Sunday, April 7, 2013

Parvin State Park: more diversity in rural New Jersey

One of the big "gets" in New Jersey birding circles lately is the tufted duck, a medium-sized diver native to Europe and Asia. This fella has been hanging out on Thundergust Lake in Parvin State Park, so I stopped by  for a look after my visit to the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center. It was a beautiful day, and I was able to spot the visitor from among a group of ring-necked ducks, who look very similar but for the head shape and the eponymous tuft.

It was my first visit to Parvin, and I was absolutely charmed when I arrived. Granted, it's the off season, but its placid environment was relaxing and refreshing, making it feel like the perfect place to cool off from the summer sun or go fishing during other parts of the year. Plus, its well-groomed parking area and entry gate feel like something out of the 1930s, for good reason, as I'd later discover.

As it turned out, the visit was a good complement to the Seabrook visit. Much like the vegetable processing town, this tranquil spot just inside the Pinelands was once a surprising hive of activity.

Parvin became a state park after land acquisitions started by New Jersey government in 1930, but it was without amenities until Civilian Conservation Corps workers arrived, sometime between 1933 and 1935. Over several years, teams of young men blazed trails, built log cabins with boat landings, and erected the picturesque entry pavilion and offices that welcome visitors to the beach. No Iron Mike stands on site to commemorate their work; the stability of their handiwork is monument in itself.

Not long after the CCC finished its work, Parvin entered what might be called its multinational phase. Though the dates and uses vary depending on which source you consult, the common link is that the park served as a temporary home for people whose lives were affected by World War II.

First, the Federal government capitalized on the park's remote setting to hold German prisoners of war sometime around 1942 or 1943. Some were transported to Seabrook to work, somewhat alleviating the wartime labor shortage.

The Japanese and Japanese-American history of the park is a bit less clear, but not surprising, given its general proximity to the large Issei/Nisei population of Seabrook. Some sources say Parvin hosted a summer camp for young Japanese American internees, while others contend that the property was used for temporary housing for those who'd left the internment camps after the war's end.

Finally, a contingent of Kalmyks stayed briefly at Parvin after their escape to the United States in 1952. The history of Kalmykia is long and complex, but these Buddhist Europeans had suffered the wrath of Stalin after they had rebelled against the Soviet Communist government. Many ultimately settled in the metropolitan Philadelphia region and the Monmouth County town of Howell.

None of this -- except the CCC work -- was even slightly evident when I visited. I wonder, though, how each of the groups reacted to living out among the pines. Did the Kalmyks yearn for the broad expanses of their homeland's steppes? Did the West Coast-based Japanese-Americans find the scrub pines to be adequate substitutes for massive redwoods? And did the Germans despair for the Black Forest?

One can only hope that none of them was visited by the Jersey Devil.

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