January 2007: Pinelands National Reserve


southern New Jersey

The Pinelands is our country's first National Reserve and a U.S. Biosphere Reserve of the Man and the Biosphere Program. This internationally important ecological region is 1.1 million acres in size and occupies 22% of New Jersey's land area. It is the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston and is underlain by aquifers containing 17 trillion gallons of some of the purest water in the land.

You can hike with your dog for motnhs on the maze of unmarked sand roads through the Pinelands. For formal routes the star here is the Batona Trail, a wilderness path that begins at Ongs Hat to the north and ends at Lake Absegami in Bass River State Forest. The original 30 miles of the Batona Trail were routed and cleared through white cedar and pitch pine forests by volunteers in 1961. 

Today the total length of the trail is 50.2 miles with many road crossings that make different lengths of canine hikes possible. The distinctive pink blazes on the Batona Trail were selected by Morris Burdock, then president of the Batona Hiking Club and chief advocate for the building of the trail. The Batona Trail is easy walking on paw-friendly sand for most of its length. Despite the over-whelming flatness of the surrounding countryside, there are undulating elevation changes on the trail itself. Any dog could walk end to end with no problem, if that was the goal. 

The high point on the trail is Apple Pie Hill, soaring 209 feet above sea level (there is a fire tower you can scale - the steps are too open for dogs - and literally scan the east-to-west entirety of New Jersey from Atlantic City to Philadelphia). A superb canine hike is the four-mile walk here from the Carranza Memorial. For the most part, however, there are no vistas beyond what you see around you - cedar swamps and millions of pine trees. In season wild blueberries and huckleberries can be gobbled along the trail.

SIDETRIP: Carranza Memorial (on Carranza Road, south of Route 532):
Emilio Carranza Rodriguez was nephew to the founder of the Mexican Air Force, a war hero and his country's greatest aviator. He befriended Charles Lindbergh after the American completed the first solo flight across the Atlantic and then made the second longest non-stop flight from Washington D.C. to Mexico City. Plans were hatched in 1928 for a Mexican capital-to- capital flight. Carranza, then just 22 years old, was selected to make the attempt, carrying the pride of an entire nation in his plane, "The Excelsior." Haunted by bad weather Carranza was forced to navigate by dead reckoning and came down in an emergency landing in North Carolina. He continued on to Washington and New York City, where he was feted as a hero for accomplishing the longest flight ever made by a Mexican aviator. Preparations for a return flight to Mexico City were continually delayed until Carranza could wait no longer. On the evening of July 12 he took off in an electrical storm and was never seen alive again. The next day his body was found near the wreckage of his plane, "The Excelsior," in the Pine Barrens where he crashed. Mexican schoolchildren collected pennies to pay for the stone monument that marks the location of his death. Post 11 of the American Legion from Mount Holly, whose members participated in the recovery of the body, still hold a memorial service every year on the second Saturday of July at 1:00 p.m. to honor the memory of Captain Emilio Carranza. 

The Batona Trail runs through Lebanon, Wharton and Bass River State Forests where information on finding a parking lot can be found. Some commonly used starting points are on Routes 563 at Evans Bridge, 542 at Batsto Village at Route 72 at Four Mile.