Burlington County, NJ
Laura K. Leuter, Charley Lolio, Katie Brown, Heather Norcross, Devin Winkelmann, Dave Morgan
Wandering around in the woods in search of the Jersey Devil may seem, well, crazy to some. And I understand that, of course. What keeps us from being completely insane? Statistics!
We've used the data compiled from all of the sightings reported to us in order to determine some facts about Jersey Devil sightings. Here's the top 3 most likely places for a Jersey Devil encounter (after eliminating the catch-all "Pine Barrens", which is way too general to specifically categorize):
- Leeds Point, NJ
- Batsto, NJ
- Burlington, NJ
Well, if you've looked over our hunt history, you'll see that we've been to Leeds Point & Batsto many times over the years, but Burlington has not yet hit our radar for the hunts. We decided that we would change that with Hunt #41.
Burlington played a key role during Phenomenal Week in 1909. There were many reported incidents of footprints covering the lawns of homes in Burlington. The first documented sighting that kicked off Phenomenal Week took place in Bristol, PA, just across the bridge from Burlington. So, back in 1909, Burlington was definitely one of the places to be for some Jersey Devil activity.
But, did the town still have relevance now? It's one thing to have an area that reports multiple Jersey Devil sightings from a century ago. If we've had no recent activity there, then it's not necessarily a great lead in this day and time. Take, for instance, Atlantic City and Camden. Both cities are technically considered hot spots, and have reported many Jersey Devil sightings. However, if you've been to either city lately, you'd realize very quickly that the geography of the cities have changed dramatically, and the sightings have died out decades ago. This is just another element that we must consider when labeling an area as a potential "hot spot" for continued activity.
Lucky for us, it turns out that Jersey Devil sightings have definitely continued in Burlington, even into the 21st century. So the capital of the former West Jersey remains an active location for Jersey Devil sightings. This brings me great joy, of course, as I am a local to this area! Perhaps one day I will have the wonderful experience of waking to unexplainable footprints in my yard, or watching a strange figure dance on my shed roof...
On to the hunt: As with most new locations, we started our hunt out during the daytime hours so that we could scope the landscape and get to know where we were going. We drove all the way down a long dirt road and parked the cars by a creek, continuing on foot throughout the woods. The land was incredible! It was full of trees and small scale rolling hills. It was immensely isolated.
The first thing we found were footprints. Admittedly, what we most likely found was just a trail that some of the area deer use to get down to the water's edge. There were some unique prints, some that were very deep into the ground. Katie decided to attempt a plaster cast, which we agreed we'd come back later after it dried and pick it up.
The cast bought us some time to go exploring. On our way in, we had passed some abandoned buildings, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to check them out. We continued along the water's edge on a trail. After passing what appeared to have been some sort of boat house, we encountered the remains of a house. The house had been targeted by graffiti artists and didn't look like it had been used for anything in a long time. We continued along the path, and suddenly discovered an oddly placed stone stairway going up a hill. If we weren't right on top of it, we wouldn't have seen it - it was very well hidden and not visible from a distance. The group carefully climbed up the steps and came across more decaying structures at the top of the hill. Our view from that point was incredible! Off in the distance you could see the turnpike, with miles of swamp and woods separating us.
It began to get dark, so we decided to head towards the plaster cast and pick up Katie's work. The woods quickly became darker and darker, but the woods were quickly illuminated by the headlights of a car coming down the trail. We stopped and remained still, as we usually do, in order to avoid contact and not make ourselves seem suspicious. However, in this case it didn't work. We were caught! The car was a state park police car, and the officer was not too happy to see us out there. He reminded us that the deadline for being in the park was dusk, and asked us to leave.
This created a group dilemma, of course. We had not yet retrieved the plaster cast. We assured the officer that we would make our way out to our vehicle. Once the officer pulled away, Katie bolted towards the location. No such luck - the officer had made his way down another trail, and Katie was caught in his headlights. She gave up and ran back towards the car.
On our way out, the officer was parked down a side trail and followed us as soon as we passed him. He was relentless and wanted to make sure that we had left the park. It was incredibly disappointing!
Being that I live locally, I agreed to return to the park the next day during daylight and pick up the plaster cast. When I went back, however, it was nowhere to be found. We're not sure if some animal tried to eat it, or ran off with it, or perhaps the officer went back to find out what it was that Katie had run towards after he told us to leave. Either way, the cast was gone and we were out of luck.
This trip was incredibly frustrating because the terrain is incredible and the location is awesome, however it is highly patrolled by park police which means night investigations wouldn't be possible without paying for some sort of permit, which is definitely going to be out of our budget! So even though we found a fantastic location, it doesn't look like we'll be able to get much night time use out of it. Perhaps we can set up some motion sensor cameras in the area to see if a night trip is even worth our while.