made a trail mix of unsalted peanuts, dehydrated blueberries and dehydrated blackberries, both of which were locally grown. Sunblock is also applied to exposed areas just in case, and we coat ourselves in bug spray that contains the highest level of deet possible. Though ticks may no longer be an issue, there are still plenty of mosquitos and other insects worth protecting yourself against. On our last visit we had been faced with taking this trail or the two and half mile one; we chose the latter but were still challenged by changing terrain. This time we at least had an idea of what to expect, and since it was a glorious Sunday afternoon there were plenty of other people wandering through the village to enjoy the sights.
We started in the parking lot and saw familiar sights, encountering a couple who were coming the opposite way. The bushes around us were teeming with blueberries, quite edible though somewhat tart and occasionally a bit seedy. Most people are not aware of the fact that blueberries are actually very abundant in New Jersey, grown on large farms and occurring naturally, and the Blueberry Capitol is only a few towns away. In any event, we were amused by having a free snack [and plenty of it] as well as the pint sized pine trees that dangled branches in our path, tickling us as we passed them. Trees that had fallen and been cut into logs were used as resting points along the way since there was much climbing of hills, something we are not used to when hiking in other places such as Estell Manor.
About an hour or so later we came upon Batsto River, having seen only five other people the entire time we were on the trail. This is where the sun felt the warmest, though the shade of tall trees and a small breeze prevented us from being too hot. We left the trail momentarily to follow a footpath down to the water’s edge where we watched a few people fishing. Then the kayaks and canoes began drifting by, reminding us that was something we wanted to do before the season to do so was over. Sitting on a bench that overlooked Batsto Lake, we appreciated the serenity of the scene even though there were plenty of insects and birds serenading us with their various sounds, the slosh of paddles carrying a canoe slowly coming and going. We joked about seeing spray painted signs reminding us that we were in a New Jersey State Forest, but at the same time there are probably hundreds of people who live here and don’t even know such beauty exists.
Total time spent on the trail was two and a half hours, including the previously mentioned breaks, stopping to take pictures and a video. We came out into the village where there were a few people wandering around, enjoying the early evening as the sun slowly sank towards the horizon. The parking lot was a bit more empty than when we had arrived, but there still were visitors coming in as we were leaving.
There were signs advertising an antique show of some sort that is coming in September that we might check out, but I know for certain we want to take part in one of the Jersey Devil hikes they offer in October. Hiking is not something I really ever saw myself doing, though I used to ride a bike along wooded trails in South Brunswick and have put some miles in on the D&R Canal. The trails we have walked in Estell Manor are generally flat and wide enough to walk dogs, ride horses or bikes depending on which one you take. In Parvin we have hiked around both lakes and through parts of campsites, where some of the trails have more obstacles than others. For some reason, knowing that we did four miles without being tired or winded felt as though we really accomplished something.
As I said, this is something we do more for a hobby, and yet actively trying to stay fit matters on a small level since we aware that our Eastern European heritage dictates we are of short, stocky breed. We know that we aren’t going to be jogging any of these trails and that is just fine – we go at our own pace and never fail to have an adventure worth remembering.