Belleplain State Forest, NJ Barry Caselli
July 25, 2009

Today I decided to take a ride after my usual short Friday at work, and drove down to Belleplain State Forest in Cape May and Cumberland Counties. I wanted to hike there. I've driven through a number of times but have never hiked there.
The facts, figures and information on the forest are here:
In many ways it consists of typical pine barrens habitats. But there are some differences. I found massive amounts of Sweet Pepper Bush in the low understory in one large area. That grows up here of course, but not in such unbeleivably huge numbers. I also found much more highbush blueberry and mountain laurel than I'm used to seeing. But maybe that's because the trails I hiked go through a lot of wet or damp forests. I'm not sure. On the trails I hiked I found the forest to be oak-dominant, and found no pine-dominant forests. That of course happens all over the pine barrens. So maybe I was just in the wrong place.
I also found more spanish oak than I'm used to seeing, and no blackjack or post oak. That's not to say there isn't any down there. I just didn't see any. There is also quite a bit of willow oak there, though not in huge numbers. But that's normal. It is mostly in the southern parts of our pine barrens. I saw both species of highbush blueberry there, that I mentioned finding in Wharton State Forest in previous posts. Both are well over 8 feet tall. One has berries that are very blue, the color of the berries grown on our local farms. The other has berries that are much darker, closer to black. Twice I stopped and ate some. Yum!
As for the hiking, I did too much, for what I'm used to. I hiked a portion of the North Shore Trail, so that was maybe a half mile. I then did most or all of the Goosekill Trail. The guide says that's .28 mile. I then did the nature trails. The guide says they amount to .89 mile. Then I did the Meisle Trail, which the guide says is .61 mile. I then went to the nature center and spent time in there. I then did the East Creek Trail, which amounts to 7.16 miles. Then I did the Meisle Trail again, and then walked on a road back to the park office where my truck was. About 3/4 of the way through this I was really starting to feel it. My feet, legs, back and neck were bothering me. Previous to that I felt fine.
But there were also 3 things contributing to a less fun hike than I expected (It was still fun though.) Those are:
--2 or 3 pine flies at a time, buzzing the top of my head, throughout most of the hike--
--Mosquitoes buzzing my ears throughout much of the hike--
--Hundreds of spider webs across the trail that stuck to my face, hair, beard, etc.--
But I dealt with it. That is the longest distance I've ever hiked, period. It was too much, as I say. But I'm feeling a lot better now. By tomorrow I'll feel almost back to normal.
I probably took a couple hundred pictures with the digital camera. But I haven't looked at them yet on the computer. Oh, I almost forgot. There was virginia pine there, according to one of the interpretive signs on the nature trails. I also saw shortleaf pine. Both can be found more and more, the further south you go in the pine barrens, though the virginia pine is less common than the shortleaf pine.
But I found an interpretive sign with a glaring error on it. I couldn't believe it. It was a sign describing Bracken, yet it was placed in the ground next to some wetland ferns (I'm not sure of the species) and there was a picture of those same ferns on the sign! Major mistake!
I also stopped in my tracks at one point on the hike because there was a snake sunning in the trail, a snake I believe was probably a black rat snake. He was really cool, and was mostly motionless, just like the green snake I saw a couple weeks ago. Also, some of the pitch pines I saw were probably the same size as the monster at Estell Manor that is my personal record in measuring (6'10" CBH). Beautiful!
What a day. I can't wait to look at my pictures. I will have to send some to the group, and maybe put some in an album on my Facebook page. (Hope everyone has gotten to see my latest album there.)


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