THE STATE WE’RE IN: Exploring ‘Tales and Trails’

THE STATE WE’RE IN By: Michele Byers: Book tells the tale of New Jersey through its diverse landscape.

By: Michele Byers
   While snowstorms continue to roll across our frozen state, you’re probably spending way too much time cooped up inside!
   But before cabin fever sets in, try reading a new book about New Jersey and prepare for some spring exploration.
   "Tales and Trails: New Jersey’s Places, People and Past" is a collection of essays written by Henry F. Skirbst for the weekly Star Gazette newspaper out of Hackettstown in Warren County. With experience as an Army counterintelligence special agent and a high school guidance counselor, Mr. Skirbst brings a background to his writing as diverse as the state he loves.
   But one thing shines through — his passion for New Jersey. He has an appreciation for our state’s rich history, for environmental stewardship and preservation of our open spaces, and for motivating people to get out and explore New Jersey’s wide variety of natural and historic places.
   Mr. Skirbst’s wife and children collected nearly 400 of his essays, then chose 230 for the book in honor of the author’s 75th birthday. Their family gift has now become a great gift for anyone who fancies New Jersey history, environment and legend.
   As Mr. Skirbst writes in the introduction, "Those who have taken the time to travel, hike, sightsee, or bike throughout the length and breath of this compact little state called New Jersey cannot help but be impressed."
   A whole section is devoted to our state’s special places — by region, county and sites. It’s here that Mr. Skirbst’s love of New Jersey’s diverse natural lands shines. From his home in the Highlands all the way to the Pine Barrens and Cape May, he tells the tale of our state through its natural features and history.
   "Though small in area, New Jersey is large in natural phenomena," Mr. Skirbst writes at the beginning of a chapter on the Pine Barrens. "An interesting illustration is the ‘Pine Barrens’ … a vast region of desolate sand trails, mysterious marshes and wild pine stands, as well as extensive cranberry bogs and luscious blueberry plantations."
   Woven throughout is the longer tale about sprawl and overdevelopment in New Jersey. In fact, the people, places and events Mr. Skirbst reviews lends a deeper context to the way different parts of our state have developed.
   So grab a copy of "Tales and Trails: New Jersey’s Places, People and Past," throw a log or two into the fireplace (or grab a blanket or two), curl up in your favorite reading chair and meander down New Jersey’s trails. Anyone with even a passing interest in this state we’re in will enjoy this entertaining and informative trip!
   And for more information about conserving the precious land and natural resources of New Jersey, I invite you to visit NJCF’s Web site at, or contact me at or 1-888-LAND-SAVE.
Michele Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.