Tall Pines State Preserve: Gloucester County’s First State Park
What do the nonprofit South Jersey Land & Water Trust, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and the world’s first illuminated nighttime golf course have in common? These three seemingly-unrelated things converge in one place: the recently preserved Tall Pines State Preserve in Gloucester County, New Jersey.
This 111-acre parcel of land that straddles Mantua and Deptford townships was originally forested woodlands, then an asparagus field before it became a golf course named Tall Pines in the early 1950s. The course became the first in the world to offer “nighttime golf, “according to an August 1963 article in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal. This groundbreaking idea didn’t catch on as expected, but the course continued operating until it was purchased in 1984 by Jaworski. The course was Jaworski’s first purchase in what was to become a South Jersey golf empire, and it was renamed “Ron Jaworski’s Eagles’ Nest.” Many readers may also fondly recall the nightclub and restaurant on the property. It was then sold, becoming Maple Ridge Golf Course, and was then acquired in 2006 by a development company which obtained preliminary approvals to build 123 housing units on the property.
The park had become a refuge for a variety of wildlife—including bald eagles—since Maple Ridge’s closure in 2006. The vegetation on the property also served as a buffer zone among the developed areas that surrounded it, acting as a filtration system for the local water supply. The perfect harmony of the land and water resources caught the attention of the South Jersey Land & Water Trust (SJLWT), a local, nonprofit group that focuses on farmland and open space preservation, education and advocacy about environmental issues facing the South Jersey area, and ensuring the availability of natural spaces for future generations.
The effort to preserve this property began in full force in 2008, with involvement from local groups like SJLWT, the Friends of Tall Pines, and the Gloucester County Nature Club, as well as Mantua Township, the Board of Freeholders of Gloucester County, the Gloucester County Office of Land Preservation, and the New Jersey Green Acres program. The idea of such a natural treasure becoming a developed subdivision was unfathomable, so they took action. The groups acted together to conduct a grassroots campaign including placing yard signs, advocating and educating about the preservation process and raising funds to be able to purchase the property from the development company.
Nearly eight years later, in November 2015, the land was officially preserved as Gloucester County’s first state park, Tall Pines State Preserve. This parcel that began as a wooded area will forever remain a natural haven. In honor of this historic achievement, the SJLWT honored the Board of Freeholders of Gloucester County and the Gloucester County Office of Land Preservation with its 2016 Trust Award at the nonprofit’s annual dinner earlier this year. Including its role in the preservation of Tall Pines State Preserve, the SJLWT has assisted in preserving more than 2,100 acres of farmland and open space throughout South Jersey.
Tall Pines State Preserve is open to the public for outdoor recreation, including walking, jogging, cycling, picnicking and bird watching. The preserve is located on Bark Bridge Road in Sewell, just west of the intersection with Woodbury-Glassboro Road (Rte. 553). Regular cleanups of the area will be conducted by SJLWT and the Friends of Tall Pines group, which have partnered to ensure the maintenance and cleanliness of the park; those interested in volunteering to participate in a cleanup, sign up for SJLWT’s e-newsletter through the website listed below. As part of SJLWT’s monthly Walk in the Woods series, the inaugural Walk at Tall Pines will be held on April 2. Subscribe to SJLWT online to find out about future walks, which are a great place to bring your camera and binoculars for birdwatching.
To learn more about SJLWT’s mission, ongoing programs and preserved properties, visit sjlandwater.org. To stay up-to-date on SJLWT’s activities and other volunteer opportunities, follow on Facebook, join the Meetup group and/or subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter, all available on the website.