The Best of Both Worlds in Waterford

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Last week, Waterford Township repaired the sewer lateral that caused some plumbing issues for me so I was able to enjoy the holiday with visits to family in Egg Harbor Township and Sicklerville. I wanted to write more about my new home town and share additional photos before putting this blog on hiatus for December.

The Mullica River, which starts in neighboring Berlin, separates Waterford from Evesham, Medford, and Shamong to the north and northwest. The river flows into Wharton State Forest, which comprises much of the eastern portion of my township. Waterford shares a small section of Atco, its most famous unincorporated community, with Winslow Township to the south. 

The entire municipality of Waterford lies within the state-designated Pinelands area and is subject to six of the nine Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) land use designations. These are the CMP designated management areas within Waterford along with their descriptions from the CMP website:

  • Agricultural Production Area: “These are areas of active agricultural use, generally upland field agriculture and row crops, together with adjacent areas with soils suitable for expansion of agricultural operations. Farm-related housing on 10 acres and non-farm housing on 40 acres are allowed. Permitted non-residential uses are agricultural commercial and roadside retail within 300 feet of preexisting commercial uses.”
  • Forest Area: “Similar to the Preservation Area District in terms of ecological value; this is a largely undeveloped area that is an essential element of the Pinelands environment. It contains high quality water resources and wetlands and provides suitable habitat for many threatened and endangered species. Clustered housing on one acre lots is permitted at an average residential density of one home per every 28 acres. Roadside retail within 300 feet of pre-existing commercial uses is permitted, as are low intensity recreational uses.”
  • Pinelands Village: “Forty-seven small, existing, spatially discrete settlements that are appropriate for infill residential, commercial and industrial development compatible with their existing character. Most Villages are not sewered; therefore residential development is permitted on lots between one and five acres in size.”
  • Preservation Area (Wharton State Forest): “This is the heart of the Pinelands environment and the most critical ecological region; a large, contiguous wilderness-like area of forest that supports diverse plant and animal communities and is home to many threatened and endangered species. No residential development is permitted, except for one-acre lots in designated infill areas and special “cultural housing” exceptions, on minimum 3.2 acre lots for property owned by families prior to 1979. Limited commercial uses are also permitted in designated infill areas, which total approximately 2,100 acres in size.”
  • Regional Growth Area: “These are areas of existing growth and adjacent lands capable of accommodating regional growth influences while protecting the essential character and environment of the Pinelands. Permitted residential densities range from two to six homes per acre with sewers. Sewered commercial and industrial uses are also permitted.”
  • Rural Development Area: “This is a transitional area that balances environmental and development values between conservation and growth areas. Limited, low-density residential development and roadside retail is permitted. Clustered housing on one acre lots is permitted at an average residential density of one home for every five acres. Community commercial, light industrial and active recreational uses served by septic systems are also permitted.”

Waterford’s location near the western edge of the state-designated Pinelands area puts it close to the more densely populated and heavily developed areas of Camden County. The White Horse Pike (Route 30) enters Waterford from Berlin Borough at the intersection of Route 73. 

Chew Road goes through Wharton State Forest where it enters Hammonton and connects to Route 206. Jackson Road (County Road 534) enters the township close to the Mullica River, goes past the Atco Dragway, and crosses the river into Shamong.

C.W. Haines Boulevard crosses the White Horse Pike and leads to Atco Station and Route 73’s strip malls and shopping centers. The NJ Transit Atlantic City Line runs through Waterford with a stop at Atco Station, connecting the township with the Atlantic City Rail Terminal in Atlantic City and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. As someone who grew up in Philadelphia accustomed to the convenience of public transportation, having a train station connected to Philly as well as the shore minutes from my house was definitely a plus when I made my decision to move to Waterford.  

Although the train runs along C.W. Haines regularly along with the 554 bus, birds and deer make this patch of woods their home. Walking or driving along this road, I’ve encountered bluejays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, catbirds, wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures along with white-tailed does. At night. Intermingled with the sound of the train and its whistle, I’ve heard great horned owls hooting in the fall when their breeding season begins, peepers welcoming the spring and awoken to the dawn chorus of birds in the summer. With the natural beauty of Wharton State Forest to my east and the amenities of civilization to my west, I feel I discovered a place that offers the best of both worlds.

Waterford and the Camden County Pine Barrens

Two years ago today, I moved into my newly purchased townhouse in Waterford Township. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving. I looked forward to getting to know my new hometown after the bustle of the holidays subsided. Instead, within months, I was in lockdown with the rest of the state as the COVID pandemic swept the world. 

While working at home, I rekindled a lifelong interest in photography with a Nikon D3500 that I bought shortly after Christmas. With so much shut down, I took most of my shots doing socially distanced hiking in the woods or simply sitting on my deck and catching whatever backyard bird stopped by for breakfast or lunch.

I planned to publish a post about Waterford full of photos, but my time was limited over the past few days due to a broken sewer lateral leading from my house. Contractors from the Waterford Department of Public Works are diligently working in the street to repair it. I’ll publish more Waterford facts and photos at a later date. In the meantime, I do have some photos from one of my favorite encounters last year.

Early one morning last year a neighbor texted me excitedly that she spotted a family of bald eagles on the nearby water tower. Unfortunately, I got out there with my camera too late and missed them. It became a goal of mine to  get a photo of a bald eagle. Whenever I went hiking or kayaking, I kept a sharp eye out trying to spot one but came up empty. Then on a Friday afternoon in early October as I sat on my deck eating lunch, I noticed a raptor circling directly overhead. It was brown, not solid black like a vulture, with white streaks on its chest. It was too big to be a red-tailed hawk. I grabbed my camera and clicked away. When I posted the pictures later on Facebook,  someone commented that it was indeed a bald eagle, a juvenile with a brown instead of a white head. I had to laugh at the irony of trying to spot an eagle all year out in the forest and then just having one come to me in my own backyard. I knew I chose my new hometown well. Waterford was a place where a bald eagle dropped by for lunch.

Proud Past, Promising Future

Established in 1694, Waterford Township was created by royal charter and named for Waterford, Ireland. The inclusion of Waterford in the Township Act of 1789 made it one of the original 104 municipalities in the state of New Jersey.  At that time, it was part of Gloucester County. The township then became one of the original townships of newly established Camden County in 1844 with the settlement of Long-a-coming (then part of Waterford but now part of Berlin Borough) as the first county seat. Subsequently, Cherry Hill, Chesilhurst, Voorhees, and Berlin Township were formed from Waterford with Berlin Borough later created from Berlin Township. Encompassing 36 square miles of land and .22 square miles of water, the population counted in the 2010 census was a little over 10 thousand with a density of 295.5 per square mile. 

Waterford contains Atco Lake, a man-made lake within a 77 acre park adjacent to the White Horse Pike. As with other lakes in the Pine Barrens, it was most likely dammed to serve the needs of a nearby mill.

Philadelphian Thomas Richards founded the Jackson Glassworks, named after President Andrew Jackson, leading to the establishment of Atco, now an unincorporated area within the township. The glassworks operated from 1827 to 1877. Other unincorporated areas include Bishops, Dunbarton, Fisher, Jackson, Louden and Pestletown.

Dragway

Waterford is home to the famous Atco Dragway, a ¼ mile dragstrip located on the edge of Wharton State Forest. When it opened in 1960, it was the first dragstrip in New Jersey. According to this article, the location was originally intended to be a horse racing track. The track was “grandfathered in” when the state passed legislation to protect the Pine Barrens.  Actually, this is the only landmark in the township I knew of before I moved here. I remember commercials about it while growing up. The dragway received attention recently after being put up for sale with the potential of being converted to an automobile auction site, a plan that stirred controversy.

Wildfire

The unique ecology of the Pine Barrens makes it susceptible to wildfires. In 2008, a wildfire broke out in Waterford Township’s section of Wharton State Forest. It burned a swath of 1400 acres through Camden, Burlington, and Atlantic counties. To safeguard against future wildfires, controlled burns are conducted, especially in anticipation of the spring fire season. I’ve witnessed controlled burns along Jackson Road in the two years I’ve lived here.

Camden County Pine Barrens 

Camden County borders Center City and South Philadelphia. The city of Camden across the Delaware River from Penn’s Landing is the most populous municipality in the county, 12th in the state, and 487th in the United States. Out of the county’s 37 municipalities, five lie at least partially within state-designated Pinelands area and are subject to Comprehensive Management Plan designations: Waterford, Chesilhurst, Berlin Borough, Berlin Township, and Winslow. Waterford and Chesilhurst fall entirely within the Pinelands area.

“The Pinelands area located in Waterford Township is part of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system. It is an unconfined freshwater aquifer, meaning it is not capped by rock but is located within a surface layer of highly permeable sand and gravel. The Cohansey aquifer contains 17 trillion gallons of exceptionally clean water located approximately ten feet below grade. It has a major role in the Pinelands, supplying 90% of the water in streams, rivers and wetlands in the form of base flow. This impacts the Pineland’s fauna and flora, creating a rare wetland habitat, and why any disturbance to the water table level could disrupt the entire groundwater-dependent ecosystem. The high acidic nature and the low pH of the groundwater is also responsible for the vegetation that is native to the Pinelands area. Some of this unique vegetation cannot be found in other areas of the country.”

Waterford Township Environmental Resource Inventory

Being one of the seven Pinelands counties entitles Camden County to appoint a representative on the Pinelands Commission. The county is currently accepting applications for a new representative. Anyone Camden County residents interested in serving have until November 30th to apply. Visit the county website for more information.

Birding in the Pines and along the Jersey Shore

On the last Saturday in October this year, I spent the morning with birding expert Steve Sobocinski and a small group of birders hiking the Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s Rancocas Creek farm.  With more than 24 years of birding experience in the Pine Barrens, Steve helped identify the many species we spotted.

Steve Sobocinski Leads a Birding Walk at the Rancocas Creek Farm, an initiative of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance
Steve Sobocinski Leads a Birding Walk at the Rancocas Creek Farm (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Warblers and Sparrows

A Tennessee warbler and grasshopper sparrow made rare autumn appearances. These two species usually have migrated out of the area by this time of year, and Steve was excited to see them. The yellowish gray Tennessee warbler migrates through New Jersey between Canada where it breeds and Central and South America where it spends the winter. 

Tennessee Warbler at Rancocas Creek Farm, October 2021 (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

A yellow-rumped warbler also made an appearance. They have distinct brownish grey streaks and yellow markings.

The grasshopper sparrow seemed unafraid and curious about us as we admired and photographed it. This little sparrow feeds primarily on grasshoppers and migrates south for the winter. Although not endangered, the species is in decline.

Grasshopper Sparrow at Rancocas Creek Farm, October 2021 (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Sparrows in general ruled the morning. Steve pointed out house, field, and chipping sparrows along with heavily streaked savannah and song sparrows. Here’s a nice reference to help differentiate various species of sparrow: https://www.thespruce.com/pictures-of-sparrows-4121969.

Double-crested Cormorant and Great Blue Heron

A double-crested cormorant flew overhead at the very beginning of the tour, and one group member spotted a great blue heron

I’ve seen both these species closer to the shore but not as often inland. In fact, this was the first time I saw a cormorant in this area. My favorite thing about them is their beautiful emerald eyes. This photo I took of one at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge shows that feature clearly.

Double-crested Cormorant at Forsythe (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Great blue herons are common in New Jersey. I have seen them in Shamong and at Batsto Lake while kayaking but have seen them most frequently at Forsythe where I have taken my best photos of them.

Great Blue Heron at Forsythe (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel

We spotted a red-tailed hawk near Route 206. It flew from a tree to a wire where it watched the roadway before leaving for better hunting. 

Steve noted that it was unusual to see one perched on a wire, but coincidentally I was able to take photos of one earlier this year perched on a wire along Route 206 in Shamong not far from Atsion Lake. Perhaps they like keeping an eye out for roadkill.

Red-tailed Hawk in Shamong, April 2021 (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

A female American kestrel perched along several fence posts, moving away each time we got a little too close for her comfort. This little raptor is the smallest falcon in North America. Although common, in some locations the species has declined. 

American Kestrel at Rancocas Creek Farm, October 2021 (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

We came upon a garter snake lying so still we wondered if it were dead until it moved slightly. Steve wondered why the kestrel hadn’t grabbed it yet.

Backyard Birds

A male Eastern bluebird flitted around, joining an eastern phoebe on a fence. Who doesn’t love bluebirds? I wish they visited my backyard more often. The bluebird’s companion, the eastern phoebe, is a species of eastern flycatcher.

A male Eastern bluebird flitted around, joining an eastern phoebe, a type of eastern flycatcher, on a fence. Who doesn’t love bluebirds? I wish they visited my backyard more often. Blue jays, on the other hand, visit my backyard frequently where they are more than welcome. We spotted a few of these colorful cheeky birds as well as a few mockingbirds.

We saw a male red-winged blackbird perched on a fence hanging out with a flock of cowbirds. Although very common, red-winged blackbirds are one of my favorites. Last winter, I took a sequence of photos of a feisty male red-winged blackbird driving off a green heron in the early morning fog.

Although the brown female of the species may not immediately catch the eye compared to the striking glistening black male with his fiery markings, I noticed this little girl in Brigantine and got a photo of her perched on some reeds.

Female Red-winged Blackbird in Brigantine (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

We also saw an American Goldfinch, the state bird of New Jersey. Like the male red-winged blackbird, the male of this species is more brightly colored than the female, especially during the breeding season.

Cowbirds and Canada Geese

Among the flock of cowbirds, we spotted an unusual specimen with a white ring around both eyes. Steve thought this might be caused by a melanistic gene. 

Flocks of Canada geese passed overhead with the sky as a beautiful backdrop.This photo taken at Goshen Pond in Shamong shows this large bird close up.

Canada Goose on Goshen Pond (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Pinelands Preservation Alliance Headquarters and the Rancocas Creek Farm

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance headquarters is located at 17 Pemberton Road, Southampton Township, New Jersey at the historic Bishop Farmstead, which includes the Bishop-Irick House, the Louden Barn, a gift shop, and walking trail.  

The adjoining 72 acre Rancocas Creek Farm is the latest addition to the complex thanks to a donation of the land made in 2019. Originally a soy farm, the PPA repurposed it as an organic sustainable farm.

Halloween on the Batsto River: Kayaking Quaker Bridge to Batsto Lake

With my ankle feeling much better and back to normal, I decided to squeeze in one last kayak trip before the season ended this year on Halloween. I booked a spot with Pinelands Adventures for the last Quaker Bridge to Batsto Lake trip of the year. Pinelands Adventures describes the trip as a “favorite Pine Barrens Paddling Trip. This trip is our best option for all paddling ability levels” and “moderately challenging depending upon the paddler’s level of experience and physical condition.”

A brief summary from their site: “Your canoe or kayak trip begins on the Batsto River at Quaker Bridge about four miles into the Wharton State Forest from our location at Atsion Lake. The Batsto River is a narrow, winding Pine Barrens river with clean cool water and small areas to pull out for a break or picnic. You’ll end with a half mile paddle where the river opens into a lake formed by the dam at Batsto Village.”

We drove down Quaker Bridge Road past both 1st Beach and Lock’s Bridge to get to Quaker Bridge at mile marker 6 along the river. Unlike Lock’s Bridge, an actual bridge still exists at this spot with a poignant history. 

“In 1772 a group of Quakers built a bridge over this stream after several members of their traveling parties had drowned here on their way to an annual meeting in Little Egg Harbor. Today this site is often used by outfitters as a put-in spot for canoe and kayak trips down the Batsto River.”

Solem-Stull, Barbara. Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens . Plexus Publishing, Inc. Kindle Edition. 
Quaker Bridge, Halloween 2021 (photo by Beach and Barrens)

Although the Batsto River has many turns, they were not as sharp and the river not as narrow along this route as the first part of the Mullica from Atsion Lake to 1st Beach. I observed many cedar swamps, much more than I’ve seen on the Mullica, along the way, providing a good amount of cool shade.

Cedar Swamp along the Batsto River, Halloween 2021 (photo by Beach and Barrens)

I did this trip three times before in 2020. The first was in June when then-director Rob Ferber invited me to Pinelands Adventures’ soft opening when they were preparing for limited operations during the pandemic. 

I did it again in August on a serene Monday afternoon. Then, later in the autumn, I had two friends interested in doing more paddling so we booked a trip near the end of October. The fall color along the Batsto yesterday was just as spectacular as it had been last year.

Autumn on the Batsto River, Halloween 2021 (photo by Beach and Barrens)

Batsto River

The source of the Batsto River, which is a tributary of the Mullica River, is in Tabernacle. Skit Branch, Deep Run, Springer’s Brook, and Penn Swamp Branch join the Batsto. Along with Quaker Bridge, Hampton Furnace and Lower Forge are remnants of ghost towns near the banks. 

Batsto River, June 2020 (photo by Beach and Barrens)

Batsto Lake

The dam built at Batsto Village, a historic settlement and ironworks founded by Charles Read in 1766, formed Batsto Lake. According to the Batsto Village website, “the lake created by the dam allowed boats to move bog iron from rivers and streams to the Iron Furnace. The lake also provided water power for the Sawmill and Gristmill.” Batsto Village avoided the fate of other ironworks of the past such as Hampton when the state of New Jersey purchased and preserved the site.

The Forks

Batsto River continues beyond Batsto Village and joins the Mullica River at The Forks. The increased volume of water received from the Batsto widens the Mullica considerably as it flows past Sweetwater Marina through Atlantic County and into Great Bay. In addition to writing a book about Batsto Village, Barbara Solem penned a short book about the history of the Forks starting with the Lenni Lenape inhabitants followed by European settlers and the importance of the area during the Revolutionary War when it was a hotbed for smugglers and pirates.

Barbara details in her book how Arnold was court-martialed when he used army wagons intended for another use to move his cargo off a ship moored at the Forks to protect it from the British. As his sentence, General George Washington, “conflicted over the matter, erred on the side of gentleness and only gave Arnold a mild rebuke.” Still, Barbara writes that it damaged the friendship between the two men and Arnold’s infamous betrayal followed shortly after.

“Today at the confluence of the Batsto and Mullica Rivers stands a tavern and restaurant named The Forks Inn (now closed). From the dining room of this colonial establishment, guests could look out at the tranquil river scene and envision a time long gone, when these waterways harbored a bustling seaport.”

Solem-Stull, Barbara. The Forks . Plexus Publishing, Inc.