June 2002: Wharton State Forest

 

Hammonton, New Jersey
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THE PARK: 
Wharton State Forest lies at the heart of New Jersey's mysterious Pine Barrens, a vast tapestry of impenetrable scrub pine, swamps and bogs. Today known for its cranberry and blueberry production, the area's bog ore once supported a nascent iron industry that supplied much of the weaponry and ammunition for the American Revolution. Many of the indecipherable sand roads through the Pine Barrens date to the Revolution. When the foundries followed the discovery of America's massive upper midwestern iron ranges in the mid-1800s, the area's economy became so depressed that Philadelphia financier Joseph Wharton was able to acquire over 100,000 acres of land here. Wharton died in 1909 and much of his land became the core of the Wharton State Forest in 1954, part of the Pinelands National Reserve. Wharton State Park is the largest slice of land in the New Jersey State Park system.

WALKS:
The main hiking trail among 500 miles of unimproved roads is the Batona Trail, a wilderness trail that begins at Ongs Hat to the north of the park 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 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 overwhelming flatness of the surrounding countryside, there are undulating elevation changes on the trail itself. An aquifer inside the Pine Barren's deep sand beds holds 17 trillion gallons of pure glacial water. The shallow aquifer often percolates to the surface in the form of bogs, marshes and swamps. The Batsto River is stained the color of tea by cedar sap, adding to the region's mystique. It makes an excellent canine swimming pool.
Traffic on the Batona Trail is restricted to hikers and dogs are welcome along the length of the trail. Most of the trails in Wharton State Forest are unimproved dirt roads which hikers share with on- and off-road vehicles.

BONUS
The main hiking trail among 500 miles of unimproved roads is the Batona Trail, a wilderness trail that begins at Ongs Hat to the north of the park 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 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 overwhelming flatness of the surrounding countryside, there are undulating elevation changes on the trail itself. An aquifer inside the Pine Barren's deep sand beds holds 17 trillion gallons of pure glacial water. The shallow aquifer often percolates to the surface in the form of bogs, marshes and swamps. The Batsto River is stained the color of tea by cedar sap, adding to the region's mystique. It makes an excellent canine swimming pool.
Traffic on the Batona Trail is restricted to hikers and dogs are welcome along the length of the trail. Most of the trails in Wharton State Forest are unimproved dirt roads which hikers share with on- and off-road vehicles.

NEARBY ATTRACTIONS TO ENJOY WITH THE DOG
Batsto Village (Route 542 off Route 561 in Hammonton). Near the center of the Batona Trail, and a popular parking place to access the trail, is Batsto Village. Thirty-three wooden structures have been restored to this bog iron and glassmaking industrial center which flourished from 1766 to 1867. There is a self-guided 1-mile nature walk around the lake at Batsto Village, which includes stops at the Batsto Mansion and an operating gristmill and sawmill.

Sunset Beach (Sunset Boulevard, Cape May). While dogs in the popular Victorian seaside town of Cape May are not allowed on the beach, the boardwalk or outdoor shopping areas dogs are welcome at Sunset Beach at the southernmost point on Cape May. Just off the beach are the remains of the Atlantus, a unique concrete ship built to transport soldiers in World War I. With steel at a shortage, reinforced concrete was tried as a shipbuilding material. The concrete ships worked but proved too slow and were scrapped after the war. The Atlantus was towed to Cape May in 1926 to be used as a Ferry slip but an accident dumped her on a sand bar where she remains today. From the center of Cape May take Lafayette Avenue to West Perry Street, which turns into Sunset Boulevard. The two-lane road deadends after three miles at Sunset Beach.

DIRECTIONS TO WHARTON STATE FOREST:
Two offices serve the park, one at Batsto Village and the other in Atsion on Route 206, eight miles north of Hammonton.