New Jersey’s Pinelands National Reserve, the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston, is a 1.1 million acre living quilt made up of communities, cranberry bogs, copious wide-open spaces and critters of all types, including the Jersey Devil, if the myths are to be believed.
Located in the southern coastal plain of New Jersey, the Reserve, a.k.a. the Jersey Pine Barrens, contains more than a dozen county and state parks such as Wharton State Forest, Historic Batsto Village, Bass River State Forest, Island Beach State Park and the Edwin G. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, the latter being a favored stopover for migratory birds. Day-trippers and campers will discover many opportunities to hike, canoe, kayak, hunt, bird watch and fish.
Deep within the wetlands and the dense oak and pine forests live dozens of rare plant and animal species and, allegedly, the Jersey Devil. “On a dark and stormy night in 1735, something terrible happened in the Pine Barrens near Leeds Point,” according to the state’s official website (nj.gov). “The thunder howled, and the wind roared outside. Inside a small house, Mother Leeds was giving birth to her 13th baby. That night, the Jersey Devil was born.
“Locals in the Pine Barrens call it the Leeds Devil,” the narrative continues. “They say it has a horse’s head, long legs with hooves, two short front legs, and a bat’s wings. The Devil has glowing red eyes and makes loud screeching sounds. It’s very ugly, and people are terrified after seeing it. During the day the Devil lives in the wetlands. At night it comes out to scare anyone it meets.”
If your thoughts of New Jersey lead to strip malls and NYC-suburban living, and the only Jersey Devil you’ve ever heard of is a hockey player, head for the natural beauty of the Pinelands National Reserve.