Less a leisurely hike, than a lost episode of Survivorman, Jerry and I spent the better part of a beautiful Saturday enduring the aggressively rustic Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, a 1227 acre bird sanctuary in the heart of the NJ Pine Barrens. The area is managed by the NJ Conservation Foundation.
Our first disconcerting moment occurred immediately, before entering the grounds. The parking area notated on our map was not to be found in the real world. Spending a couple deliberative moments we decided the “P” on the trail guide stood for “Please leave your car on the side of the road”. Later, during one of our many doubling back moments, we thought about this sketchy start and wondered if a maniac, perhaps a dyslexic suffering from dementia, drew up these directions.
The main route, the White Trail, was suitable for man, horse or Sherman tank. Cutting a wide berth through the forest, the White Trail connects with other colored trails, smaller segments restricted to people with feet. Hey, that’s us.
…we wondered if a maniac, perhaps a dyslexic suffering from dementia, drew up these directions…
After roughly a half-mile heading north on the White Trail we came to a gate warning us to turn back. Attempting to use logic, we decided this couldn’t be the correct route and continued on a side path stage right. Eventually we realized we’d gone off the grid. The first clue was when we found ourselves exiting the forest about a mile east from where we entered. Heading back we took, what turned out to be, an abandoned route. We cycled back yet again and, taking a squirt on holy logic, crossed the bridge beyond the gate. This put us back on track. It would also become symbolic, like crossing the gates of Hell.
With the bridge to our backs we stopped to admire the view. The path zoomed straight before us, the forest wide open and welcoming. But then, inexplicably, I suddenly had that same ominous feeling as Sheriff Brody during the dolly zoom beach scene in Jaws.
I suddenly had that same ominous feeling as Sheriff Brody during the dolly zoom beach scene in Jaws.
In order to loop through the park and create a manageable hike we needed to get off the White Trail. The first connector would be the westerly Green Trail, running parallel to, and then crossing, Gum Spring.
Other than aggressive woodpeckers, it appeared the Green Trail has seen little recent action, perhaps as far back as the Coolidge Administration. Occasionally thick grasses threatened to cover the road completely. We came to a tree sporting a 15’ ladder with seat nestled on top. A hunting stand? Maybe it was for bird watching since hunting was prohibited. As we discussed its purpose, our nice little hike turned into a full-fledged tick assault. Mayday.
The bloodthirsty bastards swarmed on us quickly. We picked, plucked and brushed with extreme prejudice but it was a lost battle. Our insect repellent, short on Deet, was in fact a meat marinade arousing the nostrils of every tick in the forest with spectacular efficacy. We made haste, flicking and picking towards the 2nd part of the White Trail. Time to cut short our trip.
Our insect repellent, short on Deet, was in fact a meat marinade arousing the nostrils of every tick in the forest with spectacular efficacy.
We found the connecting road washed out from the stream, which had overflowed its banks. We jumped Gum Spring from a small hillside and awaited the appearance of the Yellow Trail, which would turn us southwest and take us away from the- shudder- Godforsaken Green Trail.
We consulted the map multiple times, but not finding a yellow marker, we eventually came to a split and suspected an unmarked road to be the Yellow Trail. The unkempt- shiver- Green Trail that we’d just endured left us wondering if we could trust any guideposts again. It seemed the whole interior of the preserve was completely ignored by caretakers. Perhaps they were devoured by ticks. We wondered when the last time hiking boots had actually touched this place.
Of course, that’s when we saw the detritus of humanity including a group of overturned steel drums, the rusted hunk remains of some mysterious Rube Goldberg-like apparatus and a large elevated structure housing a lighting unit with dangling power cord connected to nothing. The massive swaths of wooded brush punctuated by the appearance of these odd items caused Jerry to posit that we may have somehow stumbled onto the same patch of land as the poor slobs on Lost.
I stated the obvious to Jerry, “taking this path is a gamble…”
As we walked the unmarked road, hoping (against hope) that it was the mysterious Yellow Trail, I stated the obvious to Jerry, “taking this path is a gamble”. We could have just stayed on the White Trail and hung a left on another- eye twitch- Green Trail. However, that would have added almost 2 miles to our trip.
The orchestra is blind. But I’ve never been the worrying kind. —