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Some of the most-visited lakes in New Jersey are the impoundments within the Pinelands National Reserve. Sprawled across the New Jersey Shore, Delaware River and Greater Atlantic City regions, these lakes, nearly all small and nearly all shallow, were created by early settlers in the area who dammed streams to power sawmills, smelters, paper mills and glass works. The 'sugar sands' of the Pine Barrens turned out to be wrong for farming crops the European settlers were accustomed to and, except for a few settlements revolving around lumbering, smelting 'bog iron' or glass-making, the Pinelands were left a sparsely-populated and highly-unusual coastal plain. This area was finally recognized for the unique environment it presents, and was protected as the 1.1 million acre Pinelands National Reserve, the first such designation in the United States. The Pine Barrens protect and filter water into aquifers containing 17 trillion gallons of some of the purest water in the United States. In 1983, the Pinelands were designated a US Biosphere Reserve and became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
The Pinelands or Pine Barrens are not totally uninhabited: the designated reserve encompasses land in seven counties and about 50 municipalities. Some of the lakes are within areas of heavy housing development, including one of the largest, Mirror Lake. This 250-acre lake is connected via stream to both Big Pine Lake and Little Pine Lake, each with around 13 acres. All three have boat launch facilities, and canoeing and kayaking are the most popular activities on the chain. The two Pine Lakes allow electric motors while Mirror Lake doesn't allow motors at all. Nearby, Country Lake and Presidential Lake are also popular residential areas. All are within Browns Ferry Township and near the McGuire AFB /Fort Dix complex.
Other lakes within the Pine Barrens are popular for camping, hiking and rustic vacations: The Pinelands contain three separate state forests: Wharton, Brendan T. Byrne and Bass River State Forest. The reserve is also home to two National Wild & Scenic Rivers,: the Maurice River and the Great Egg Harbor River. The rivers and their many tributaries serve as favored canoeing trails winding through unique areas of pine swamps holding a wealth of native birds and animals. Bald eagles, marsh hawks, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, ospreys, swans, great-horned owls, screech owls, purple martins, bluebirds, goldfinch, hummingbirds, wild turkeys, deer, fox, river otters and beavers are some of the wildlife that can be seen. Two popular campgrounds lie within the state forests which offer lake-based activities.
Bass River State Forest's 23,563-acres harbor 67-acre Lake Absegami, created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The swimming beach is open for lifeguard-supervised swimming from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The beach area contains restrooms, showers, changing area, a first-aid station and a concession building selling refreshments. The campground offers basic campsites, lean-to shelters and camping cabins with full utilities. A boat launch is provided, but only electric motors are permitted. A boat concession rents rowboats, canoes and kayaks during the summer months. Fishing is permitted, with pickerel, sunfish, and catfish the species usually caught. All boaters must wear approved life jackets. A self-guided trail leads hikers through the white cedar swamp and the oak-pine forest of the the Absegami Natural Area. Also located within the Bass River State Forest is the the West Plains Natural Area which holds what is termed locally as the Pigmy Forest. This globally-rare ecosystem consists of a extremely low-growing pine and oak forest where the canopy is no higher than four feet in some areas and harbors both endangered plants and rare moths.
Another popular lake within the Pine Barrens is Lake Atsion in Wharton State Forest. The 62-acre lake also has a swimming beach protected by lifeguard during the summer months. Facilities are similar to those offered at Lake Absegami. Camping facilities are provided, and the Batona Trail passes near the lake. There are no boat launch facilities, but boats can be launched from the shore; only electric motors are allowed. The Mullica River is a favorite for canoeing and kayaking. A number of historic cultural artifacts are located within Wharton State Forest, including the preserved Batsto Village. Here, the 33 structures remaining from this iron-smelting and glass-making industrial village were built between 1766 and 1867. The buildings include the Batsto Mansion, sawmill, gristmill, general store, post office. and workers' homes. A self-guided tour is available by cell phone. Other historic village tours within Wharton are the Harrisville Village and Atsion Mansion near the lake of the same name. Several rustic campsites exist within the Wharton State Forest, often overlooking small ponds. The 50-mile Batona Trail connects all three of the state forests.
The lakes listed are by no means an exhaustive list. Most lakes are very small, often less than 10 acres and average about three feet deep. Because the unique chemistry of the waters is quite acidic, only a few types of native fish are found in the most pristine lakes and ponds; the acidic waters prevent the eggs of other species from developing. A number of other parks in the Pinelands, owned by various counties and the state, offer hiking trails, creeks for kayaking and the opportunity to view the ruins of former villages and factories. As the Pine Barrens extend clear to the Atlantic coastline, some parks in the Pinelands Reserve are actually oceanfront and offer both salt water swimming and ocean fishing. Along the Atlantic coast, two popular tourist stops are Barnegat Lighthouse State Park and Island Reach State Park on a barrier island. Cranberry bogs and blueberry fields are still active in the area and often welcome visitors.
Because the Pinelands Nature Reserve is a patchwork interspersed with private lands, there are a number of lodging options available to the visitor. Many of the local residents depend on tourism for their livelihood, and there are a number of bed-and-breakfasts, guest cottages and small inns in the area. The many unpaved country roads are excellent for mountain biking, and it isn't unusual to come upon a small country store with cafe and tales of the Jersey Devil to entertain visitors and young children. Real estate is available for those who fall in love with the wild and unspoiled pine swamps. Those who desire a waterfront view can often find available homes for sale along the residential lakes. All too soon, visitors long to become a 'Piney' as the locals call themselves.
*There are few statistics for most lakes in the Pine Barrens. All statistics listed are for Lake Atsion.
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