Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Confronted by the Jersey Devil at Leeds Point

Following a moderately successful birding day on the trails at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge this past weekend, we decided to check out some of the nearby side roads. Most people who visit Brig only go to the main portion where the visitor center and wildlife drive are... and that's fine. We wanted to see a little more.

Gotta love a healthy wetlands.
Leeds Point Road forks off of Route 9 north of Smithville and leads to other parts of the refuge, including the Scott's Landing Boat Launch. The focus there changes from wildlife viewing to duck hunting, and a rather ingenious Eagle Scout project uses a series of signs that look like birds to illustrate the permitted shooting range. Given that we're well out of hunting season, we could enjoy the sights of healthy spartina waving in the breeze without being concerned with random shots.

Binoculars always in hand, Ivan wanted to explore the stand of trees near the parking area, so in we went. We quickly felt enveloped by pitch pines, reminding us that we were, after all, in the outer reaches of the Pinelands. While blotches of sunlight shone down through hurricane-created holes in the canopy, the gnarled trees made the place feel unnatural and weird. I couldn't wait to get out.

I really don't like to make generalizations or contribute to shaggy dog stories, but we were in Leeds Point, which added a slightly mysterious undertone to the small forest. Not far from the waters of the Atlantic, the hamlet may or may not be the legendary birthplace of the Jersey Devil. Depending on which source you consult, he might have been born farther inland at Estellville, or perhaps amid a swamp along the Mullica River, which, come to think of it, is pretty much where Leeds Point is. The horned-and-winged one never seemed like much of a Shore guy, though there's a tavern called JD's in Smithville that serves a very tasty Jersey Devil burger.

Satisfied that the stand of trees wasn't very birdy at the time, we found our way back inland and turned right onto Oyster Creek Road. Just a few yards down from the intersection, we came upon this sign:

Jersey Devil sign Hidden NJ Leeds Point

Well, gee. We didn't know whether to be amused or concerned: amused for the obvious reason, concerned that we might not be welcome visitors, no matter our innocent intent. Were the locals fed up with rowdy explorers looking to raise the devil? Or were they pranking their neighbors on the next road? If they truly had negative intent, it's not likely someone would have put so much effort into an artistically-rendered three-dimensional sign. Instead, they'd have just spraypainted "Get out!" on a plank of plywood and nailed it haphazardly to a tree.

We continued driving down the road, next coming upon a creatively-executed sign advising motorists to watch for and respect motorcycle riders. Fair enough. Bikers would have enough of a challenge with the road, given the uneven, pockmarked macadam.

What we found at the end of the road was a mix of weatherbeaten Down Jersey fishing shacks and small bungalows that weren't quite as worn. Folks may live in one or two of them, but for the most part they look like shelters for weekenders who want to get a few hours sleep before jumping in their outboard-powered rowboats in the predawn hours. All they really need is space for a couple of air mattresses, indoor plumbing and a fridge for bait and beer.

Next to what looked like an old boat yard was the Oyster Creek Inn, which had attracted a sizable holiday weekend crowd. I could have sworn I'd found this place once on my own, during the depths of winter, but it was a lot livelier on a sunny spring weekend. The marsh, just north of the tract we'd seen at Scott's Landing, looked fresh and healthy. If the Jersey Devil had been born here, he'd be hard pressed to be evil. That is, until the greenheads come out in the humid languor of July.


  1. Love your blog...

    Although I live in Montana, I love to visit NJ and NYC.

    A couple of years ago, I spent about a month traveling around NJ taking photographs. Mostly of urban ghost towns and abandoned factory towns.

    And, no offense, NJ has some really weird places.

    One of my favorites is Wild West City (love their song on the website) in Netcong... I've never been there when it was open, but I've gone there during the winter. The ultimate camp...

    Thanks, again...

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words!


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