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(12/P107) BATSTO –Situated on picturesque Batsto Lake, the historic village of Batsto is an idyllic portal into the history and culture of New Jersey’s famed Pine Barrens, a place that brings the spirit of the region to life in the clanging of the blacksmith’s hammer, a child’s wooden rocking horse resting on a sunlit windowsill, the rush of wind through the crooked boughs of pitch pines.

In fact, the village is quite possibly the best place for visitors from near and far to begin their exploration of New Jersey's globally unique Pine Barrens.

"Batsto Village is a wonderful place to soak in the interesting history and culture of the Pine Barrens, to learn about its rare and unique plants and wildlife, or to simply spend the day enjoying nature on the area’s many easily hiked trails and scenic rivers,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said. “Many first-time visitors are surprised by how much there is to see and do in and around Batsto. Visit once and you will surely visit again.”

Located at the southern edge of Wharton State Forest about 10 miles east of Hammonton, Batsto is the gateway to one the wildest expanses of New Jersey, a landscape of pristine rivers and lakes prime for paddling, sandy trails for hiking, pine woods studded with cedar swamps and old cranberry bogs for exploring.

From the cupola high atop the Wharton Mansion, the predominant structure in the village, Wharton State Forest Superintendent Rob Auermuller surveys a vast expanse of pitch pines. “People come from all over New Jersey and all across North America to visit Batsto,” he said. “People are drawn by the desire to see how people lived, how children played, what they did each day.”

A symbol of the power and influence wielded by 19th century Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton, the cupola also served as a watchtower for forest fires that are as much a part of the region’s ecology as are the trees, sand and water.

A short walk from the mansion, the visitor center, completely renovated several years ago, is a must-stop to truly understand the history and ecology of the Pines. The exhibit room provides a concise and well-organized introduction to Batsto, and the people and places of the Pinelands.

Upon entering you are introduced to the natural resources that first drew Batsto Iron Works founder Charles Read to this unforgiving landscape more than two centuries ago – the sand, the water, the trees, and, of course, the bog iron found along the region’s rivers and streams that fueled the production of weapons, kettles, pots and other iron implements.

You then quickly walk to an exhibit featuring an interesting collection of Lenape artifacts and another on the natural landscape of the Pine Barrens – the frogs, the carnivorous plants, the cranberries, and the timber rattlesnakes that thrive in this region.

As you continue your journey through the museum, you will learn about the foundry that thrived on the charcoal from trees and the ore formed by a chemical reaction between decaying plants and minerals in sand, the glass industry that took iron-making’s place and relied upon the region's abundant sand, and Joseph Wharton, whose plans to divert water from the Pinelands ultimately resulted in the creation of the state forest that bears his name.

At more than 120,000 acres, Wharton State Forest is the largest unit in the New Jersey State Park System. Miles of hiking trails, including the pink-blazed Batona (for Back To Nature) Trail cross the forest, all easily traversed with little more than the trail map available at the visitor center and a couple bottles of drinking water. The trailhead for an accessible network of nature trails can be found at the picnic area across from the visitor center.

Not far from the visitor center, miles of sand roads plunge deep into the woods, leading to sites of long-gone settlements, secluded riverbanks perfect for picnics, old cranberry bogs being slowly reclaimed by nature – and to nowhere in particular.

Many of the parks managed by the New Jersey State Park Service are locally very popular. Hidden Gems of the State Park System is an occasional series introducing these parks to the rest of New Jersey by spotlighting recreational activities, people and natural resources that make them special.

Pokcet Ranger

About a half dozen private canoe liveries operate on the Batsto, Mullica, Wading and Oswego rivers, making this a paddler's paradise. Each year, thousands of kayakers and canoeists paddle down the Batsto River into the upper reaches of Batsto Lake, which once provided water for the foundry and Batsto's mills.

The name Batsto is derived from early Swedish settlers and their word for bathing place – badstu, a term that was also used by local Lenapes. The Batsto that greets visitors today is a far cry from the industrial boom town of the past, a time when "smoke billowed so thick daylight could barely penetrate it," Auermuller said.

Noted ironmaster Charles Read of Burlington founded Batsto Iron Works in 1766. The iron works changed hands several times during the Revolutionary War period. During the Revolution, the foundry became the principal arsenal in the war effort, casting critically needed cannons and cannon balls for George Washington’s Army.