Opening My Heart to New Jersey, One Nature Reserve at A Time

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I’ve been living in New Jersey now for exactly a year. I can’t really tell you who my neighbors are, or what they do for a living. When I am home, I have mostly kept to myself, holding on to every ounce of anonymity I can muster. But, I also admit I need to get out more and check out this new town I am living in. New Jersey, for New Yorkers, has always had such a bad reputation. Shows like Jersey Shore and The Sopranos don’t help, and the views along the expressway from Manhattan do even less to convince people that this state has a lot of beauty.

I have seen it in the more calm beaches of Cape May, and when walking along Newport in Jersey City, a short ride from the city on the PATH.

And recently, I have been venturing into some of the many nature reserves near our house. Natural preservation sights that would’ve required hours of commute from the city to find such gems, but are now no more than a few minutes away.

Close to my house is the South Mountain Reservation, an over 2000 acre park located in Essex County bordering the towns of Millburn, South Orange and Maplewood. It is home to endless hiking trails, dog parks, playgrounds, running paths, and waterfalls which I am still trying to find. I love coming here and walking into the tall wooded areas, loosing myself in thought to the sounds of nature and breeze, birds and other wild life. You can go miles without hearing or seeing another person on most days, something which can seem scary but really isn’t considering that navigating the park is easy with a phone map in hand. There is an archery range here, as well as picnic areas (10 to be exact), and it shares land with the Turtle Back Zoo, another local favorite of ours since we moved here.

When we need to stretch our legs this is where my family and I venture into and on crisp Fall weekends, there is no place more fun for us to walk off a heavy Sunday brunch. It’s a great place to go for fitness ventures, for slow walks, hikes, and photography – all the things I love to do.

Fall days in NJ spent hiking the South Mountain Reservation

A new discovery this weekend was past the town of Chatham, NJ. The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is 7,768 acres with varied habitats and is the resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds. On this particular late Summer day, the wildflowers were in full bloom and the sky blue and picturesque above the massive natural beauty surrounding us.

The great thing about visiting these treasured places is that my boys absolutely love all that there is to discover and see: from spiders to bugs, mushrooms and all sorts of plants – all fun free of charge!

We spent our afternoon walking several of the many paved trails they have there, and made plans to come back again to take on an even longer walk. In the meantime, we admired the ducks and turtles playing in the swamp and posed for photographs, none of which managed to captured the true beauty or the serenity of the place.

Summer day in NJ spent hiking through the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge

If it sounds dreamy it’s because it really is. To have access to such beauty, within such short a distance – even from NYC – is a dream come true for us. My 5 year old couldn’t stop exclaiming how beautiful it all was, and I agree.

I walked behind my family, thinking about the many years I spent in NYC denying this moment would ever happen, and considering myself ever so lucky that it did.

I am not sure that I will ever be the type of neighbor that bakes breads for others, or learns everyone’s names. But I sure as heck am enjoying my growing affection with living in New Jersey and seeing all it has to offer. And I’m so glad you are here to discover it all with me.

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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5 Responses to Opening My Heart to New Jersey, One Nature Reserve at A Time

  1. Beautiful pictures and a lovely area. So nice to find great places to take your family that aren't too far from home.

  2. Carol Cain says:

    @ BusyMomofTwins:

    Thank you! And I agree. I feel so at peace at these places and so happy to be close : )

  3. Quiana says:

    Thank you for sharing this nature reserve! I saw you had tweeted a few pics so I was looking forward to learning more. We've been in Jersey too for almost a year but I still haven't quite warmed up to it yet and get horribly nostalgic when we return to Manhattan to visit friends. We love Turtle Back Zoo though and maybe we'll Zip Car it out soon to check out the nature reserve as well.

  4. Carol Cain says:

    @Quiana: I hope you make it out! Especially as the foliage starts to change : )

  5. Suzanne says:

    Your son would love the Raptor Trust out by the Great Swamp. I spent a lot of times there when my boys were younger.

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