by New Jersey Conservation Foundation Executive Director Michele S. Byers
It’s time to hit the trails and get “back to nature.” The benefits go far beyond pretty scenery and fresh air!
Recent studies show that exercising outdoors beats the gym hands down. Psychologically, people simply feel better after spending time outside. In studies, volunteers who exercised both indoors and outdoors said they felt more energetic, revitalized and engaged – and less tense, angry and depressed – after being outside.
And walking, jogging or cycling outdoors burns more calories than using a treadmill or exercise bike, because of terrain changes and wind resistance.
This state we’re in is full of great places to get fit and enjoy the fresh air. One of the best is the Batona Trail in the Pine Barrens, which was recently lengthened and improved. Now about 53 miles, it’s the longest trail in the Pine Barrens … and one of the longest in the entire state. The name Batona comes from the phrase BAck TO Nature – and that’s exactly where you’ll find yourself!
With its distinctive hot-pink blazes, the Batona Trail has something for everyone, from hard-core hikers to families taking a short stroll. Beginning at Ong’s Hat in Brendan Byrne State Forest and ending at Lake Absegami in Bass River State Forest, the trail intersects several main roads, making it easy to plan treks of different lengths.
As its name origin suggests, the Batona Trail is a nature lover’s paradise, traversing iconic pitch pine forests and passing cedar swamps and old cranberry bogs. Sharp-eyed hikers can spot bald eagles, barred owls, hawks, redheaded woodpeckers, Pine Barrens tree frogs, and pine and corn snakes. There’s a wide variety of Pine Barrens plants, including orchids, huckleberry, sundews, pitcher plants, pyxie moss and sand myrtle.
Along the northern stretch in Brendan Byrne State Forest, hikers can check out the Cedar Swamp Natural Area with its dense stands of Atlantic white cedar. A bit farther along is scenic Pakim Pond, which includes a picnic area.
Just to the south, the Batona Trail was recently rerouted through the Franklin Parker Preserve to provide a better woodlands experience. The new section is 7.5 miles long, and it added 2.5 miles to the Batona Trail’s overall length.
At the end of the new trail section is Apple Pie Hill – one of the highest points in the Pine Barrens at 205 feet above sea level, with a fire tower offering panoramic views. The long stretch of trail between Apple Pie Hill and Batsto Village is the “road less traveled,” meandering through some of the most pristine wilderness areas of Wharton State Forest along the Batsto River.
If you’re not familiar with the Pine Barrens, you might be surprised to learn there’s a memorial to a fallen Mexican aviator along the Batona Trail. Emilio Carranza flew nonstop from Mexico City to New York in 1928 on a peace mission. On his return flight, he crashed in the Pine Barrens. The monument – made from stone quarried in Carranza’s home town and paid for by Mexican schoolchildren – marks the spot of the crash.
Historic Batsto Village, once an ironmaking and glassmaking center, lies about two-thirds of the way along the trail. Here, hikers can see more than 30 historic buildings, including Batsto Mansion from the late 1800s.
The Batona Trail was created in 1961 by the Philadelphia-based Batona Hiking Club, which shares upkeep with the Outdoor Club of South Jersey. To learn about hikes sponsored by the two clubs, visit www.batonahikingclub.org and www.ocsj.org.
To view an online map of the Batona Trail, go to www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/docs/batona14web.pdf. Note: the map was created before the rerouting of the Franklin Parker Preserve section and a smaller southern section.
If you can’t get to the Batona Trail but want to exercise outdoors, try a trail near you. For a comprehensive online map of New Jersey trail locations, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org/recreation.htm.
Get out and enjoy the spring weather – and get healthy on our state’s trails!
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