Around Town

Parks are perfect place to enjoy a winter day

AMY ROSEN

Just because it’s winter, that doesn’t mean there is nothing for families to do outside of the house. Some of my family’s best memories have been created on days when we just pile into the car and drive with no particular destination in mind. If you can get past the high cost of gasoline, you might want to try it out.

On a recent Sunday we took a ride toward the water. There’s something very calming about just looking at a body of water, whether it be the ocean, bay, lake or reservoir, in any season. The great thing about living so close to the Jersey shore is that if you head east, you’re pretty much guaranteed to eventually come to a body of water.

On our drive we saw signs for Cattus Island County Park in Toms River. Since we often receive press releases at the newspaper about the many interesting environmental programs and nature walks offered there, I wanted to explore it in person, so we followed the brown signs that led to the park which is situated right on Barnegat Bay in Toms River.

Once there we parked and started following the blue path toward the water since it was a mild and sunny day. We walked through the woods and it didn’t take long before we were rewarded with the most beautiful view of the Silver Bay section of Barnegat Bay.We sat on a bench for a while and just took in the sight. We also read about the history of the spot we were at on the banks of Mosquito Cove.

Many years ago people used to ice skate on the frozen water in the cove, before the Point Pleasant canal was built and opened in 1925 to connect theManasquan River to Barnegat Bay, which allowed salt water from the ocean to change the ecosystem of the bay. (It also caused the Manasquan inlet to shoal up which then had to be reopened by creating jetties using stones from the New York City subway, which was being dug at the time.) The reason why you can’t ice skate there very often any more is because salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water, so it would have to be extremely cold for the bay to freeze.

On our way back we stopped to explore the Morton A. Cooper Nature Center. Using live turtles, a naturalist was giving a presentation about turtles to children and adults. It was very informative.

We also explored the nature center, which had many hands-on exhibits. There was a mystery touch box and displays of snakes and reptiles in addition to preserved birds, animals, insects and butterflies to look at. There are live fish and several interesting interactive displays. Outside on the porch is a cross-section of a very old tree from the 1700s with different markings on the inside of the trunk identified to show that it was one of the oldest trees in the area before it died.

A deck off the porch extends out to provide a scenic view of Barnegat Bay. From that point the Lavallette water tower can be seen in the distance.

Cattus Island park boasts 500 acres of nature trails, perfect for cross-country skiing and bird watching.

We hadn’t planned to go there, but it made for a couple of hours of interesting entertainment that can now be filed away as pleasant memories of times we’ve shared. It helped stave off the winter blues and sure beat sitting around the house.

There are so many state and county parks throughout New Jersey that provide an interesting change of pace for people of all ages in any weather. Besides offering a nice place to go, some organize activities, classes and trips. Many have indoor centers that offer interesting facts about the state in which we live.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park in Manalapan was the site of the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. The visitors center has many displays of artifacts and audio-visual booths that help us imagine what it might have been like to be a part of that time in history. Tours of the battlefield include Perrine Ridge, where Molly Pitcher fought, and Craig House, which was used as a field hospital during the battle.

Some parks have theaters with performances that run indoors all year, such as the Sunday Smilers series of live plays for families at the Tatum Park Red Hill Activity Center in Middletown. “Puss in Hightops” will be performed on Feb. 24.

The Manasquan Reservoir in Howell has an environmental education center and a beautiful visitors center overlooking the water and woods with a circular woodburning fireplace that keeps visitors warm and cozy on a cold winter day. A 5-mile trail surrounds the reservoir where people enjoy biking, hiking, horseback riding and nature walks. Ice-skating is permitted when temperatures cooperate. A playground completes the fun. During the warmmonths boating with electric trolling engines are permitted and visitors are welcome to bring their own kayaks and rowboats or rent them from the park rangers. There is a pontoon boat that gives tours and if you’re lucky you’ll spot the resident bald eagle soaring high above the trees.

You can check out the 19th century grist mill and farm buildings at Historic Walnford in Upper Freehold Township, with its 18th century farm buildings and industrial village featuring demonstrations of life as it was for the people in the area and the Waln family who lived there on their elegant country estate on the banks of Crosswicks Creek.

When in Holmdel, be sure to check out the animals and historic farmwith demonstrations by people in dress similar to that worn in the 1890s at Longstreet Farm.

There are more than 40 state parks in New Jersey and more than 50 historic sites and districts, according to the official Web site for New Jersey (www.state.nj.us/ nj/arts/parks/index.html). There are also many county parks listed in each county’s individual Web site and pamphlets are available with information at all the parks.

Greater Media Newspapers puts out a Community Guide every year that can be accessed at www.gmnews.com. Click on the special sections link and choose Community Guide.

If anyone has any nice places they have been to, I’d like to hear about it.

In the meantime, follow the brown signs or plan ahead, map it out or take your GPS, but whatever you do, remember to take a break fromyour daily grind every now and then and get out and enjoy life.

Amy Rosen is a staff writer with Greater Media Newspapers. She may be reached at arosen@gmnews.com.