There’s a lot to love about Black Run Preserve, but maybe the best thing in my mind is how close it is to home. Most other Pine Barrens hikes are a 45-minute to an hour drive for us, but we can get to Black Run in under 25 minutes. (When you have a 2-year-old in the car, that extra 20 minutes can seem like an hour.)
Visiting Black Run feels almost like you’re being transported. You’re driving in the worst kind of Jersey suburban sprawl, then all of a sudden, right around Route 73, you cross from the inner to the outer coastal plain, and everything changes. The sandy, acidic soils give rise to a completely distinct plant community. Far from being barren, these woods are teeming with life—though it’s limited to a relatively small number of species that have co-evolved to thrive in these infertile landscapes.
We’d never been to Black Run in the spring before, but after seeing the many mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) scattered throughout, we made a note to try to get back at the right time to see them in bloom. This past weekend was just about the peak.
Warning: If you get bored easily by pictures of flowers, this may not be the post for you.
Practicing more naturalistic, ecological landscaping at home makes any walk out into nature more interesting, because inspiration is everywhere. Though we haven’t had much success (any success) growing mountain laurel yet, seeing the way the shrubs mix with ferns and high bush blueberry helps give us a nice reference point when thinking about how to incorporate different types of plants in a (slightly more composed) way that mimics natural plant communities.
Again, it’s amazing how different the landscape is from our own for how close it is. Note the classic Pine Barrens sand.
One highlight of our walk was getting to meet this Fowler’s toad. A family was hiking a few hundred yards ahead of us, and their son very thoughtfully decided to bring the toad he caught back to show Mae. She was very pleased, but a little nervous about touching it. There were also a lot of what looked like Spicebush Swallowtails (Papilio troilus) and other butterflies flitting about, but none of them stayed still long enough to get a picture.
There are only about twenty species of tree that are native to the inhospitable soils of the pine barrens. Aside from the pines, of course, you’ll see a lot of oaks (mostly swamp oaks) and sweetgum in Black Run, as well as the occasional sassafrass.
Black Run is fairly heavily wooded, with most of the open, sunny areas being grassy wetlands. But we did spot a big colony of sweet fern in a bright opening in the upland woods. It’s actually a small shrub, not a true fern. And it loves sunny spots with crappy soil, so it’s a good one to try in any problem spots in your yard. The leaves also smell great when you rub or crush them.
Ok, to wrap things up, here’s one more flower shot, this time with some cool lichen that Lindsay spotted.
Black Run is well worth a visit, and if you get there in the next week or so, you’ll still be able to catch the big show.
We parked at the main lot on the east side of Kettle Run Road. For our hike, we mostly followed the wide trail marked in blue on the map, turning around when it started getting perilously close to naptime for the youngest member of our party, though there are lots of side trails to head out on as well. The lot was packed with cars, but with all the side trails it didn’t feel crowded. Despite the bogs, it didn’t seem buggy, but we did find one tick (luckily unattached), so use appropriate caution.