Historic Whitesbog Village: Exploring New Jersey’s Agricultural History

Do you like cranberries and blueberries?  Did you ever wonder where they come from? This winter I got to find out how these berries are grown when I visited the Historic Whitesbog Village in Browns Mills, New Jersey. I learned that cranberries are grown here in a special type of land called a bog. The cranberries grow on vines and when they are ripe the bog is flooded with water and the cranberries float to the top of the water.  In the beginning of the 1900’s, Whitesbog was the location of the largest cranberry bog in the state of New Jersey, and cranberries are still grown here today.

Whitesbog Village is also famous for being known as the “birthplace of the blueberry.”  Elizabeth White, who worked here with her father, grew the first highbush blueberries here in the early 1900s. This is a type of blueberry that farmers still grow in many different states today. She partnered with Dr. Frederick V. Coville to use different types of blueberries that were growing wild in the area and bred them together to make the first cultivated blueberry bushes in New Jersey.  Today, the blueberry is the state fruit of New Jersey. In one part of the village you can see the many different types of blueberries that Elizabeth White developed here at Whitesbog.

The Historic Whitesbog Village is part of Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, which is one of the amazing state forests that we have here in New Jersey.  It is also part of the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve.  The Pinelands National Reserve is part of the National Park Service covers over one-million acres of farms, forests and wetlands. It is the home for many different types of animals and plants that only live and grow here in the Pinelands. In the pinelands, many of the trees are pine trees and the soil is sandy.  

The Historic Whitesbog Village is a great place to visit if you like nature, history, or both!  In the Village you can visit the General Store, some of the houses where the workers at the cranberry bog lived, the Barrel Factory, and a Blueberry and Cranberry Museum.  You can also visit Suningive, which is the house that Elizabeth White lived in. It is decorated to look like the 1920’s, when Elizabeth lived here.

Near the Village there are also lots of great hiking trails where you can walk around the cranberry bogs and through the forest.  The cranberry harvest takes place in the fall, but we were still able to see some cranberries floating around the edges of the cranberry bogs.  This is also a great place to see many different types of birds and other wildlife.

The Historic Whitesbog Village has a day each month when volunteers come to help with different projects, so on our visit  we helped with organizing and cleaning up in one of the buildings, and then we took a hike to look at the historic buildings and the bogs.  I’m really looking forward to coming back soon to volunteer and coming to the Blueberry Festival that they have every year in June!


Practicing Outdoor Survival Skills with Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Sarah

Have you ever wondered if you would be able to build a fire or a shelter to keep yourself warm in the wilderness? Or if you would be able to find your way without using your phone?  This winter I got to visit some parks to learn about different outdoor survival skills, including building a shelter, cooking over a fire, and orienteering.

At Brandywine Creek State Park (Wilmington, DE) I got to learn about shelter building and how to cook over a fire.  In the shelter building class, I got to help build two different types of shelters: an A-frame shelter, and a lean-to shelter. The first step to building a shelter is to find all of the materials that you will need, including different sizes of tree branches. The main idea of the shelter is to protect you from rain, snow, wind, or other types of weather.  

Once you have all of the branches in place, you can fill in any openings with leaves, pine needles, bark, moss, or any other materials that you can find. The types of materials you can use depends on what types of plants are where you are building the shelter. The most important thing is keeping yourself warm and dry.  Luckily, Brandywine Creek State Park had lots of branches and leaves to help us build our shelters. My shelter was just big enough for one person to fit in!

In another class at Brandywine Creek State Park, I learned about building and cooking over fires.  The two types of fires I learned about were the teepee-style fire and the log cabin style fire. For both types of fires, you need to collect different materials. The tinder is very important because that is what you will light first. On top of the tinder you would put kindling, which are smaller sticks and branches, and finally you would add the largest pieces of wood. After learning about how to build a fire, I learned about cooking on fires.  One important thing that I learned is that if you are cooking meat, like chicken, you need to make sure that the meat is completely cooked, because some parts of the fire may be hotter than other parts.

I also learned that fire safety is very important. When you choose the place that you are going to build your fire, you want to make sure that there are no branches hanging close to the fire, and that the area on the ground where you are building the fire is clear. After you are done cooking and you are ready to put the fire out, you need to use lots and lots of water to make sure that all of the flames are out and that the hot ashes are cool. After learning about building fires, I got to cook pizza pocket pies over the campfire, and they were delicious!

The last outdoor skill that I learned about this winter was orienteering. At Estell Manor County Park (Atlantic County, NJ) I got to take an orienteering class. The class started indoors, where I learned how to use the orienteering compass. Knowing how to use a compass can be very helpful, because if you are in the wilderness your cell phone might not work, and a compass never needs batteries. I learned how to use the orienteering map and the compass to figure out what direction I needed to walk to go in a certain direction. I also learned how to figure out how many steps I would take to travel a certain distance and how to use the map scale.

After learning how to use the compass, I went out into the park to try out the orienteering trail. I used to compass and map to find the different checkpoints on the trail. Each of the checkpoints was marked with a white and red square. As I found each checkpoint, I would use the compass and map to figure out what direction to travel next and how many steps I should be going.  

Learning about shelter and fire building, cooking over a fire, and orienteering was so much fun, and I feel like I will be more prepared the next time I will be taking a trip in the outdoors.  There are lots more outdoor skills to learn, and I am looking forward to taking some more classes soon!

Orienteering with Student Ambassador Sarah

Every good adventurer knows that you can’t always rely on a GPS unit or your cellphone to help you navigate outdoors. Being able to use a compass and a map are important skills when outdoors, especially in the wilderness.

Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Sarah practiced her orienteering skills at a local New Jersey park last weekend. Orienteering is an outdoor activity where you use a compass and paper map to navigate to checkpoints, or “stops”,  hidden in a natural area. Sometimes people compete in orienteering competitions to see who can find all the stops the fastest! Read all about Sarah and Buddy Bison’s adventure below:

“This weekend I got to try orienteering at Estell Manor Park, which is a county park in Atlantic County, New Jersey.  I started off by learning about orienteering and how to use a compass.  If you are hiking in the wilderness, it is really helpful to know how to use a compass, since you might not be able to use your phone, and a compass never needs batteries.

I learned how to use the map and compass together to tell me which direction to go when I’m hiking. One interesting thing I learned is that there is a difference between the direction of the North Pole (Geographic or True North) and the “magnetic north” of the Earth. [A compass uses the Earth’s magnetic field to align with the point of “magnetic north”, which is in a different location than the geographic location of the North Pole. Learn more here.]  I also learned how to use the map scale to figure out how far I should be walking between each of the orienteering stops.

Once we learned how to use the compasses, we headed out on the trails.  Estell Manor Park has lots of great trails that go through the woods and some of the trails go by the Great Egg Harbor River. There are a few different orienteering trails to try here. Once we were out on the trail,  I used the compass and the map scale to find my way to the different stops on the orienteering map.  It was cold out and there was still snow on the ground, but I had a great time orienteering at Estell Manor Park.  I’m hoping to come back to this park again a try one of the other orienteering trails.”


Celebrating Halloween at the White House

Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Sarah had a very special Halloween this year. Sarah traveled to Washington, D.C. to celebrate Halloween at the White House with fellow Student Ambassador Audrey and Buddy Bison! Check out Sarah’s adventure below:

“Did you know that the President of the United States lives in a National Park? The White House is located in President’s Park , which is one of the units of the National Park Service.  President’s Park includes the land around the White House, an area called the Ellipse, and Lafayette Park. There are many different statues and memorials in the park areas near the White House.

Student Ambassadors Sarah (right) and Audrey (left) at White House Halloween Event.

Last month, I had an amazing opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and  volunteer on the White House grounds with National Park Trust for a Halloween event. I was able to hand out goodies, such as Buddy Bison stickers and Junior Ranger hats and badges, to lots of children and their families who came to trick-or-treat at the White House. A lot of the families asked questions about my Junior Ranger badges and how they could get their own. It was fun talking with them about some of the parks that I have visited and about parks that they had been to before. I even got to meet Buddy Bison, Smokey Bear, and Woodsy Owl! It was also exciting to get my own President’s Park Junior Ranger badge. There were lots of other government agencies that were handing out treats too, such as the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Forest Service, and NASA. NASA even brought a moon rock for people to see!  

While I was in Washington, D.C. I was able to visit many of the different monuments and memorials that are part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks site.I was able to get my junior ranger badge from there also. My family and I walked around the National Mall and we followed the trail around the Tidal Basin to see some of the memorials. Fall is a great time to visit Washington,D.C., because the leaves on the trees are starting to change color. We saw beautiful leaves as we walked by the Potomac River and around the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.  

Some of the monuments that I visited were the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  Each monument and memorial is unique and special, and visiting these places was very inspirational to me. I really enjoyed learning about the history of these places and how they came to be. One of my favorite places was the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln has always been one of my favorite presidents, and being able to visit the Lincoln Memorial was a very special moment for me. I can’t wait to visit Washington D.C. again to see more of the parks there!”

“Shell-a-brating” Healthy Ecosystems

This spring, I got to help with a project called the “Shell-A-Bration” in Newport, New Jersey. Newport is a town on the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Bay is a beautiful place with many different types of wildlife.  Many people visit the Delaware Bay just to see the amazing birds that stop there during their migrations.

At the Shell-A-Bration I got to help build a reef from bags of whelk shells. The bags are made out of netting so that the water can move through them, but the shells will stay in place. To make the reef, the bags were lined up on the sand so that they will be covered by the water.  One of the reasons that the reef was built is to help keep the sand on the beach from washing away. If the beach washes away, the animals that live there will disappear. I had so much fun getting to put on waders and helping to carry the bags of shells down to the water. The bags were pretty heavy, so we made a line where one person would pass the bag of shells to the next person until it got to the water. I definitely got very wet and muddy, but I had a great time.

Sarah standing with whelk shells used to make the reef.

Two animals that really depend on the Delaware Bay are the red knot and the horseshoe crab. The red knot is a bird that migrates every year from South America to the Arctic. In the spring, these birds leave South America and fly up to 9,000 miles to the tundra in the Arctic! They spend the spring and the summer in the Arctic and then fly back to South America for the winter. On the way to the Arctic, the red knots stop at the Delaware Bay to eat lots of food so that they can keep flying. One of their main foods at the Delaware Bay are horseshoe crab eggs.

Horseshoe crabs live in the water in the Delaware Bay. They get their name from their shape. The top part of their body looks like the shape of a horseshoe, and underneath they look like a crab. But they are actually more closely related to spiders than crabs. Once a year, horseshoe crabs come out onto the beaches and lay eggs. It is perfect timing because this happens at the same time when the red knots are stopping at the Delaware Bay on their way to the Arctic. As long as there are enough horseshoe crabs, the red knots will have enough to eat to finish flying to the Arctic. Scientists are worried because there are less red knots than there used to be. One way to help the red knots is to make sure that the horseshoe crabs have a place on the beach to lay their eggs. This is one of the reasons why they are building reefs, like the one that I got to help build at the Shell-A-Bration. Other wildlife, like fish, can also use the reefs as a place to live or to hide from predators.

I really enjoyed volunteering to help build the reef and also learning about animals that live in and around the Delaware Bay. I definitely want to go back next year to help build another reef!