NJ open spaces celebrated with first hikes of the new year

DEPTFORD, N.J. (WPVI) -- "When you're cooped up all winter, sheltering in place and you can't go out to a movie or a restaurant or meet your friends, it becomes especially important to have a place to go where you can get out and enjoy the world," said Rich Dilks.

Dilks is the chairman of the Tall Pines State Preserve Committee, which presides over 110 acres of land that he and others personally helped protect.

The mix of wetlands and grasslands was formerly a golf course known as Maple Ridge among other names historically.

"When that closed down, it was slated to be developed as 129 houses going here," Dilks said. "It took 8 years, but we got this land preserved and now, it's a state preserve, which is essentially a state park."

Tall Pines was deemed Gloucester County's first state preserve in 2015.

"We need to have preserves, natural areas as a part of our community," said Dilks. "Not some place you would drive to for three hours."

Now a bustling maze of pathways for both wildlife and mankind, Tall Pines is a haven for exercise, fishing, and fresh air.

Members of the Friends of Tall Pines State Preserve enjoyed their first official hike of 2021 today. It was their first time participating in the annual "First Day Hike" tradition, which celebrates state parks and preserves at the turn of a new year.

"This is obviously the time that people make resolutions and this is an easy one to follow up on," said county resident Karen Kravchuck. "Just take a walk through any spot."

Kravchuck remembers growing up in the area and never realizing how many natural spots existed close to home. Now, she's President of Gloucester County Nature Club.

"Just being outside, it gives you a sense of belonging to a bigger whole," she said.

The organizations Kravchuck belongs to have put together the second edition of their book, "Natural Places of Gloucester County, New Jersey" which is available at select book stores in the county and online at GCNatureClub.org.

Friends of Tall Pines and the Gloucester County Nature Club are excited to have started the Big Year Eco Challenge, which will encourage volunteers to catalog every living species at area parks during 2021. For more information, visit their websites.
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