As we commute on New Jersey’s endless miles of roadways, our catch phrase “The Garden State” may seem to be an anachronism more appropriate to a time when rural routes 1, 9, 206 and 208, were our main routes across the state, passing through small towns, forests and farm land. As we look at all the macadam and concrete that has covered grass, sand and stone, the past 25 years, it was refreshing to be reminded by Kevin Woyce that New Jersey is chock full of state parks – 28 in all – from High Point to Cape May Point, Cheesequake to Washington Crossing, it’s easy to get on any one of those roadways for a short trek to enjoy nature trails, explore historical buildings or have a picnic.
During his presentation at the State Library’s April Author Talk, Woyce discussed The History of New Jersey Parks, which was based on his book. Some of New Jersey’s most exciting history can be found in our state parks. Some park names remind us of our Leni Lenape heritage, such as Kittatinny which means endless mountain, others remind us we were the “Crossroads of the American Revolution,” and those with abandoned forges still speak of our first great industry.
From the top of New Jersey’s highest mountain to our last undeveloped beaches, Woyce discussed who called them home in the past, what happened in and around them, and how and why they were preserved for generations of visitors, with accompanying slides. Our largest park is Waywayanda in Hewitt at 30,000 acres; High Point has 15,000; Island Beach, which has not been an island since 1812, is the largest park at the shore; Voorhees has two stone armchairs at the top of a trail; Liberty State Park was built almost entirely on landfill; and at Allaire you can see an iron forge that was used to process bog iron, you may also take a ride on the Pine Creek Railroad, one of the oldest operating narrow gauge railway exhibits in the country . Our first state park was Swartzwood in Newton.
Woyce is an author, photographer and lecturer. He has written and done photography for eleven books. His regional history books, illustrated with original black and white photography, include Jersey Shore History & Facts, Niagara: The Falls and the River, New Jersey Parks: History and Facts and Liberty: an illustrated history of America’s Favorite Statue.