Even as summer is winding down, endless opportunities for fun, educational, and rewarding experiences await visitors to state parks and forests across New Jersey.
“New Jersey is home to a diverse array of easily accessible parks that are visited by millions annually – from our lakes to our shores and from north to south, we are truly luck to have such bountiful ecotourism assets throughout our state,” said Acting Governor Sheila Oliver. “Getting outdoors and experiencing our natural sights offers individuals and families enriching recreational and learning opportunities for residents of all ages.”
“Our staff works hard to come up with unique ways to engage visitors and help them appreciate the natural resources and history of New Jersey’s wonderful park system,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “These people care deeply about their jobs and take their inspiration from the great places where they work. Come and share their passion for these parks.”
Some 17 million people visit New Jersey’s park system each year, with most visits occurring during the summer.
From the hills of the northwest to the Shore and to the Hudson River waterfront, the state park system boasts some 50 parks, forests recreation areas, and related sites that provide a wide range of activities such as camping, swimming, boating, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.
Staff at these parks develop programs that complement these activities by helping visitors make sensory and educational connections to parks. Many of these programs are offered in partnership with friends of the parks organizations. Many are free though some are offered at a nominal charge or request a donation.
“Our staff bring a real creative flair to their jobs and simply enjoy showing off our parks,” said Division of Parks and Forestry Director Olivia Glenn. “Their love for the job rewards visitors with rich experiences that foster in them a deeper appreciation and understanding of these beautiful places. To get the most out of their visits, we highly recommend that the public make their first stop at visitor centers and interpretive centers at the park to learn about the programs that are being offered that day.”
- Batsto Village at Wharton State Forest in the heart of the Pinelands provides guided canoe ecotours of Batsto Lake every weekend throughout the summer that provide up-close glimpses of many of the things that make the Pinelands special – wetlands, Atlantic white cedars, blueberries, cranberries, even carnivorous plants. A bald eagle sighting is a distinct possibility. Staff provide canoes and life jackets. Reservations are required. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/wharton.html
- Brendan Byrne State Forest in Burlington County offers a variety of Pinelands-related programs such as using a fine-meshed net, known as a seine, to scoop out some of the critters of a Pinelands pond; making natural perfumes and other beauty products from plants found around the forest; making crafts from things found around the forest; and learning how to track animals. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/byrne.html
- High Point State Park in Sussex County provides a variety of nature hikes, stream walks and talks, many coming with panoramic views of three states. In addition, the Yoga on the Mountain program helps visitors restore their bodies and their minds while connecting with nature amid stunning summit views. Registration is recommended, but walk-ins are welcome. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/highpoint.html
- Island Beach State Park in Ocean County has numerous programs designed to foster a greater appreciation of one of the longest stretches of unspoiled barrier island ecosystem remaining in the region. Daily activities include pulling a seine net through Barnegat Bay to discover the amazing creatures living there as well as sea-life touch tanks. In addition, the park offers a beginner’s surf fishing clinic, kayak tours, coastal cooking, shellfish gardening, moonlight hikes and astrophotography. Visit www.islandbeachnatureprograms.org/
- Jenny Jump State Forest in Warren County has Saturday night star-watching programs at the Greenwood Observatory in partnership with the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey as well as a variety of historical and natural interpretive programs. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/jennyjump.html
- Kittatinny Valley State Park in Sussex County provides nature hikes, mountain bike rides and nature discussions as well as geo-caching, an outdoor “treasure-hunting” game in which participants use GPS-enabled devices to find hidden caches of containers holding items that can be logged and traded with other geo-caching participants. The park holds monthly Geo-caching for Beginners programs. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/kittval.html
- Liberty State Park in Hudson County provides visitors with a unique opportunity to paddle the Hudson River estuary in a kayak. Safety and paddling instructions are provided. Tours are offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this month. Pre-registration is required and costs $20 per person. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/liberty.html
- Washington Crossing State Park in Mercer and Hunterdon counties has partnered with the Downtown Performing Arts Center to produce an Open Air Theatre series of plays, musicals and theatrical concerts geared to family and children. The park also offers hands-on Fun with Science, Nature Explorers, Pond Study and Night Hike programs. Visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html
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For more information on all of New Jersey’s parks, forests, recreation areas, historic sites and state marinas and a detailed calendar of upcoming programs and events, visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/.
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