The Great Egg Harbor River is the longest canoeable river in the Pine Barrens. The upper section is wild and strewn with logs. It is a strenuous run, but it has a powerful attraction for canoeists, who persist in efforts to keep it open. In the nineteenth century the river was kept clear for commercial reasons. In "Exploring the Little Rivers of New Jersey", the Cawleys note a traveler's 1907 recollection of a boat ride down the Great Egg at a time when the river was free of the rubble that is common today. A decade or so ago, a local resident
frequently took his wife for a day trip on the upper section. He kept the river clean single-handedly by rowing a boat upstream and sawing debris as he came to it. Now the river is maintained by members of the South Jersey Canoe Club, although now and then they find 3- and 4-inch trees cleared by an unknown individual.
The beauty of the upper section makes up for the labor. The river passes through a great, continuous swamp that is shaded more heavily than any other Pine Barrens stream. Live trees and dead logs are entangled in contorted, moss-covered masses. Some trees are supported by only half their root systems; others, fallen down, lie with roots high in the air. Great sheets of brier that drape over dense bushes and hang like Spanish moss provide an additional wilderness touch. One can drift happily through this jungle and watch the bubbles on the water and the sun shining through the trees and backlighting the leaves. For those people who like isolation and canoeing as a pleasure in itself, paddling down the upper Great Egg Harbor River is an enjoyable experience.
Much of the upper section, down to Piney Hollow Road, is owned by the state and runs through the Winslow Wildlife Management Area.
Between Penny Pot and Weymouth, the river cuts through a ridge. As a result, banks are high, trees are firmly rooted and debris is minimal. In contrast to the swamp upstream, this is one of the easiest and most relaxing sections of river in the Pine Barrens.
Below Weymouth the river resumes its swampy nature, except that it is much wider. The approach to Lake Lenape is very pretty, with a panorama of marshes, holly, and cedars. This portion of the river is in the Atlantic County Park at Lake Lenape, which includes a number of small parks and two campsites, at Acagisca Camp and the foot of Lake Lenape. The parks have signs showing a map of the river, access points and mileage, and estimated travel time from Penny Pot to Lake Lenape.
The river takes its name from its harbor. When the Dutch settled south Jersey, they named a portion of it Eyren Haven, "Egg Harbor," after the great quantity of gull and mud-hen eggs they found in salt meadows during breeding season. The British adopted the translation but named the body of water at the mouth of this river Great Egg Harbor, and that between Tuckerton and Long Beach Island Little Egg Harbor, because of the relative size of the local eggs. Despite its deceptive name, Great Egg Harbor is the smaller harbor of the two. The name Penny Pot seems to have come from the Dutch word Paanpacht, meaning "low, soft land" or "leased land."
An ironworks, powered by the Great Egg, once operated at Weymouth. Weymouth was also a center of charcoal production. Mays Landing, downstream, was an important port and shipbuilding center and, during the Revolution, the scene of a British landing in retaliation for privateering by rebels along the Atlantic Coast.
An easy day's run lies between Penny Pot and Weymouth. The access at Penny Pot is at the Atlantic County Park on Eighth Street; parking and stopping on Route 322, known locally as Black Horse Pike, is strictly prohibited.
Below Weymouth the river is swampy with debris, but it is canoed often and is kept reasonably clear. One may paddle all the way to Mays Landing or shorten the run and avoid Lake Lenape by taking out at the Winding River Campgrounds. Anyone who does intend to be on the lake, whether with boats or canoes, should register with the park at Mays Landing and leave the name and phone number of a contact person. This is a good safety policy; strong winds come up unexpectedly on the lake, and in the past the park has had to rescue canoeists. The Atlantic County Park plans to offer two additional accesses, perhaps by summer 1999. Currently the access at Acagisca Camp is available only to campers, but the Park hopes to open it to all paddlers soon. The second access will be on Lake Lenape, about halfway up the lake on the west side.
On the upper section, a good day's run is from New Brooklyn Lake to Piney Hollow Road or, for a shorter journey, from Winslow- Williamstown Road to Piney Hollow Road. The run from Piney Hollow Road to Penny Pot is standard.
There is less debris on the river now than in the 1970s, but still, a saw and pruning clippers are advisable above Piney Hollow Road. A recent blowdown could make them useful.
Atlantic County Park and Lake Lenape
Indian Branch Park Campground
Winding River Campgrounds
Indian Branch Park Campground is located about ¼ mile from the river and can be reached from a beach controlled by the campground. Camping is not permitted on the beach itself.
Winding River Campgrounds is situated on the river.
There are several dry, sandy banks along the Great Egg that are unposted. Camping might possibly be allowed in these spots as long as they are left unlittered and undisturbed.
Camping is prohibited, however, within the Winslow Wildlife Management Area and also in any county park where camping is not specifically provided for. This eliminates the portions upstream of Piney Hollow Road (the Blue Hole area is patrolled regularly) and downstream of Weymouth except at established campgrounds.
Canoe rental agencies
Al and Sam's Canoe and Boat Rentals
Bel Haven Lake (hauling only if trucks are not already busy in the Wharton Tract)
Lenape Park Recreation Center
Winding River Campgrounds
Hammonton is a city; Mays Landing is a medium-size town. Route 322 has numerous motels, dining places, gas stations, and an occasional market. There is a hospital in Hammonton.
There is a gauge station at Route 54, on the upstream end of the left retaining wall, behind the gauge station building. Another gauge is at Winslow-Williamstown Road. For suitable water flow above Route 54, the reading should be about 3.60 feet at Winslow- Williamstown Road and about 4.30 feet at Route 54. At lower water the number of liftovers above the Winslow-Williamstown Road is likely to double at least, and the situation may be comparable between there and Route 54.
A third gauge is on the downstream side of the bridge at Route 322, below Weymouth. It is not worth the trouble to check, although the Braleys did note a reading of 2.95 feet as they paddled by it. In practice the water level is nearly always sufficient below Penny Pot because of the additional water flowing from Hospitality Creek. In exceptionally dry periods, the water may be shallow below Weymouth.
The problem with specifying a satisfactory water level on the Great Egg is that some fallen trees are high enough over the water that a canoe can slip underneath them at low water but require a liftover with moderate water. During such times one often experiences an unusual sense of satisfaction at being able to sneak under an obstruction that otherwise could be a formidable adversary. To be confident of few if any liftovers, one needs a lot of water on the Great Egg, with a reading of about 5.00 feet or so at Winslow- Williamstown Road. However, at flood stage with a water level much more than 5 feet, all but experienced paddlers should avoid the upstream portion, especially above Winslow-Williamstown Road. Under such conditions canoeists may not be able to recognize the river channel and could get lost in the water flowing through the trees.
River details from New Brooklyn Lake to Mays Landing
Below the lake the river is narrow and impeded by fallen trees. It soon broadens to 11¼2 canoe lengths. The banks are continually water-soaked, and more fallen trees lie about in all directions. Masses of upturned roots with soil clinging to them project a dozen feet into the air, and mushrooms may occasionally be found in the soil among the roots. A power line from across New Brooklyn Lake parallels the river until well past the point where the river passes under the Atlantic City Expressway, about twenty minutes from the lake. Then a second power line can be seen ahead, and the considerable debris in its vicinity may require a liftover. After weaving through bushes in the water, one crosses the power line right-of-way-a graded sand road that has been eroded through by the river. Here and farther on, the river swells out into the swamp at times of high water and makes the channel difficult to follow.
The river meanders gently through the swamp. There are heavy patches of debris, many of which will require a liftover, depending upon water level and the latest clearing efforts. Deciduous trees, mostly maples with a very occasional holly, arch over and shade the river. Mosses and lichens grow on the trees. Dense bushes hang over the water and narrow the channel. Brier grows here and there and dangles into the water from the bushes. I have seen no poison ivy on this upper section of the Great Egg, except for a patch or two below Route 54. Its absence may be explained by the small amount of sunlight that penetrates the canopy of trees. About one and a half to two hours after the Atlantic City Expressway, the river crosses under the Winslow-Williamstown Road.
The debris becomes infrequent for some time, perhaps twenty minutes; it may be worse, however, in early spring. In times of high water, the river tends to spread out through the trees, but at lower levels one can find an occasional flat, grassy spot that may be dry enough for a stop. Soon debris is more frequent and may necessitate an occasional liftover. Long, straight passages are broken by tight turns. Although an island sometimes narrows the channel, the width of the river remains constant at 1 1/2 canoe lengths. An occasional growth of holly begins to appear. Gradually, debris occurs in heavier patches; pushing through the brush may take ten minutes at one place and half an hour at another. After a distinct lessening of debris, a stand of cedar appears on the left, followed by the sloping sand bank at Blue Hole.
At one time a bridge crossed the river at Blue Hole. On the left there is an extensive, cleared sandy area, surrounded by pines. Fishermen drive here from Piney Hollow Road. On the right bank, a narrow path leads to a broad, deep excavation filled with water. When the river overflows after a heavy rain, it carries fresh water to the hole, thus keeping it reasonably free from stagnation.
Liftovers may be necessary, depending on the water level. The left bank is high and sloping. In a half hour, Piney Hollow Road crosses the river. Past its bridge are a quarry on the left bank and a sandy beach on the right.
Below the quarry, the banks are open, with only thin trees on both sides although there are still masses of bushes. In a few minutes the debris may be considerable, and the turns are sharper. The river spreads out over the banks here in times of high water. Occasionally, one can see pine trees nearby or in the distance. A half hour later the river flows under a railroad trestle and past an open area.
The river heads into dense woods and flows through a heavy patch of debris that lasts for twenty minutes. It then meanders through a clear section where there is a fine sandy beach on the left bank that is perfect for a rest stop. Through there the channel may be washed out when the water is high, which makes for less severe debris.
A few minutes later debris is heavy once again, and turns are often very sharp. Soon a cleared area appears on the left bank, followed shortly by the edge of a housing development on the right. The river diverges around an island. The left channel is usually blocked by an underwater wooden wall; the right channel is shallow at first but deepens and follows alongside the houses to a good access point at Fourteenth Street.
The channel turns left through the woods, paralleling Fourteenth Street, and at the end of the island it passes under the Fourteenth Street bridge. More debris appears, and the river twists sharply, with some hairpin turns. In times of high water, the channel may be difficult to follow. After some time one arrives at a second railroad trestle. Gradually, the trees thin out. The widening of the river and the appearance of grasses along the shore signal the approach of a pond behind a spillway and the Route 54 bridge.
Running the spillway is risky because if it is not done properly the canoe will turn broadside in the backwater below and roll over. Also, there may not be enough water flowing over the spillway. Anyone determined to try it should first move toward the bow, so that the stern is less likely to hang up, and then back up to a good running distance and paddle hard forward over the spillway, keeping the boat lined up with the current. Otherwise, the canoe should be lined over the spillway or portaged over the highway. There is a small but good beach on the other side where people sometimes swim.
Downstream from the spillway, the channel is very straight at first. The trees are dense along the bank. In a few minutes one comes upon an open area on the left, with a table and bench, and a tiny island where one tree grows. The river continues with patches of debris; some are very heavy and require liftovers. An occasional pine tree can be seen. Turns become frequent and sharp. The banks are not as swampy as those upstream. After one patch of debris approaching Route 561 Spur, a poor, narrow canoe access on the right bank leads to a field of pines. A few minutes later the river passes under the bridge of Route 561 Spur.
Although debris continues to require liftovers, there are not as many, and turns are easier and less frequent. Soon one comes to a level field of pines on the right, cleared of bushes, followed by a sloping field on the left, and then a large house with an arched bridge over the river. At a second large house, the river is channeled between two retaining walls. A half hour later, there is a low beach on the right with access to a broad, open field. Eventually, one passes under the Eighth Street bridge at Penny Pot. The county access and park are just below the bridge. To take out, stay to the right around the island.
Depending on the water level, one more liftover may be necessary between here and the conjunction with Hospitality Creek. The turns gradually become very sharp. Pines and cedars grow along the banks, and there is an access on the left to a broad, weedy field. Soon the river abruptly widens as the Hospitality Creek flows into the Great Egg from the right.
Hospitality Creek is held back by a dam, and one may easily see it by paddling under Route 322 and continuing a short distance up the creek. It is not especially attractive, but it is historic, being constructed of teakwood salvaged from wrecked ships. Below the dam, the creek sluggishly carries suds from the splashing water through beds of pickerelweed and other water plants into the Great Egg.
The run from Penny Pot to Weymouth is altogether different from anything upstream. The river widens to 3 canoe lengths and flows in slow meanders almost completely clear of debris, save for an occasional log or branch. The banks are generally high and sandy, with several very good places to stop. Unfortunately for canoeists desiring solitude, there are many dwellings in the vicinity. But where the banks are undisturbed by construction, the typical upland vegetation grows: scattered pines, scrub oaks, blueberries and huckleberries, ferns, an occasional sheep laurel, and creeping heaths. The Great Egg is now an easygoing river, open to the sun and sky. Only gentle paddling is required.
At least a half-dozen sandy banks appear during the next hour. One very low, broad bank is located on the right, thirty-five minutes after Penny Pot. Picnicking is allowed on the beach, but not camping. To camp, one follows first a sand road and then a paved road that leads to the Indian Branch Park Campground.
Downstream, mounted on the left bank, an abandoned rig appears-a wooden retaining wall, a rusted, gas-powered water pump, and farther along, a large, rusted conduit. Behind the bank there is an abandoned cranberry bog that once was irrigated and drained by the rig. A half hour later a canal from another cranberry bog connects with the river on the left.
Soon the banks become low and swampy or covered in thick bushes that bar access. Patches of cedars appear, and then the banks become firm again. The river passes briefly alongside Route 559. Two more stopping places in pine fields may be found on the right. A few minutes later the increasing frequency of houses marks the approach into Weymouth. The Great Egg passes around the houses in a hairpin turn and arrives at two bridges. The first carries the millrace to an old paper mill, of which only the chimney remains. Take care in paddling here: The river's fast current and sharp curve and the rubble left from the old dam for Weymouth Furnace often create a brief white-water section as the river sweeps around the park. The second bridge allows the river to pass under Route 559 and alongside Weymouth County Park.
Named after a town in England, Weymouth was once noted for its iron furnace and forge. The park is part of the Atlantic County Park at Lake Lenape. It is an excellent place to stop for a rest but may be crowded on weekends. A spring in the park was used by residents for drinking, but it has become contaminated, and the county has posted a sign cautioning against drinking.
The river is broad and shallow for a few minutes, and then it passes under Route 322. Considerable debris along the banks reminds one of the primitive nature of the river. The trees are again deciduous but thinner than in the upper section; brier is uncommon. In a few minutes there is a grassy bank on the left that is good for a stop, but a few more minutes bring one to a broad, sandy beach on the right that is a much better place and has a trash can.
Now debris begins to increase, and logs lie across the water. Turns are very frequent. The river becomes more swampy and spreads out around bushy islands; one should look carefully to find the best route. It is still wide, about 2 canoe lengths, but several patches of brush, grasses, and logs occur, requiring a half-dozen liftovers in an hour. Locally, sweet gum trees are common, with their decorative pendants in the spring and attractive leaves in the summer and fall. Eventually, one should see a house on the left and, a few minutes later, a low, sandy bank. Soon a house appears on the right, and then the wooden dock of the Winding River Campgrounds.
The journey from here to Mays Landing requires about two hours of continuous paddling in quiet water, but if the wind is strong, the passage across Lake Lenape before reaching Mays Landing is very strenuous.
Five minutes downstream from the Winding River Campgrounds, around a bend, there is a beautiful beach. It was formerly a Girl Scout camp but is now Acagisca Camp, part of the Atlantic County Park. It is a good rest stop. It may be an alternate take-out before the lake, depending on circumstances: The entrance to the camp from the road is chained when no campers are registered.
The river now widens further to 3 canoe lengths and has long, straight sections and few turns. Dense bushes line the shore; marsh grasses grow along the water's edge. The trees are thin, with fields of pines here and there. Holly is common, sometimes mixed with pines but usually growing in patches along the banks. Not long after Acagisca Camp, a narrow inlet on the left leads to a bay lined with leatherleaf bushes and backed by pines. It is worth a small side trip if one has the time. On the far side, a channel connects the bay with a pond bounded by rushes where water lilies grow.
The Great Egg continues in a large, hairpin meander and arrives, on the left, at a stand of grasses separating the channel from another bay. The river then becomes very wide as it passes through pines and cedars. On the left bank two narrow, sandy openings lead to a field of pines. Narrow side channels begin to split off from the main channel and pass around many small, grassy islands. The river bears left and opens up into a beautiful wide pond, which initially is filled with grasses but later is clear. It is best to paddle across the center of the pond to the opposite shore, which is covered with pines and cedars, and then to bear right to the inlet connecting the pond with Lake Lenape.
At this point there is no choice but to pass through the inlet and head down the lake; the lookout tower on the left shore is a good landmark. The take-out is the ramp for the county park, which is to the right of the dam at the far end, beyond the campsites on the right shore. Staying to the right side of the lake should avoid most of the water traffic from powerboats and jet skis.
This report was excerpted from the book Paddling the Jersey Pine Barrens by Robert Parnes with permission from Falcon Publishing.