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Smartswood State Park: New Jersey’s public playground

Swartswood Lake from the state park beach
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July 30, 2018 04:38 PM
Swartswood Lake from the state park beach

Located in a northwest corner of the Garden State, Smartswood State Park is an inviting retreat for hikers, bikers, boaters and swimmers. The park’s central feature is Smartswood Lake, formed by ancient glaciers into an oasis that beckons boaters, fishers, swimmers and many more to its still waters.

Facts and figures

  • Swartswood was established in 1915 and is considered to the New Jersey’s first state park.
  • Swartswood Lake and Little Swartswood Lake were born from a glacial retreat that occurred some 20,000 years ago.
  • The park features 65 tent and trailer sites, three group campsites and six overnight shelters.
  • Keen’s Mill, acquired by the state in 1976, was constructed around 1790.Daily sightings of the park’s bald eagles are common.
Swartswood State Park entrance sign

History

The Forest Park Reservation Commission was set up in 1905 to acquire New Jersey forest land for its commercial value. Three years later state forester Alfred Gaskill proposed a different approach, noting “a large proportion of the people live in towns and cities and consider the forests as their playgrounds.”

In August 1914, heirs of a Newark-based manufacturer sold 544 acres, including Swartswood Lake, to the commission. The commissioners said they, "intended to make Swartswood a public playground.”

The park was expanded in 1916 and again in 1941. Since 1961, the state's Green Acres Program has further expanded the park. In 1992, to "protect the water quality of Swartswood and Little Swartswood Lakes,” local residents founded the Swartswood Lakes and Watershed Association.

Swartswood Lake

Things to see and do

The park features 10 different hiking trails with views of Smartwood Lake and the park's abundant wildlife. The Duck Pond Multi-Use Trail is just over a half mile, provides a level surface and is accessible for persons with disabilities.

The 2.8-mile Spring Lake Trail is a moderately difficult and features the secluded Spring Lake. Bear Claw Trail is a moderate hike on an earthen, hilly path. Grist Mill Trail—a 1.5 mile loop—is located at the southern end of Swartswood Lake. The steep rocky terrain makes this a moderate to difficult hike with rewarding views of Swartswood Lake.

Boat docks at Swartswood State Park
Boat docks at Swartswood State Park

Boat rentals are available on a seasonal basis. From Memorial Weekend to Labor Day, while lifeguards are on duty, visitors can swim in Swartswood Lake. Beach visitors can access facilities with changing areas, restrooms, showers, a first-aid station, and a concession building for food and beach supplies.

Freshwater anglers can access Little Swartswood and Swartswood Lakes year-round. The lakes are stocked with brown, rainbow and brook trout in the spring. Summer and fall catches include bass, sunfish, catfish, walleye, perch and pickerel. Fishing is subject to state regulations.

Best time to go

The park can get crowded in the summer months, but is open year-round and has abundant options for both overnight and daytime visitors. Visiting from April to May or September to October will allow you to camp overnight while avoiding both the crowds and some of the hotter summer temperatures.

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January 18, 2018 09:48 AM