Story by Peter Schneider with the assistance of Wikipedia, the internet and the State Forest Services.
Photos by Murray Kane, Petra Swift, Bob Shore
On November 22, the region with the sponsorship of Paul Miller Porsche and supported by Raritan Valley Sports Car Club (RVSCC) presented the second Pine Barrens Off Road Excursion. The Trek was designed so the membership could drive their Cayenne, Macan, SUV, Jeeps or Pickup Trucks on the ‘off-road trails’ of the beautiful New Jersey Pine Barrens in a family safe venue.
The Pinelands National Reserve at 1.1 million acres is the largest open space on the eastern seaboard between Boston, Mass and Richmond VA. While the First Pine Barrens Off Road Excursion conducted in 2013 used the trails and Cranberry bogs of Brendan Byrne State Forest, this year’s Trek focused on Wharton State Forest.
Wharton State Forest has over 115,000 acres of land spread between Burlington and Atlantic Counties and 500 miles of trails of which 225 are suggested for “street legal” vehicles. The state strongly recommends 4WD vehicles, though not mandatory. The State Forest cautions individuals to not stray from the major trails/roadways and not to rely on GPS, as the trails/road depicted are not accurate.
Wharton State Forest is home to Batsto Village, a nationally recognized historical site, which was the home to extensive iron and glass making industries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Batsto’s importance in providing munitions for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War was such that its ironworkers were exempt from military service. Over sixty years later, after the Pine Barrens iron industry collapsed, a glass factory was built in the village that operated for another twenty years. After the glass factory closed the village site was purchased by industrialist Joseph Wharton. Joseph Wharton, purchased most of the land that now lies within the forest in the 19th Century. Wharton wanted to tap the ground water to provide a source of clean drinking water for Philadelphia; however, the State Legislature quashed the plan by passing a law that banned the export of water from the state. The state bought the vast tract from Wharton’s heirs in the 1950s.
Wharton State Forest is also home of the Jersey Devil, the 250 year old mysterious figure that haunts the Pine Barrens, not the Hockey Team. The Jersey Devil possesses the head of a horse, the body of a kangaroo, wings of a bat and cloven hooves. His presence has made a lasting impression on those unfortunate enough to have heard his haunting cries in the night. Born on a stormy night in 1735, he was the 13th child of Mother Leeds. Overburdened with a large family she cursed this child to be the devil. Before the astonished eyes of the mid-wife and local women attending the event, the newly birthed child began to transform himself into a creature unseen in these parts. Upon reaching the size of a full-grown man, he proceeded to fly up the chimney with an ear-piercing shriek and a huge flap of his pointed wings.
My first exposure to the Pine Barrens was back in 1977, with flat water kayaking with my brother and his wife, then followed about ten years later by working and successfully competing in brisk Time-Speed-Distance rallies in the forests of southern New Jersey. These events ended in 2011 when state funding issues and changes to Forest policies lowered the allowed speeds from a high of 40mph to just 20mph and the availability of quality sand trails became limited due to lack of scheduled maintenance.
In 2013, Murray Kane approached Fred Cochran of RVSCC, who was the Rallymaster for ten of the twenty or so rallies which were conducted in the Pine Barrens and asked for his assistance in creating the first Paul Miller Pine Barrens Off Road Excursion.
During that 2013, event twenty-three teams participated in the Trek using limited written instructions, maps and posted pie-plate signs to follow the route. There are no street signs in the forest. Murray and Akemi Kane drove the lead car with Fred. My wife, Joanne and I ran sweep, picking up the pie-plates and helping make sure people who went off-course did not get hopelessly lost.
The 2015 event was created by using a route initially laid out by Fred Cochran in 2014 and expanded on by Bob Shore of RVSCC and myself over the summer. The Trek utilized well maintained sand trails in the State Forest and the Sand Pits of Joseph J. White Farm.
The thirty-six teams and three support crews were supplied with a bound set of route instructions with turn-by-turn route instructions for the 85 mile course. The instructions utilized Pro-rally ‘Tulip’ drawings, which are graphic representation of each intersection. You see simplistic forms of ‘Tulip’ drawings when you encounter black-on-yellow road signs. ‘Tulip’ drawings are more descriptive, they also show details like railroad tracks, bridges and referenced signs.
In addition to the ‘Tulip’ drawings, the 77 route instructions provided overall mileage to the hundredths, delta mileage (distance between instructions), notification of the official speed limits and a written description of the ‘Tulip’ to make sure everyone stayed on-course and not wander off and get lost in the forest. Six pre-checks were needed to select the trails and finalize the route, in addition Murray and I went out on the Wednesday before the event to make sure that some of the narrower trails did not have any branches that might damage the paint of the vehicles participating on the event.
On-site registration was conducted at the Lakehurst Community Center at 9am, breakfast was provided and after signing the insurance waivers and distributing the route books, a driver’s meeting was conducted to go over the route and make sure everyone understood the instruction format and what to expect.
A ‘course-open car’ left the start about 30 minutes in advance of Trek to make sure that roads were open and clear of any obstructions that might have occurred since the last time Murray and I saw the route on Wednesday. This precaution was a good investment. This final pre-check staffed by Bob Shore, Joe Kwaitek (both of RVSCC) and Sue Smith from our region, encountered a downed tree which would of blocked the route for the larger SUVs and Trucks. Due to proper preparation (they had a saw, shovel and tow straps) they cleared the obstacle without delaying the thirty-six teams on the Trek. In addition to a ‘course-open car’, the event also had a ‘sweep car’ which followed about 15 minutes behind the last vehicle. This team was staffed by Alan Rubin, a NNJR PCA and RVSCC member, Arna Cochran and Donna Besignano both from RVSCC, lucky we did not require their services.
At 10am under warm sunny skies, we headed out and drove to Chatsworth, NJ the unofficial capital of the Pine Barrens and host of the annual Cranberry Festival. Four miles later we encountered our first sand trail and turned left onto Eagle Rd, a narrow one lane trail with several waterholes. Some individuals with wide vehicles folded in their side mirrors to make sure there was room to clear the brush and trees that lined the route. Taking advantage of the photo opportunities Petra Swift climbed into Tom Swift’s truck bed and took several shots of the cars maneuvering around the waterholes. This was slow going for some and three miles later we emerged on Hawkins Speedwell Rd. This was a little wider, maybe one and half cars wide, and the route drove past Hawkins Bridge Camp Grounds to make a right on Washington Turnpike, the name of this road is a little deceiving. While it is one of the three major roads in Wharton State Forest, it is little more than a dirt road which is just wide enough to pass an on-coming car with care.
After some photos at the waterholes, Joanne and I, pressing the official speed limit in the Forest lead Petra and Tom head of the main body of the Trek to a pre-selected photo spot at the intersection of Washington Turnpike and Tuckerton Rd, where Petra got into the truck-bed for photos of the participates as they turned onto Tuckerton Rd. This intersection, which is now just a crossroad of two sand trails is noted for being a tavern stop along the famous Tuckerton Stage Road which ran from Camden to Tuckerton. Tuckerton Road was first used by Native Americans to traverse the forest. The first Europeans that settled in the area followed this same route on foot and horseback to Camden/Philadelphia or the Jersey Shore. Eventually, the route was widened to accommodate wagons to bring needed supplies to Little Egg Harbor. By 1791, Clam Town (as it was called) was designated as a port of entry for the United States by George Washington. At the time, it was the third largest port town in the country, after Philadelphia and New York. Little Egg Harbor became a place of considerable commerce and prospered. In 1798, the town changed its name to Tuckerton and the stage line became known as the Tuckerton Stage Road.
During the Revolutionary War the Tuckerton Stage Road was a favorite of Joe Mulliner, an infamous outlaw who is said to have terrorized the inhabitants of the Pines. Joe Mulliner was a British Loyalist. Considered by the British as the ‘Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens’, the Rebels had other ideas. Since this area produced extensive iron ore and was important to providing munitions for the Continental Army, any disruption to the supply routes was considered a major problem. In the early summer of 1781, Joe crashed a party at a local tavern, the militia was contacted and he was then taken to Burlington, where he was imprisoned, tried and hanged that very day. Strangely enough, the saga of Joe Mulliner continued even after his ill-fated death. Travelers would report hearing laughter in the woods or seeing a man resembling the famous outlaw standing in the roadway with guns drawn. Like many historical artifacts that once existed, Joe Mulliner’s grave has now disappeared. There is little physical evidence remaining of the famous leader of the bandits, but his legend lives on.
After traveling over six miles on the old Stagecoach trail we cut over to Carranza Rd. Carranza Rd is named after Captain Emilio Carranza Rodríguez (December 9, 1905 – July 12, 1928) he was a noted Mexican aviator and national hero, nicknamed the “Lindbergh of Mexico”. He was killed while returning from a historic goodwill flight from Mexico City to the United States. Carranza took off after dark during a break in thunderstorms in the New York region. While flying over the Pinelands amidst thunderstorms, he crashed into the woods. A 12 foot monument marks the site of his crash. For the last 87 years a memorial is held in July in his honor.
Just before arriving at the monument, the Trek split into two routes, one for vehicles over three tons and the main route for those under three tons. The three ton or less vehicles turned right to travel past Batona Camp ground over a small narrow wood bridge, through some deep sand were the ‘course-opening’ crew filmed the Trek coming around a 90 degree curve (available on YouTube) before turning right a mile later on South Park Road.
The vehicles that exceeded the weight limit of the wooden bridge, bypassed Batona Camp trail and proceeded past the monument, on a paved road to Country Route 532. This route added about nine miles to their odometer, but due to the higher average speed on the paved road, they were able to rejoin the other vehicles on South Park Road after only missing about four miles of sand.
Following South Park Road brought the Trek to Apple Pie Hill, the highest point in the Pine Barrens (a whopping 209 feet above sea level!) and if time permitted we could have climbed the 60 foot observation tower for a panoramic view of one the most unique vistas in the state. (Maybe in 2016)
The event then left the Forest, looped back through Chatsworth and on to Pemberton Recreation Centre for a catered lunch.
During lunch, Murray and Akemi Kane conducted a free raffle and each team was awarded a ‘goodie’ bag, in addition three teams were lucky enough receive a bottle of Pine Barrens own Valenzano’s Jersey Devil Mead or Port wine. While I cannot vouch for the quality, the bottle’s labels contained great graphics of the New Jersey Devil.
After lunch we had a short drive past the cranberry bogs of Joseph J. White Farm to the Sand Pits. The region via connections with RVSCC, was able to gain access to the Sand Pits. The Sand Pits are about the size of six football fields and contains both flat stretches to do donuts and steep sides and several two stories mounds of sand. During the 60 minutes that we were there, people had a chance to play with their 4-wheel drive. One vehicle needed help getting out of the deep sand and two Jeeps needed assistance after been high centered, one after climbing up one of the mounds, the other after driving (at slow speed) into an erosion ditch on the down side of a slope. Neither Jeeps sustained any damage. It looks like everybody enjoyed the experience and had stories to tell when they returned to work on Monday.
Since the Sand Pit was ‘free style format’, some took a short spin and headed home while others stayed until we waived them out of the Pit, so they could head home before it got dark.
On our return back up to Northern Jersey we were treated to a magnificent sunset, which capped off a great day in the Pinelands.
Work is currently underway for the third Paul Miller’s Pine Barrens Off Road Excursion. So mark your calendars for November 13, 2016 and we hope to see you there.