Harold N. Peek Preserve

Over the weekend I received the news that my uncle had passed away, and though my mother informed me he was in the hospital due to lung cancer when she came to visit, I was still upset and felt the utmost empathy for my aunt.  There will be a small service from what I am told, as he did not want to have a whole bunch of people coming round to stand there at his funeral or something like that.  My mom said he wanted to be cremated and have a simple memorial, which I greatly respect though likely will be unable to attend due to my husband’s work schedule, but it sounded as though she understood and said I shouldn’t feel bad if we couldn’t go.  At least I am going to send my aunt a card, though finding encouraging words to include with those that came with it has been difficult and I am trying not to get lost in my feelings.

To distract myself from all of that, my husband let me choose a new park for us to explore, and for no particular reason I found my way onto the website for the Harold N. Peek Preserve.  [An alternative site can be found here; all information in this entry has been cited from one of the two].  Described as 256 acres of property located along the Maurice River in Millville, it is home to wildlife such as Bald Eagles, Osprey, Hawks and Owls, which can be viewed from various lookouts located on the various trails that wind through the park.  Their habitats are spread out among the habitats that include pine barrens, a cedar swamp, a hardwood swamp and a wild rice marsh said to be one of the “largest and healthiest in southern New Jersey”.

abandoned_55We were following the directions obtained from Google and must have missed a turn or something, as we wound up by the downtown Arts District.  In fairness, it is close to the river but not where we wanted to be, though thankfully our trusty GPS helped us out of that situation.  However, it did not prevent us from driving past a sign for the preserve which happened to be low to the ground and about the same color as the leaves surrounding it.  There were some abandoned buildings down the road, one of which had a small lot in front of it, so we used that to pull over and figure things out.  We also took the opportunity to wander around the buildings a bit, and that was when I realized there was a a house hidden underneath the bushes and trees growing next to it.  From the front it was almost completely obscured, but we could still see the porch and what was once a white picket fence.  If it wasn’t for the loudly barking dog in the neighboring yard, I would have gone round the right side for a photo, but learned that sometimes its better to be satisfied having seen it at all and got back into the Jeep instead.

A vigilant eye guided us to the small dirt lot the sign had been posted by, and after parking we saw a few more that indicated we were in the right place.  It was a little weird leaving the vehicle so far away, but once we made it up the main access road to the map we understood why it was necessary.  Though listed as a Delaware Bayshore Trail on one of the sites linked above, it is also part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail – something I would like to research more of and pay a visit to in the future.  It is apparently still under development, but the purpose is to preserve the natural habitats of New Jersey’s coastal regions while also providing information about their historical heritage.  Fairly exciting stuff for us natives who are constantly seeking out the hidden treasures of the Garden State.

Moving south from the road, we picked up the Cedar Swamp Trail and immediately noted this was unlike any of the others we have hiked.  The sandy path was incredibly narrow and eventually disappeared, so we were left following trampled grass along with these small green and white signs that let us know which way the trail went.  After walking through the wood a bit, we came upon a solar farm – there are a number of them scattered around the area, but to see one on the edge of a preserve was quite curious.  Then it was back into the woods and climbing uphill as strands of webs from who knows what were caught on our faces over and over again.  For the most part the only noises we heard were birds and insects, but there was also the distinctive roar of engines that we figure must have been the speedway.  It certainly made for an interesting contrast to the serene setting we came to, peering through trees to see the sun sparkling on the river.  Being high on a cliff, there was no way we were going in for a closer look, so we continued on the trail and agreed to find another.

harold-n-peek-preserve-13The second trail gave us a much better view of the river and brought us to the boardwalk that brings you right into the wild rice marsh.  This was probably my favorite part, as it allowed us a moment of rest and river gazing while I shot some video.  We took the trail back to the access road which brought us to the field house and restroom where we refilled our water bottles.  Our hike lasted about two hours and it felt great but also tiring, so I was not bummed that we had to leave.  Summer is coming to an end soon, so I am sure this will be one of many places we revisit in Autumn and I am very excited since the trees always put on a good show.

Would also like to note that following our adventure in these woods, I developed some sort of itchy rash.  It was poison something, though whether that thing was ivy, oak or sumac I have no idea since I never had anything like that happen before.  The point is that you do need to be careful and I definitely have to acquire some proper clothing for future hikes.

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