|The majestic Shoemaker Holly|
You'll be excused if you haven't noticed it before. Despite many trips through the area, I only discovered it when researching our recent story on the holly forest at Sandy Hook. There's a tiny mention of it on the smallish brown signs marking the picnic area but that's easy to miss if you're passing at highway speed.
The Shoemaker Holly has stood for more than 300 years, making it the oldest tree of its kind in New Jersey and perhaps the nation. The Shoemaker family may have been aware of its existence before they sold their property to the Highway Authority for the construction of the Parkway, but it only became widely known in the early 1950s, when the of the final stretch of the highway was set to be built. The holly was directly in the planned path of the road, certain to be sacrificed in the name of progress.
|Live long and prosper, Holly!|
The picnic area provides a pleasant stopping point for travelers, with an attractive wooded area, park furniture for a casual outdoor meal, and a rest room. Outside of beach season, visitors might forget they're, in essence, playing in traffic. If you need to stop to stretch your legs or walk the dog, there are a lot worse places to do it.
We stopped to visit the holly on a recent frigid day and were impressed by its 60 foot height and broad girth. From a good hug, I'd say that the trunk is about eight feet in circumference, far broader than any of the hollies we've seen at Sandy Hook. He (we didn't see berries so we assume it's not female) appears to have been pruned judiciously over the years, and according to an article in the Lower Township Gazette, Parkway arborists have been providing the necessary maintenance to keep the tree healthy. That said, its advancing age has supporters somewhat concerned, as hollies generally deteriorate after about 300 years. To further preserve the Shoemaker, the Parkway has stopped the long-time custom of festooning it with lights during the Christmas season.
The Shoemaker Holly was flooded in light every night of New Jersey's 300th anniversary celebration, but I've heard no similar plans for this year's 350th. Still, though, it wouldn't hurt to drop by and give 'em a little love. At the very least, take a break from your Cape May trip to admire one of New Jersey's oldest and most durable citizens.