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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Location: Central Ave, Seaside Park, NJ 08752

Designation: State Park

Date designated or established: 1953

Date of my visit: January 6, 2019

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View of Island Beach State Park from Barnegat Lighthouse

Custer State Park

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Custer State Park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park, named for Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, of the infamous ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ in the American Indian War. The park protects 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. The Black Hills name is translated from the Lakota Pahá Sápa, who called them that because the dense pine tree forests  make them appear dark when seen from a distance.

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We were staying at Custer’s Chief Motel (a clean, no-frills family run motel with the advantage of family suites with separate bedrooms and a big indoor pool for the kids) and they offered us a free pass to visit Custer State Park. It had been on our itinerary anyway, but we appreciated the perk.

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We entered the park from highway 16 and pulled over in a few places to walk around and admire the views of the Black Hills.

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Next we headed to the State Game Lodge for a snack and the gift shop. This was Calvin Coolidge’s Summer White House in 1927. President Eisenhower also spent some time here in 1953.

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Then we drove the park’s Wildlife Loop. The park is home to a large herd of bison, pronghorn, deer, elk and most thrilling for the kids: the Begging Burros.

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Please note, we did NOT feed the burros, though it obvious these feral donkeys are comfortable around cars and humans and used to being fed by them. Once these fellas realized we had no food, they moved on to the next group.

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The wildlife loop is 18 miles long and took us almost two hours to drive because of the frequent stops and wildlife crossings, but we enjoyed every minute of it, keeping our eyes peeled for bison (who hid from us until the very end of the loop.)

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Location: 13329 US Hwy 16A, Custer, SD 57730

Designation: State Park

Date designated or established: 1912

Date of my visit: 7/31/2009

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Location: 2 Morris Rd, Ringwood, NJ 07456

Designation: State Park

Date designated or established: 1966

Date of my visit: September 20, 2015

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High Point State Park

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View of the High Point monument from Lake Marcia 4/17/2015

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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On the beach in June 2005

High Point State Park is in the Northwest corner of New Jersey in Sussex County. In the midst of the Kittatinny Mountains, the highest point in the state of New Jersey is there.

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The most distinctive feature of the park is the monument marking the high point at over 1800 feet in elevation. It is an obelisk, like the Washington Monument, and was built to honor war veterans in 1930.

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4/29/2017

The land and monument were donated to the state by the Kusers. Anthony Kuser (1862-1929) was a New Jersey businessman with a rarely used summer home in Sussex County. He donated the property and funded the construction of the monument in 1923.

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Mansion ruins 12/27/2014

For years, I lived minutes from the main entrance and we spent many summer days playing on the sand beach of spring-fed Lake Marcia. Afterwards, we would often drive up to the monument for views of the Delaware River and the Tri-state (NY, PA, & NJ) area.

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At the monument 6/5/2005

I have been back in the off-season several times since moving away. It is a peaceful place to visit once the summer crowds have gone.

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Steenykill 4/29/2017

The Steenykill Lake and boat launch are right off Route 23 on a dirt road. The view of the monument over the lake is great in the fall when the leaves turn color.

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Steenykill 10/21/2004

Sawmill Lake is in the quieter section of the park, with a campground on one side. There is a dam at one end, resulting in a waterfall.

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Sawmill 12/27/2014

Location: 1480 NJ-23, Sussex, NJ 07461

Designation: State Park

Date designation declared: 1923

Date of my visit: 12/27/2014

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Sawmill 4/29/2017
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View of the Delaware from the monument in December 2014

Marblehead Lighthouse State Park

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Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie in Ohio is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the US side of the Great Lakes. Built in 1822 as a navigational aid on the Marblehead Peninsula, it is still in use today.  It had 15 lighthouse keepers from the 1820s until the signal was automated in 1958.

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Map from Google

We were visiting friends who had a home in Marblehead. They took us out on the lake in their boat so we could see this famous landmark from the water. We could also see the amusement park across the bay in Cedar Point. Visitors can take tours of the lighthouse in the summer.

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Location: 110 Lighthouse Dr, Marblehead, OH 43440

Designation: State Park, NRHP

Date established/designated: NRHP 1969

Date of my visit: 7/26/2008

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Ramapo Mountain State Forest

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Ramapo Mountain State Forest protects 4,269 acres in the mountainous region of Northern New Jersey. It is in both Passaic and Bergen Counties and is a separate park from the adjacent Ramapo Reservation.

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There is a well-marked network of trails here. Lily and I set out to explore the easier blue (MacEvoy, named for the man who originally purchased this land to form a hunting club) trail to Ramapo Lake. There are also ruins of a ‘castle’ up a much more difficult trail and other sights to see in the park, but our time was limited as we arrived only an hour or so before sunset.

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We parked in the lower lot on Skyline Drive, just off Route 287.  MacEvoy Trail begins at the end of this lot, just past the stone wall ruins. This is a popular trail and we saw several other hikers with dogs.

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The path then leads up a rocky slope, alongside a stream that flows from Ramapo Lake. There are a few scrambles over boulders here and there.

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We’d had a lot of rain, so the water was really ripping, with small waterfalls everywhere. (Scroll down for a video clip)

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We’d only gotten about a half mile up when we came to what is described in trail guides as a ‘short rock hop’ across the stream. With the higher water volume, it was no hop, especially for a small cockapoo ( or a person trying to balance a cockapoo and camera while fording a raging river.)

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Just ahead of us, a much larger Weimeraner was spooked and refused to cross the stream. So we turned back, content with the lovely, but short, walk through the woods.

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Location: Skyline Drive, Wanaque, NJ 07465

Designation: NJ State Forest

Date designated or established: 1976

Date of my visit: 12/30/2018

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, established in 1902. Northwest of Santa Cruz, it is home to the largest stand of coastal redwoods south of San Francisco.

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This is normally a pretty popular park with limited parking by the visitor center. But we visited in the midst of a stifling heat wave, so we had no trouble getting a spot in the early afternoon.

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We stopped in at the visitor center to determine the best way to see the park given the 108 degree temperature. We opted for the Redwood Loop Trail, an easy half-mile loop with well-marked points of interest that begins at the end of the parking lot. The only other people we encountered on this trail were an elderly couple and a mom with a baby in a stroller. It’s a nice wide and flat path suitable for any ability.

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As we ambled along, trying not to collapse from heat exhaustion, we stopped at the well-marked points of interest and read the placards.

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We passed the ‘Father of the Forest’, a 2000-year-old, 250 foot tall redwood with a circumference of 16 feet.

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We also saw the ‘Mother of the Forest.’ The Mother is not as wide as the Father, but is taller. She was once the tallest tree in Big Basin at 329 feet until a storm knocked off a portion, reducing her to 293 feet.

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We stood inside the hollowed-out Chimney Tree to take in a unique view of the sky.

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There are many other sights to see in Big Basin….waterfalls, varied habitats, ocean views, etc… But on this day, the short walk through the redwoods was experience enough for us. Being in the presence of these ancient giants is always a humbling experience and we were grateful for the well-maintained path through them.

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Location: 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA 

Designation: State Park

Date designation declared: 1902

Date of my visit: 9/1/2017

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