If cranberries are considered the “jewel of the Pine Barrens”, then Franklin Parker Preserve could be considered the Tiffany’s of South Jersey. This 16 square mile former cranberry farm was purchased in 2003 by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and is currently their largest property located in the heart of the Pine Barrens.
Your first clue is the large Ocean Spray Receiving Station you pass on Route 563 as you head through Chatsworth. There are several trailheads for this large park. We chose the Speedwell entrance to begin our hike, following the yellow trail along the wide sandy path.
If you visit in the winter, the “barren” scenery is stunning — there are shallow lakes and old cranberry bogs on both sides of the trail.
The first interesting feature is the large section of concrete matting. This provides safe crossing for heavy equipment through the boggy landscape — evidence like this of the old working cranberry farm is everywhere. There are several Pump House Stations along the trail in different states of repair. Once you spot the old wooden gates used to regulated the water levels, it’s easy to squint and imagine these fields bursting with activity as the business of cranberry farming is conducted.
Author’s note: It had rained a lot the night before our visit. My hiking partner chose well when he selected this site as the sandy soil drains well and we only had to go around a few puddles to remain on the trail.
After about a mile or so of being bordered by cranberry bogs and old blueberry fields, we entered a woods with scrub pines. This particular hike was flat and easy — we completed a two-mile loop by using the last Blue Connector Trail which returned us to our car.
Not ready to end this glorious day, we decided to hike on the other side of the street at the Bald Eagle Reservoir section of the park. We were greeted by a sign warning of Timber Rattlesnakes… and everyone should take this warning seriously! We took the White Trail around the cedar swamp.
At one point you are in between a large lake and marshy area. Across the lake we saw geese and swans sheltering by the shore due to the blustery winds. Shortly after that, there’s an old Pump House that was converted to an observation platform. From there you get a gorgeous 360-degree view of the surrounding bogs, marshes and lake. I can imagine on a non-windy day this is an excellent place to site all kinds of birds of prey circling the area. It was also exciting, at least for me, to notice that this area had several earthstar mushrooms poking through the sandy soil. We also noticed lots of deer and raccoon tracks along this section of the trail.
Author’s note: We intended to loop all the way around the White Trail but unfortunately the trail was flooded out and there was no way to cross where the lake had now joined the swamp. We had to double back and pick up another section of the trail to loop back.
As we wandered through the cedar swamp, we did spot evidence of fresh beaver activity. The shallow lakes and marshy swamp seem a perfect beaver habitat. Here’s how to take the best wildlife photos.
We completed about 5 miles of the 21 miles of trails. This large, unspoiled park with scenery that rolls from bogs to marshes to baby pines really is a gem sitting majestically in the Pines. The beauty here lies in observing how nature has reclaimed her treasure.
Want more Pine Barrens adventures? Check out this guide. All photos courtesy of the author. Follow her on Instagram.