A visit to Burden Hill

August 20, 2019

By Daniel Barringer, Crow’s Nest Preserve Manager.

First of all, let me tell you, there’s not much of a hill at Burden Hill. I have more of a hill in my back yard. But Burden Hill Preserve is in South Jersey, so hills are all relative. It’s still spectacular.

After 27 years with Natural Lands, this was my first visit to this preserve. It’s not all easily accessible to the public, in fact its 808 acres (bigger than Crow’s Nest!) is spread out over several parcels and interwoven with New Jersey state-owned conservation lands.

As it happens, Preserve Manager Brian Johnson needed the chipper next, and I was finished with it, and a day spent moving it in the air-conditioned truck and away from the abundant ragweed at home seemed like a good idea. Brian offered to meet me half way, but I thought I’d take a look at the preserve while there.

We dropped the chipper at the project site, a meadow that Brian is rejuvenating by clearing some of the aggressive woody plants that threaten to take it over. Brian told me not to get out of the truck, as I hadn’t applied pyrethrin to my clothing nor duct-taped my pant legs to my socks to seal them. Seems that chiggers can be a problem, at least in August. We’re not in Pennsylvania anymore.

I’ve had experiences with South Jersey insects before. Our preserves there are best visited in their “off-season.” Green-heads, ticks, mosquitoes, horse flies, manageable if you plan for them, or visit in the winter. They’re the core of the food web, a sign of the productivity of salt marshes and freshwater wetlands, essential food for many other species.

The plant communities there are amazing, with pitch pine and cedar, clethra, sweet gum and chinquapin—a dwarf chestnut, Castanea pumila. There are a number of rare species at Burden Hill and I couriered some seed to our Stoneleigh Preserve so that they can grow some native orchids representing the coastal plain in their displays of native plants of Natural Lands preserves.

Brian showed me places that you’d never know were there if you were casually driving through Salem County. My advice, if you’d like to visit, is to keep your eye out for the occasional Natural Lands member event that is held there. And if it’s August, duct tape your pants legs.