In a state as jam-packed as Jersey, can any area be considered untrammelled, unspoiled and relatively unexplored? A few come to mind, but perhaps none deserve those unlikely “uns” more than the two southern counties facing Delaware Bay: Cumberland and Salem.
An autumn road trip is the perfect way to discover the surprising vastness, natural beauty and pockets of history hidden in Jersey’s deep south. Consider Vineland, our starting point. Did you know its 69 square miles make it New Jersey’s largest municipality by land mass?
See? You’ve learned something new already.
To reach Vineland, take Turnpike Exit 3 to Route 55 south and Exit 32. You’re in farm country, so stock up on local produce at Muzzarelli Farms before heading downtown to the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, where you can see an exhibit on Dr. Thomas B. Welch, the English emigre and Vineland dentist who founded Welch’s Grape Juice (to provide pasteurized, alcohol-free sacramental “wine” for fellow parishioners in the dry town).
Head south on Route 47 to Millville, once a thriving center of glass-making. The town’s 19th and early 20th century architecture is charming, but Millville’s modern-day allure is its downtown arts district, where visitors can browse dozens of galleries and specialty shops and visit the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts, with its four exhibition spaces.
On the third Friday of every month, you can catch Millville’s appropriately named Third Friday Festival, when North High Street comes alive with artists’ displays and and musical performances. Galleries stay open until at least 9 pm; many offer free samples of wine and cheese. You might also catch a live glass-blowing demo.
Millville is located at the start of the Maurice River in Cumberland County. You can stroll along the 700-foot riverwalk or picnic at Captain Buck Riverfront Park. On Fridays and Saturdays through October, Maurice River Cruises offers several trips each day on the scenic river, exploring the habitats of ospreys, bald eagles and other winged denizens.
Still, the main draw in Millville is the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center. Nestled among 65 acres of shady pines, the center boasts glass-blowing demonstrations, museum stores and fellowship retreats for glass artists from across the country.
Drive west out of Millville on Route 49 and turn right onto Route 77 toward Bridgeton. Here you’ll find the state’s largest historic district, with more than 2,000 Victorian, colonial and federal-era homes. The town also has the largest municipal park system in South Jersey, with miles of trails for hiking and biking. Tucked within the town is the Cohanzick Zoo, home to more than 200 birds and mammals, including a rare white tiger. Finally, stop into the Bridgeton Hall of Fame Sports Museum housed alongside the Burt Avenue Recreation Center. This modest but thorough museum is dedicated to area sports teams and notable athletes, such as baseball Hall of Famer Goose Goslin.
Now head northeast on 77, turn right onto Route 56 then left onto County Road 645, which will lead you into the 2,092-acre Parvin State Park. In the later half of October you’ll enjoy perhaps the most spectacular foliage display in South Jersey. Take a drive along the Forest Road Loop to experience the park’s natural beauty, or stretch your legs on the hiking trails around Parvin Lake. You can also fish or paddle on Thundergust Lake; canoe and kayak rentals are available on site.
Leaving the park, take Almond Road until it becomes Centerton Road. Travel south on Centerton for a little more than three miles before turning right onto Route 77 North. This will lead you to Seabrook Farms, an enormous fifth-generation, family-owned operation that grows, processes and freezes 150 million pounds of vegetables each year. Produce is shipped from Seabrook all over the United States and as far as Chile and Saudi Arabia. Just driving past the spread is impressive, but you can also learn about the farm’s history at the nearby Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center. The farm has been home to interned Japanese Americans recruited to work there during World War II; wartime refugees from Europe; and migrant workers from Appalachia, the deep South and the Caribbean. The center is open from 9 am to noon, Monday through Thursday.
Continue north on Route 77 for less than two miles, turn left on County Road 540 and right on Route 49. That leads you to Salem County and the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, with its nearly 3,000 acres of tidal marshes. The refuge at the mouth of the Salem River is a prized feeding ground for black ducks, mallards, sandpipers, warblers, sparrows and other birds during seasonal migrations. You can view this undisturbed landscape and its inhabitants from various observation boardwalks.
Exit the park on Fort Mott Road and follow it south for about a mile, concluding your tour at Fort Mott State Park in Pennsville Township. During the 19th century, the 124-acre park was part of an elaborate coastal defense system along the Delaware River. Fortifications built in 1896 still stand, and visitors can wander through the old batteries or stroll along the banks of the Delaware River.
By now you’ll feel worlds away from the Turnpike—although you’ll be just a short drive from exit 1.Click here to leave a comment