As a single woman there are some things that I don’t do alone –sit at a bar, walk late at night in the city, attend the opera, to name a few—and up until now, I didn’t go on excursions by myself. Something that I really missed, since I love to get in the car and just explore. Taking advantage that I have a sore knee, with pickleball temporarily banned, and that walking on the sand aggravates the injury, what is there to do while at the Jersey Shore? On a whim, I decided to visit Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
The State Park is located in Oceanville, off Route 9, just twenty minutes from Brigantine. I drove there on a beautiful, hot, morning typical of this endless summer. The first part of the route was not enticing, it’s on what I call the “Psycho Boulevard,” full of abandoned motels that remind me of the classic Hitchcock film. But soon, I was going through quaint, shady little streets and no Norman Bates in sight. Almost as amazing are the fancy Seaview Golf Club Resort and the Marriott Fairway Villas in the middle of what I thought was nowhere. The small road to the nature reserve is on the right.
Founded in 1984 and named in honor of Edwin B. Forsythe, the late conservationist Congressman, this “National Wildlife Refuge protects more than 46,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats and wetlands. The refuge extends for 50 miles along the coast. At least 322 species of birds have been observed.” At the entrance of the park, there is a small stand with envelopes to pay $4.00 per car by the honor system.
The visitors center staffed by volunteers was open on the day I visited; don’t expect a fancy gift shop, but there are helpful brochures to help you discover this treasure. I was armed with my binoculars and The Sibley Guide to Birds. I wasn’t a college professor for nothing. I decided to take the eight-mile car drive; it was too buggy and hot to walk the trails and I forgot the bug spray. Did I say that I was never a girl scout?
Immediately upon entering the one-way dirt road, a bunch of Purple Martins’ in and out their houses welcomed me with their busy chatter. I could see swans, different species of ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and seagulls on the marshes at both sides of the road. I was too busy to check my book, take my word for it. There were very few cars, all moving at ten miles per hour and passing carefully when a curious driver was parked on the side of the road –that would be me.
It was hard to take photos with the big green flies attacking my windshield, but I could clearly see a majestic Whooping Crane in flight, a Blue Heron standing still, and butterflies flying all around the wild flowers edging the way. Atlantic City and Brigantine showed in the horizon. It turns out that this road used to be a railroad that connected Brigantine with the mainland built in 1890 and abandoned in 1903 after a storm.
Despite the heat, with all the green marshes and water around, inside the car it felt cool. This nature park really is one of the most expansive, beautiful, wildlife areas I have experienced. Native Americans of the Lenni-Lenape people were the original inhabitants in this land.
There are watch towers and overlooks to peak at the ospreys’ nests up close. There are man-made embankments that control the flow of water. There are both saltwater and fresh water pools, creating an eco-system and natural habitat for many species. A solitary, peaceful swan was gliding past, faster than my car. The road ends next to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, “the largest surviving open space on the eastern seaboard between the northern forest of Maine and the Everglades in Florida. The Pinelands are an incredibly unique habitat right in the middle of the most densely populated area of North America.”
I don’t understand how does New Jersey, South Jersey in particular, get such a bad rap when it can be so beautiful! I made a mental note to return in the fall when I can also walk in some of the hiking trails. Since it is on the Atlantic Flyway flight path, it will be full of migratory birds then.