Reflections on an Empty Sky: Liberty State Park


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! This is a special post in remembrance of the victims of the 9-11 terror attacks.

Empty Sky is New Jersey’s State Memorial to its victims of the September 11th attacks. It is in Liberty State Park on the waterfront, directly across from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. If you stand in the center of the western end, the empty sky framed by the walls of the memorial are where the Twin Towers once stood.


The walls are meant to symbolize the towers laying on their sides and are inscribed with the names of New Jersey’s 746 victims. At the entrance to the walls stands a sculpture made from one of the twin towers steel beams.

I took these photos on a bright morning in May of 2016 while waiting with a photography group for the ferry to Ellis Island. Though nearly 15 years had passed since the attacks, gazing at the empty sky through the steel walls was still a hushed and solemn moment for all of us.


May the departed rest in peace and may their children go on to make the world a better place.

Location: 1 Audrey Zapp Dr, Jersey City, NJ 07305

Designation: State Memorial

Date designation declared: 9/10/2011

Date of my visit: 5/15/2016


Princeton Historic District: Princeton University – NRHP


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Princeton University is one of the nine Colonial universities founded before the American Revolution. It dates back to 1746, when it was The College of New Jersey in Elizabeth and then moved to Newark. In 1756, it moved to its current site in Princeton, New Jersey into the original Nassau Hall building.


The college was renamed Princeton University in 1896 has consistently been ranked the USA’s top university over the past two decades. Many influential people have graduated from the institution including two US presidents and twelve US Supreme Court justices. It is currently around $66,000 a year to attend Princeton, if you can get in.


After the completion of Nassau Hall (a national landmark on its own), the campus continued to expand around it. Today, the Princeton campus sits on 500 acres with many gorgeous Collegiate Gothic style buildings and some more modern architecture on the south side.


A friend from out of town wanted to photograph the architecture, so we drove down to the campus only to find it was move-in day for the students and abuzz with activity. The good thing about this is that there were plenty of people to offer directions and we were able to ride the campus bus from the parking lot to the historic section.


Location: 125 Faculty Rd., Princeton, NJ

Designation: National Register of Historic Places

Date designated or established: June 27, 1975

Date of my visit: 9/3/2016

The Princeton University Chapel opened in 1928, replacing an older one that had burned down.

Island Beach State Park


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Island Beach State Park in New Jersey is a ten-mile long barrier island between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The State purchased the land from entrepreneur Henry Phipps Jr to preserve the natural environment as a park.


The State also maintains the Phipps mansion as a summer residence for the governor. This became infamous when Governor Christie was photographed vacationing there in the summer of 2017 amidst a state government shutdown (beach-chair Christie memes were very popular that year.)


Island Beach is one of few undeveloped patches of Jersey Shore. In the summer, visitors can enjoy the pristine beaches without all the commercialism of the surrounding boardwalk communities.


In the off-season, its a nice place for short hikes, fishing and dune buggying. The bayside has a network of water trails for kayaking.


Island Beach is also a diverse wildlife habitat. Foxes are often seen playing here and occasionally snowy owls are photographed in the dunes. There had been recent sightings of two owls in the park when we visited, but we weren’t lucky enough to see one that day.


The Interpretive Center is about 7 miles from the entry gate. We parked there first…the restrooms were open, but the nature center was not. We picked up the Johnny Allen’s Cove Trail behind the building.


First we took the fork to the right, through the maritime forest with its holly trees and on out to the dunes and the beach beyond. Even though it was mid-morning, the sky still had the pinkish glow of sunrise.


Then we backtracked and took the trail out to the bay side. We had to cross the park road to do this, but it was pretty quiet in the park.  We walked through the salt marsh, past some vacant osprey platforms to the bay.


We drove down to the last parking lot at the southernmost tip of the island. This is where people with dune buggies can off road on the beach.  Just over the dunes, we could see Barnegat Light on neighboring Long Beach Island.


Location: Central Ave, Seaside Park, NJ 08752

Designation: State Park

Date designated or established: 1953

Date of my visit: January 6, 2019

View of Island Beach State Park from Barnegat Lighthouse

Ramapo County Reservation: Falls


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We frequently visit Ramapo County Reservation. It’s a great green space in the midst of densely populated suburbia, has plenty of well-maintained trails and it’s dog friendly. Scroll down for the link to my previous post about this park.


We were late getting there to celebrate the arrival of spring this year because Lily had been sick in April and required surgery.  Finally, by Memorial Day Weekend, everyone was healthy enough to get out to the park.


We crossed the bridge past the turtle bog and headed straight to the section of the Yellow Vista Loop Trail that heads towards the park’s waterfall.

In May, there was still a decent amount of water flowing. By late summer, it slows to a trickle.


After resting at the falls, we headed back to the car, satisfied with a short hike for this day. Little did we know that this would be Monkey’s last hike. She fell ill and died only three weeks after these photos were taken.


Ramapo Reservation Posts:


Location: 608 Ramapo Valley Rd, Mahwah, NJ 07430

Designation: County Park

Date designated or established: 1972

Date of my visit: 5/25/2019


New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve: Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge


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Hoo-dini the Great Horned Owl

The Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge is in Medford on the edge of the NJ Pinelands National Reserve. The refuge rehabilitates and releases thousands of native animals each year.

Aldora, the red-tail hawk is blind in his other eye after being hit by a car.

The refuge was founded by Jim and Betty Woodford in 1957  on 171 acres and continues its work today with their daughter at the helm. The refuge received a preservation grant from the NJ Green Acres fund in the nineties and operates as a non-profit organization.


Their mission includes education, wildlife rehabilitation and habitat conservation. They have a wildlife rehabilitation hospital on the premises, as well an outdoor housing area for the animals that can’t be released back into the wild.

Qwan, the barred owl, was there for both of my visits in 2016 and 2017. He was a senior citizen then, almost completely blind and the refuge’s most mellow ambassador.

One of the education programs they run to help fund their efforts is a chance for groups to interact with the ‘education ambassadors.’ I’ve visited twice with a photography group for the opportunity to photograph some of the birds of prey in a more natural setting.


The volunteer told us each bird’s story as we encountered them. Most are there because they were hit by cars, sustained permanent injuries and would not survive in the wild. Several are blind, some have lame wings, etc…

Apollo, the turkey vulture became too acclimated to humans, preferring to steal hamburgers from backyard grills to scavenging carcasses.

Some, like the Turkey Vulture, had imprinted on humans. The volunteer explained that, in the hospital, the animals are nursed back to health by caretakers wearing coverings and a bird puppet to prevent human imprinting.

Duster the barn owl retired from his ambassador duties in 2018

After our photo session, we walked around the enclosures and along the hiking trail around Cedar Run Pond for a short way.


Pinelands Reserve Posts:


Location: 4 Sawmill Road | Medford, NJ 08055

Designation: Wildlife Sanctuary

Date designated or established: 1957

Date of my visit: 1/31/2016

‘Don’t let his adorable stature fool you’, the volunteer said. ‘The Northern screech Owl is a vicious little predator.’

Ringwood State Park: Skylands


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Skylands, in Ringwood State Park in northern New Jersey consists of the historic Skylands Manor and the New Jersey Botanical Garden. The estate was built in the 1920s by a wealthy business man from New York.


In 1966, the State of New Jersey purchased the estate to form its State Botanical Gardens. The Manor is available as a venue for weddings and offers tours on Sundays from March to November.


The gardens are open to the public every day of the year and are on 96 acres in the Ramapo Mountains. They are maintained by the non profit Skyland Association.


I visited with a photography class. There was an event being held at the manor that day, so we explored the gardens, practicing with different settings on our cameras.


Location: 2 Morris Rd, Ringwood, NJ 07456

Designation: State Park

Date designated or established: 1966

Date of my visit: September 20, 2015




The Barnyard Sanctuary


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The Barnyard Sanctuary is a rescue center for farm animals. In many cases, they rehabilitate the animals and adopt them out to new homes, but many become permanent residents to live out the remainder of their lives in peace.


I toured the sanctuary with a photography group a few years ago (visitors need to make an appointment for a tour.) Tamala, the founder, showed us around and told us the stories behind some of the residents. Many of the horses were saved from being shipped off to Canada to be slaughtered for dog food. One of the pigs had been abandoned and found wandering near a rest stop on route 80.


All the animals seemed happy and well-cared for. In fact, Barnyard Sanctuary seemed like Disney’s Patch of Heaven farm from Home on the Range. They gravitated towards us as we walked through the pastures.


We watched a big mule socialize with a herd of miniature horses. Then, to our delight, they ran around the field.


In eight years, the Sanctuary has rescued over 3000 animals and cares for around 700 on a rented 15 acre farm with a bunch of volunteers. They are looking to purchase a larger farm nearby which would allow them to grow their own hay and care for more animals.


Location: 31 Stark Rd, Columbia, NJ 07832

Designation: Non profit animal rescue

Date designated or established: 2010

Date of my visit: 6/25/2016