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Hiking Through the Unexpected Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey

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  • Post published:02/27/2022
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In 1961 ecology was not a “thing”; people weren’t talking about conservation and natural habitats for wildlife in the general population.  Most people were all about consumerism and modernization.  Cavit and Hope Sawyer Buyukmichi weren’t like most people.  In 1961 they purchased land in rural Buena Vista Township and moved there with their three children.  The purchase included; a cabin, an old barn, a pond and a beaver dam.  They looked at this pristine land and a vision was born – a place where the indigenous plants and animals of Southern New Jersey could live and thrive without the threat of human intervention. They built trails, erected birdhouses and invited local friends and school children to observe, photograph and learn about native plants and animals in their habitat. The Buyukmichi’s were environmentalists before we had a common language for what they were doing.

How Did Unexpected Wildlife Refuge Come Together?

This vision has evolved into what we now know as Unexpected Wildlife Refuge.  This is privately owned 767-acre non-profit that holds true to the Buyukmichi’s original intent.  Just because this is a privately owned preserve, that doesn’t mean visitors are not welcome, quite the opposite.  What this does mean however is you can’t just show up.  You need to call or e-mail the site Manager to let them know you want to visit.  This is no big deal.  Our call was immediately answered and we got a detailed e-mail explaining how to locate the entrance promptly after speaking with her.  The staff is very friendly and welcoming here so don’t be put off by having to let them know you are coming.  Honestly, without the detailed e-mail I’m not sure we would have found the trailhead anyway.  It’s also helpful to converse with staff because they know which trails are likely to be to accessed on any particular day due to downed trees or other naturally occurring events that might make passage on a trail difficult.

The trails here are beautiful and wild.  They are blazed, but this preserve is designed for the flora and fauna, not to cater to the humans.  Follow the Manager’s directions from her e-mail to find the beautiful old barn and the start of the trails.  We parked by the last locking station on the dirt road and walked in.  At the trailhead is a large wooden map.  This is the beginning of the Boundary Trail.  Follow through the pine forest, the pond will be on your left.  Soon you’ll come upon a viewing station.  We decided to take a detour along the Yellow Trail.  This led us across bridges made of concrete slats through marshy areas around the pond.  The concrete bridges go on for about 500 ft. and it’s a magical experience traversing the swamp.

We doubled back on the Yellow Trail to pick up the Blue Trail.  This will take you to the Otter Pond.  There’s a little dock type area where you can sit, observe and reflect here.  The woods are lovely; filled with different kinds of pine trees, red cedars, rhododendrons and holly plants.  Be warned – this is a natural environment.  We went on an unseasonably warm February day.  If you go in season, I have no doubt there will be ticks and other insects that are native to swampy areas, so come prepared.

Unexpected Wildlife Refuge is a South Jersey treasure.  We are lucky to have this piece of land preserved by visionaries who saw the encroachment of “progress” and development and thought to carve out this little slice of paradise for the plants, animals and those humans who care enough to come visit and enjoy.

Here’s the link to schedule a visit to this little slice of paradise.

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