Trail Themes

Old painting of life boat launch.
In 1848 New Jersey Congressman William A. Newell spearheaded a bill to establish lifesaving stations along the East Coast. This Life-Saving Service later became the U.S. Coast Guard.

wildwood Historical Society

MARITIME HISTORY
trade, navigation, and defense

The bounty of oysters and fish from New Jersey's ocean, bays, and rivers supported a brisk maritime industry for centuries. In the 1800s shipwrights used local timber to build a variety of working and sailing vessels.

Lighthouses had operated along the coast since the late 1700s, but more maritime traffic meant more shipwrecks. Mariners needed better navigational aids. The number of lighthouses increased, and by the 1890s lifesaving stations were located every 3 1/2 miles along the coast.

Defending New Jersey's coasts and harbors from military attack over the years resulted in an innovative array of defense systems, including disappearing guns. Their stories live on at Fort Mott and at Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook.

 
Oyster and sawmill workers in late 1800's
Left: Oystermen from Bivalve, New Jersey, with baskets of oysters. Right: Workers from the village around the sawmill.(now Double Trouble State Park.)

Photos courtesy of Olin McConnell and NJ State Archives.

HISTORIC SETTLEMENTS
building communities

You can buy seafood in a 200-year-old fishing village; select fruit from a fourth-generation farm; or watch glassblowers at work. You'll discover why early New Jersey had a lot to offer new settlers and entrepreneurs: bountiful supplies of fish and marine resources, timber, ample water from a vast aquifer, agricultural land, and lots of sand--the key ingredient in making glass. Small villages grew into prosperous communities that provided products to the growing United States.

Rail transportation introduced in the 1850s bolstered inland industries, allowing faster delivery of fruits and vegetables and iron, wood, and glass commodities to eastern cities. You can still visit some of the communities that gave so much to the rest of the nation.

 
Birds feeding on horseshoe crab eggs.
Red knots, laughing gulls, and overturned horseshoe crab on Delaware Bay beach.

Photo courtesy of Al Ivany, NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife.

WILDLIFE MIGRATION
birds, marine life, and insects

The New Jersey coast provides vital habitat for many species during their spring and fall migrations. Some birds fly short distances; but for millions that travel thousands of miles, the chance to stop here - to eat and regain strength - is critical to their survival.

A spectacular sight is the spring shorebird migration. During the full moon in late May and early June hundreds of thousands of helmut-shaped horseshoe crabs climb ashore along the Delaware Bay, where females together lay up to a billion eggs in shallow pits. Sanderlings, red knots, and other hungry migrating shorebirds gorge themselves on this delectable food.

Fish that live primarily in the ocean spawn in New Jersey's bays and salt marshes. Whales, seals, and dolphins migrate north and south as seasons and water temperatures change.

Butterflies and dragonflies pass through here on their long journeys. Watch for them in wildlife management areas on the Trail.

 
duck hunting and ladies at beach
Left: Duck hunters on Barnegat Bay with decoys in sneakbox. Right: Ladies in 1800s going to the beach in their fancy petticoats and dresses.

Art of duck hunters courtesy of Barnegat Bay Decoy & Baymen's Museum.

RELAXATION & INSPIRATION
coastal scenery

New Jersey enjoys a proud heritage as a place for those seeking a get-away - for fun in the sun, spiritual inspiration, or annual hunting and fishing trips with friends and family. With the introduction of train service in the 1850s, seaside resorts became popular destinations for city dwellers eager to get to the beaches and boardwalks. Today, Atlantic City is renowned for its entertainment and casinos, and seaside towns offer relaxing vacations.

Beginning in the 1600s people seeking an avenue for religious expression began settling here. Methodist, Quakers, and other religious groups built year-round communities. Summer religious resorts and camp meetings sprang up, a practice still flourishing.

Hunting and sport fishing are time-honored traditions since the 1800s) and abound in coastal forests, streams, and marshes.

 
Stream meanders through salt marsh.
Salt marshes are among the Earth's most productive ecosystem.

Photo courtesy of Supawna National wildlife refuge.

COASTAL HABITATS
designing a landscape

Ancient episodes of uplift, volcanic activity, faulting, glaciation, and erosion created the varied landscape you see along the New Jersey coast today. The resulting barrier islands, dunes, bays, estuaries, freshwater and salt marshes, ponds, swamps, bogs, and rivers provide vital breeding areas, nurseries, habitats, and refuges for plants and animals.

Traveling inland on the Trail you will see several types of forests including: red maple, ash, birch, and hardwoods that grow in wet, swampy conditions; white cedar is also found in swamps; and pines and and oaks in the Pinelands (also called barrens because other vegetation struggles to survive in the dry, sandy soil). Forest undergrowth varies, from blueberries, ferns, and insect-eating pitcher plants around the swamps and bogs to huckleberry thickets in the Pinelands. All attract birds, so watch and listen for warblers, chickadees, woodpeckers, and owls.

New Jersey's 245,000 acres of salt marshes are a critical link in the coastal food chain. Their nutrient-rich muck and grasses provide habitat and food for crabs and other shellfish, baby fish, and shore and wading birds. Watch for turtles, muskrats, and egrets.

Last updated: March 31, 2012