Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Double Life: The Amphibians of New Jersey

The following article was taken from the Green Heritage Newsletter, spring 2010, and written by Park System Senior Naturalist Christopher Lanza...

Amphibians (a Greek word meaning double life) occupy the middle ground between fish and reptiles. As such, they were the first land dwelling vertebrates (animals with backbones) and paved the way for the development of our own species. They are sensitive to environmental degradation and can serve as a marker of the damage humans can cause in the environment: 11 species of amphibians are now at risk in New Jersey. This article will discuss amphibians in general with a special emphasis on native species you may see in your own neighborhood.

Amphibians Through Time 

Amphibians first appear in the geologic record during the Devonian Period that began 408 million years ago. They most likely descended from a group of “lobe-finned” fish whose modified fins allowed them to move on land for brief periods of time. This was a great competitive advantage in an age when the oceans were a crowded and dangerous place to live, compared to the almost vacant land. The fossils of one very early amphibian, Hynerpeton bassetti, have been found in Pennsylvania and the animal presumably lived in ancient New Jersey as well. 

Biology—Defining a Double Life 

Amphibians are best defined as a class of exothermic (coldblooded) land and water vertebrates that can breathe with lungs, gills, or through scale-less skin; and who generally lay their jelly-like eggs in water. Here, the young, who look quite different from their parents, remain until their metamorphosis into adult form. Thus, they lead a double life. Adults may or may not live on land, but, even if they do, they tend to stick near water or areas of high humidity. Life histories are specific to each species and some variation may occur.

Salamanders: Fire Myth & Secrets 

Northern Red Salamander
Salamanders are often confused with lizards because they share a similar body plan: four legs, a long body, and a long tail; but lizards are no more closely related to amphibians than to any other reptile. Throughout history, salamanders have been linked to myths, especially myths dealing with fire. This may partly stem from the fact that salamanders often hide in dead logs that may have been used for firewood. Upon lighting the log in a hearth, the sight of a creature emerging (fleeing, really) from the flames clearly would have seemed supernatural. 

In New Jersey, salamanders are divided into two distinct groups: mole and lung-less. Mole salamanders are burrowing animals as adults and breathe with their lungs. Lung-less salamanders breathe through their moist skin and mouth. The only newt found in NJ is the red-spotted newt and it differs from other salamanders because it has three distinct life stages: an aquatic larval form, a juvenile land stage, and, finally, the aquatic adult. 

A number of NJ salamanders are unfortunately either threatened or endangered due to water quality or loss of suitable habitat, and another group are listed as species of special concern. Here in Monmouth County, the Marbled Mole Salamander is a species of Special Concern. Due to their secretive nature, it is likely that the true extent of population loss may never be clear, making management all the more difficult. 

All of these species, regardless of the habitat in which they spend their adulthood, must return to the water to lay their eggs. Their offspring (called tadpoles) will remain in the water from a few months up to two years depending on the species. Two of New Jersey’s treefrogs, the Southern Gray Treefrog and the Pine Barrens Treefrog (which can be found in Monmouth County) are endangered, and two others are species of special concern.

Call of the Wild—It’s a Frog, Not a Bird

Spring Peeper
Recently, a few visitors to the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center asked about the identity of an animal they often heard calling near their home at night. They were surprised to learn that the animal was a Northern Gray Treefrog and not a bird as they had assumed. The popular conception is that all frogs sound the same, but every species has a unique mating call and most call only during certain months. In most cases, the callers are male frogs announcing their location, and presumably their fitness, to females of the same species and even as a challenge to other males. 

Frog vs. Toad—Can You Tell the Difference? 

Frogs and toads seem to have developed after salamanders and first appeared in their modern form during the Jurassic period, 208 million years ago. Although more familiar than salamanders, people still question how to tell them apart. In truth, they are quite similar with many overlaps, and should be thought of as a continuum, ranging from highly aquatic to more terrestrial. However, with that thought in mind, three broad groups emerge.
  • True Toads (genus Bufo) tend to have squat, chubby bodies with warty, spotty, and blotched skin. Their skin is colored to match their environment, in shades of green and brown. Their posture is more upright and they will have large (parotoid) glands behind their eyes that produce a self- defense poison. They lack teeth and the explosive jumping powers found in some frog species and move by walking or in a sequence of short hops. They are not bound to the water except for breeding purposes. The Eastern Spadefoot toad is a special exception to this category and not a “true toad.” It has few spots, no parotoid glands, and spends most of its time underground.
  • Treefrogs and their kin. Treefrogs, cricket frogs, and chorus frogs are generally small and slender frogs that may be adapted to living in trees and, if so, will have adhesive discs on their fingers and toes. They are all found near water, but not necessarily in the water, as is generally the case with true frogs. 
  • True Frogs. For most people, “true frogs” are what they imagine when they hear the word “frog:” long legs, narrow waists, webbed toes, explosive jumping, and croaking. This group is normally found in the water, although some species will leave the water during certain periods.

A Sensitive Species 

Amphibians are a unique group of animals. They play an important role in the environment–controlling insect pests, providing food for larger species, and acting as “first responders” to changes because of their sensitivity.

At the same time, more and more people, adults mostly, have come to me to ask what has happened to all the frogs, noting “they were everywhere when I was a child.” The sad truth is that we are to blame for their disappearance. World-wide, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over 1,000 are at risk–more than any other species. 

Even simple changes to the environment can cause problems. For example, consider the Bullfrog. Historically, this large and dominant frog species was not found in the Pine Barrens due to the highly acidic water (where Carpenter Frogs and Pine Barren Treefrogs used to thrive). Due to pollution, however, the water has become less acidic allowing Bullfrogs to move in and to replace the Carpenter and Pine Barren Treefrogs. It is very easy to overlook these wildlife habitat changes, but we do so at our own peril. At some point the pollution and habitat loss we create may displace us too.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

From Italian Inspired Estate to County Park

“Bugsy” Siegel, Al Capone, “Lucky” Luciano. These are some of the most infamous gangsters in American history. With America’s choice to outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol in 1920, the Prohibition Era began and the rise of the mob went with it. 

One mobster who took advantage of this rise was Vito Genovese. By 1957, he would become capo dei capi, the “Boss of the Bosses,” the leader of the Five Families. However, when he wanted to escape his life in New York, he chose Monmouth County. In 1935, he purchased a 42 acres estate on Red Hill Road. The estate went through grand alterations in order to make the home and surrounding landscape reminiscent of Italy. Today, visitors know the estate as Deep Cut Gardens. 

The picturesque park allows visitors to experience beautiful gardens in every season. The Genovese home burned down in 1937 while the family was in Italy fleeing an indictment on murder. However, the peanut stone walls, pergola, and rose parterre that Genovese had installed still remain. One of the most interesting of these remaining features is the mini-Vesuvius that was created from local stone. The fire pit was meant to be reminiscent of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy.

After the Genovese house burned down, the Deep Cut property fell into a state of decay. This was turned around in 1952 when Marjorie and Karl Wihtol purchased the property. It is their home that today serves as the park’s Horticultural Center. The pool the Wihtol’s added has been turned into the lily pond with brightly colored koi. In 1977, Marjorie Wihtol willed the first half of Deep Cut Gardens to the Monmouth County Park System. The remainder of the property was purchased later that year. Today visitors can experience the expansive views and colorful blossoming beauty of Deep Cut Gardens.

Check out the Deep Cut Gardens Story Map which highlights key park features and plant life as well as offers a more extensive history of the site:

Monday, July 8, 2019

Summer 2019 Bucket List

Summer is officially in full swing! As you plan your weeks of fun in the sun, don't forget to add your Monmouth County parks to the mix. With a wide variety of Park System locations, programs and events, summertime can't be beat in the parks.

Plus, by attending at least FIVE of the activities or events listed below, you can win a free group archery program! Those interested in entering our Bucket List Challenge, start by filling out the form at Then, as you enjoy any of the activities listed below this summer, take a photo and post it to social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), making sure that your post and/or social media page is public so we can see it. Full details on the contest are available on the Bucket List Challenge form.

Now, onto a summer of fun in your Monmouth County parks:

Safari Backpacks

Found at several locations, these backpacks contain all you need to fill your self-guided nature walk with adventure and exploration. Use of backpacks are free, but require leaving a New Jersey driver's license with our docent. Backpacks are on a first come, first served basis at the following locations: Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center, Howell; Huber Woods Environmental Center, Middletown; and Deep Cut Gardens Horticultural Center, Middletown. FREE!
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo with your Safari Backpack while out in the park. 

Seining Along Sandy Hook Bay

This popular summer program takes place on the shores of Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth. Held from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through August 24, this free program for families is a great way to explore nature while having fun on the beach. Our Park System Naturalists pull a long seine net along the edge of the Sandy Hook Bay and pull in a variety of critters from fish to crabs as we learn what lives in the bay. (Program cancelled in inclement weather.) FREE!
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo as you discover what lives in the Sandy Hook Bay.

Tidal Tuesdays

Held every Tuesday at Fisherman's Cove Conservation Area, Manasquan at 11 a.m., our Park System Naturalists will pull a seine net through the waters off the cove to see what creatures we can find, such as fish, crabs and other sea creatures. (Program cancelled in inclement weather.) FREE!
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo checking out one of the found critters.

Monmouth County Fair

Presented by the Monmouth County Park System in cooperation with the Monmouth County 4-H Association, the Monmouth County Fair is a county-wide event for all ages to enjoy. Coming to East Freehold Showgrounds on Wednesday-Sunday, July 24-28, the Fair offers rides, entertainment, live musical performances, home & garden competitions and demonstrations, 4-H shows and exhibits, living history displays, and so much more! Admission to enter is $8.00 per person, children 12 and under enter for free; parking is free. Fair hours for 2019 are Wednesday-Friday, July 24-26 from 5-11 p.m.; Saturday, July 27 from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, July 28 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. For full details on this year's event, visit
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo in front of the butterfly house in the Monmouth County Park System Exhibit Tent. 

Take a Paddle

Get out on the water with a boat rental! Getting out on the water is just another way to view the beauty of the parks. Kayaks, rowboats and electric motor powered rowboats are available daily at the Manasquan Reservoir, Howell; kayaks, canoes and paddleboats are available daily at Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold; and canoes are available on select weekends at Thompson Park, Lincroft. Lifejackets are provided and are required to be worn with all boat rentals. For full details and rental pricing, click here.
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo with your boat rental or paddle. 

Roving Golfzilla

Take a shot at Golfzilla, a 20' tall, 18' wide inflatable waiting for you to attempt to hit foam or tennis golf balls through its hands, feet, or mouth using plastic SNAG clubs. This is a non-instructional program, though staff will be on hand to teach the basics of the golf swing if needed. All equipment is provided during this FREE drop-in program. See if you can sink a shot on Saturday, July 13 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Dorbrook Recreation Area, Colts Neck, or Saturday, August 24 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Big Brook Park, Marlboro.
For our #BucketListChallenge, get a photo taking a shot with Golfzilla.

Celebrate the Anniversary of Woodstock

The whole family is sure to have a groovy time during this musical celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. Held on Saturday, August 24 from 6-9 p.m. at Thompson Park, Lincroft, visitors can sit back and relax during live musical performances at our Theater Barn. Lawn games will be available to challenge family and friends. Or, create something fun like a tie-dye T-shirt, peace pendant necklace, or flower crown (while supplies last). Entry and parking are free, but some activities may have a fee.
For our #BucketListChallenge, get a photo near the Theater Barn stage.


Thursdays of summer break just got more fun! Our Enviro-Quest stations change parks each week. During scheduled dates, visitors can go to the week's location to follow the Enviro-Quest signs and join in on nature activities, crafts or games for 30-60 minutes of fun. For upcoming dates and locations, click here.
For our #BucketListChallenge, get a photo in front of one of our Enviro-Quest signs. 

Run, Jump, Slide!

With playgrounds at nine Park System locations, there are plenty of places for children to have fun, exercise, and socialize. Playground equipment is a perfect way for kids to get moving, with climbing equipment that exercises the legs, bars to exercise the arms and shoulders, and jungle gyms to exercise the entire body. For a full list of parks with playgrounds, click here.
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo by one of the slides at any of our playgrounds.

Take a Step Back in Time

Learning from the past is the key to our future. The Monmouth County Park System offers two historic sites to browse and learn about local history. At Historic Walnford in Upper Freehold, visitors can appreciate over 200 years of social, industrial and agricultural history reflected through five generations of the Waln family. At Historic Longstreet Farm in Holmdel, you'll be taken back to the 1890s while experiencing what life as it was in rural Monmouth County. Costumed interpreters show both daily and seasonal agricultural and domestic activities from working with the farm animals to growing vegetables in the garden.
For our #BucketListChallenge, at Historic Walnford take a photo in a rocking chair on the porch of the Waln house, and at Historic Longstreet Farm take a photo with the vegetable garden behind you.

Spend a Night Under the Stars

Unplug and unwind with family or friends with camping at Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold. Your days can be spent fishing or boating at the lake, playing on the playground, and hiking the trails. And when the sun goes down, sit around the campfire with stories and tales while roasting marshmallows or other snacks. You'll leave more relaxed and take home lifelong memories.
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo around the campfire or near your tent, camper or cabin.

Stop & Smell the Roses

If you haven't been to visit Deep Cut Gardens in Middletown, there's no time like the present! This 54-acre site is filled with gardens and greenhouses planned as a living catalog of cultivated and native plant materials to be observed through the seasons. The focal point of the Parterre features 52 varieties of roses with over 180 bushes. A walk through the gardens is sure to offer a sense of relaxation surrounded by beauty. Be sure to also check out the lily pond filled with koi and goldfish, the rockery with its three cascading pools, and the All-America Selections Display Garden.
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo inside the pergola at the end of the Parterre.

Soccer & Golf Combined

FootGolf is a unique sport that combines elements of both soccer and golf. Laid out on a traditional golf course, players take aim at large 21-inch cups, trying to make par. FootGolf courses are located at Bel-Aire Golf Course, Wall (9-hole course), and at Pine Brook Golf Course, Manalapan (18-hole course). For full details on this great sport, including fees, visit our FootGolf page.
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo near one of the course flags. 

Take a Walk, Hike, Bike or Run

With 140 miles of trails throughout the Park System, you're sure to find one (or more) that suit your needs. From paved to challenging, trails are a terrific way to combine exercise and the outdoors, whether you're taking a leisurely walk through Thompson Park with friends or family or a challenging mountain bike ride through Hartshorne Woods Park.
For our #BucketListChallenge, take a photo near one of our trail head signs or kiosks. 

No matter what your plans for the summer, we hope you'll add some of your favorite parks into the mix. Need more ideas on where to visit, just head to to learn about all the parks you can explore throughout the year.

We'll see you in the parks!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Caught in the Crosshairs

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These words, written by Thomas Jefferson, sent a shockwave around the world as Colonial America shrugged off their distant rulers for a leadership of their own control. The idea of an American democracy was in its infancy on July 4, 1776. The people of America had no idea of the uncharted wilderness they were embarking into. Now, 243 years later, the evidence of the conflict that created the United States of America can still be found all around us. However, in Monmouth County, the situation was less of a revolution and more of a civil war. Neighbors and families were split with their loyalties creating terrible conflicts. The base for those loyal to the British (Loyalists) was Sandy Hook and for those in favor of the revolution (Whigs) was Freehold. Caught in the crosshairs of this split was the Seabrook-Wilson House.
19th Century Painting of the Seabrook-Wilson House

At the time, this Bay Shore property was owned by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Seabrook, a staunch Whig. From using his boat as a privateering vessel on Sandy Hook Bay, to serving in the New Jersey General Assembly, Lt. Col. Seabrook focused his efforts on defeating the British. This made his house, right across the bay from Sandy Hook, the perfect target for Loyalist revenge. On multiple occasions throughout the war, Loyalists launched raids on his home, once shooting a cannonball at the roof and once stabbing Seabrook’s son, Stephen. Luckily, Stephen Seabrook survived the attack. Other times, Loyalists stole the Seabrook family’s livestock and food. The conflict would continue until the end of the war in 1783. However, like many Monmouth County residents at the time, the Seabrook family's life was turned upside-down.

For those that backed the Loyalists, the defeat of the British meant a troubling choice: return home or leave forever. A mass exodus ensued from the newly established nation. This included many former slaves that saw the British as an escape from bondage. In the end, many of these Loyalists went to Canada, Sierra Leone, and Britain to establish new lives. For those that chose to return, it would take a long time for the wounds of the Revolution to heal. Many homes had been confiscated and others destroyed. Even attacks of revenge occurred occasionally after the end of the Revolution.

Like for the nation, for the Seabrook family the American Revolution was merely the infancy of their story. To learn more about the history of one of the oldest houses in the region, visit Bayshore Waterfront Park on Sundays from 9-11 a.m. (now through October 20) for tours with a Park System Historian. The house is also open on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. for informal, self-guided tours (now through October 27).

Seabrook-Wilson House Today

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Top Spots for Tourists

It's National Tourism Week! Whether you're visiting the area or a Monmouth County native with friends and family coming in from out of town, make a point to head to a Monmouth County park. Many visitors to New Jersey are amazed when they visit our local county parks that provide such beauty and tranquility, among a vast amount of amenities.

The following are the top parks visitors to our area should check out...

Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown

Throughout the year, Deep Cut Gardens offers beauty through 54 acres of gardens and greenhouses. Through springtime, it's the perfect place to see the season come into bloom, often starting with tulips in April as well as the colors of daffodils, violets, primrose and so many others. Mid-June brings to bloom 52 varieties of roses with over 180 bushes in the Rose Parterre. The All American Garden displays an expert selection of flowers, vegetables and herbs. Year round, the greenhouse is home to a variety of tropical plants including hibiscus, bromeliads and orchids. It's a top spot for garden enthusiasts and local photographers, as well as those just looking to add some gorgeous scenery to their day.

Holmdel Park, Holmdel

Perfect for a relaxing day in the park with family and friends, Holmdel Park is one of Monmouth County's most popular locations for active recreation and nature appreciation. The park features a lake for fishing, picnic areas, four tennis courts, two playgrounds, and ten miles of trails. During the winter months, it's a hot spot for sledding and ice skating. It's also home to the David C. Shaw Arboretum, which features hundreds of species and varieties of ornamental trees and shrubs, and Historic Longstreet Farm, a living history site that transports visitors back to farm life in the 1890s. With so much to discover at Holmdel Park, you'll find yourself coming back again and again.

Manasquan Reservoir, Howell

With the highest yearly visitation out of all the Monmouth County Park System sites, the Manasquan Reservoir offers beauty, exercise, and nature education. The 1,208-acre park is the perfect spot for fishing and also features a 5-mile perimeter trail that's terrific for walking, hiking or bicycling; a 1-mile nature trail; a playground; and boating rentals. The Environmental Center provides visitors of all ages a chance to learn about wetlands ecology and wildlife as well as habitat protection (be sure to say hello to our informative staff of Naturalists!). Boat tours of the Reservoir are available to get a glimpse of nature from the water and are offered on weekends and holidays from May 4-September 2; Wednesdays from July 3-August 28; and Friday evenings on June 7, July 5 and August 2 (weather and water level dependent). Bicycles are available in the Visitor Center lot on weekends from May 10-19, daily from May 24-September 2, and weekends only again from September 7-October 27. Schedules and fee information for rentals and boat tours are available on our website.

Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch

Whether it's the perfect summer day at the beach or a stroll along the shore any time of the year, this Park System site is a definite local favorite. During the summer, it's a terrific place to swim, sun and surf offering a list of amenities that include a snack bar, sheltered eating areas, volleyball area, outdoor showers, changing areas, guarded swimming, and designated areas for surfing. A reservable picnic tent is also available for groups hosting small events (maximum of 50 people). Tony's Place, a universally accessible playground for all abilities, was designed with its shore location in mind and is a favorite for our younger visitors. And the Skateplex is loved by local skateboarders for its various ramps, stairs, planters and stainless steel grind rails. (Park access passes for Seven Presidents are required on weekends and holidays from May 25-June 9, and daily from June 15-September 2 - see pricing information.)

Your Monmouth County parks offer over 30 sites to visit throughout the year. If you have friends or family heading coming to visit or you want more information to keep on hand, call us at 732-842-4000, ext. 4312, to request a Parks Guide to help you navigate nearby parks that suit your needs.