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Natural Treasure

by Matt Cosentino

From scenic waterways to lush greenery to a wide variety of wildlife, Burlington County has so much to offer for those who appreciate Mother Nature. At 827 square miles, it is the largest county in New Jersey, and much of that space is covered with breathtaking landscapes.

Now, more than ever, that natural beauty is becoming more easily and safely accessible for residents and visitors alike with a helping hand from the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders and its Parks System.

An ongoing project known as the Rancocas Creek Greenway aims to connect many of the county parks through a system of trails. The 25-mile, linear trail system will begin at Amico Island Park along the Delaware River in Delran and extend to Brendan Byrne State Forest in Pemberton and Southampton. Other points along the passage include Boundary Creek Park in Moorestown and Historic Smithville Park in Eastampton.

“We have been working on the Greenway for quite a number of years,” says Mary Pat Robbie, director of the county’s Department of Resource Conservation. “We feel that Rancocas Creek is one of the county’s greatest resources and it was very unfortunate that few people in the county actually had access to it. So we really wanted to open it up so more of the public could enjoy it.

“Two-thirds of our county is actually preserved land, but most of the people live in the northwestern portion of the county and they have few natural areas to enjoy there. So this really puts nature into the lap of that community.”

With more than 1,000 acres of developed parkland, the Burlington County Parks System is widely used for recreational water activities like canoeing and kayaking, as well as hiking, birdwatching, family gatherings and much more. The majority of the Rancocas Creek Greenway will consist of two-way, off-road facilities when it is completed, providing easy access for those pursuits along with a safe place for a hike or bike ride.

“That’s our goal,” says Matt Johnson, coordinator of parks and open spaces for the county. “We want people to be able to hike, bike, push a baby stroller or rollerblade. We’re really excited about it and there’s a high demand in our county for this kind of thing. If you want to take a long bike ride [now], you’re either packing it up and driving an hour down to the Pinelands or crossing the bridge to go over to Philadelphia. We’re really trying to provide that opportunity close to home.”

A major step for the Greenway, according to Johnson, was the recent awarding of a $3 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to design and build a three-mile section of the trail from Amico Island to Pennington Park. “Probably around this time next year that facility should be open,” he says.

In the meantime, nature lovers can continue to take advantage of all that the county parks provide. That includes two upcoming events being held at Historic Smithville Park.

The first is scheduled for Oct. 16 and is called the Fall Foliage Float Festival. This event allows residents to rent canoes or kayaks at an affordable price for a ride down Rancocas Creek, and also includes musical performances and other family-friendly activities. The second event, scheduled for the first weekend in December, has a holiday theme and will include a visit from Santa Claus.

“Smithville was the first park the county acquired back in 1975 and we consider that the crown jewel of the park system,” Robbie says. “It has natural areas but also a historic component. We have facilities there that can host large crowds, so most of our festivals are at Smithville.”

Throughout the year, at all of the parks, there are various programs centered on nature, history, music and art. Two of the most visited spots are Boundary Creek Park in Moorestown, and Laurel Run Park in Delran which both sit on former peach orchards and are quite popular with nature lovers and families looking to enjoy the outdoors.

“Our park system has picnic pavilions that folks can rent out for a very reasonable price for birthday parties, family reunions or corporate gatherings,” Johnson says. “Weddings are also becoming a big thing at Smithville and the Burlington County Community Agricultural Center. We’re trying to provide all types of different opportunities for people to access our park system and experience nature.”

“We’re seeing our parks and open space plan come to fruition,” Robbie adds, “and we’re really excited about that.”

Burlington County Parks System
Mount Holly | (609) 265-5858

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 7 (September, 2016).
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