Sensationalism is all too common in today’s media, and nature’s extremes are always popular. The more shocking the headline, the more clicks and shares a story gets.
Take the story, “11 things lurking in New Jersey's forests that can kill you,” recently posted online.
Yikes! If you want to scare people out of the woods and onto their couches, that’s how to do it!
The good news is you don’t have to lock yourself inside, because New Jersey’s forests are safe and beautiful places to visit, with few aggressive predators. Of course, caution in the forest is as important as caution on city streets! That means staying alert to your surroundings, being prepared and heeding warning signs.
What might you experience on a walk in a New Jersey forest on a summer day?
Head for a beautiful place like Hacklebarney State Park in Morris County and be prepared to treat your senses. The forest is green and cool, a welcome respite from the blazing sun, and gorgeous, well-marked trails meander through the tall, mature forest. Many of the trails run along streams.
Sit on a boulder and dip your toes in the water. Listen to songbirds singing, and look for flashes of color as birds fly through the trees. Take the time to hear the wind gently rustling tree leaves. Stop to admire the forest ferns, and along sunny trail edges you may spot butterflies landing on wildflowers. You’ll probably see families hanging out at a picnic.
So what’s to worry about?
Well, there may be some poison ivy and inedible plants and mushrooms … but if you’re old enough to read this, you’re old enough to know not to eat or touch unfamiliar plants! There may be snakes, but they’re hard to find and most likely harmless. New Jersey has two species of venomous snakes, both of which are very rare and prefer to avoid humans. Bobcats and coyotes live in New Jersey forests, but they’re very shy and you’d be lucky to see either of them.
Black bears live in the forest, too, and although they’re wary of humans, sightings are increasing. If you see a bear, according to the state Division of Fish & Wildlife, make it aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing or clapping your hands. Make yourself look bigger by raising your hands above your head. It will probably leave. If you encounter a black bear at closer range, stay calm and don’t run; instead, slowly back away. Black bear attacks are extremely rare, but if one does get aggressive, stand your ground and fight back!
So don’t let a scary headline keep you out of the woods. This state we’re in has lovely forests, great trails and little to fear. Time spent in the forests can be peaceful, relaxing and rejuvenating.
In fact, studies show that spending time in forests boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness and increases energy levels. The Japanese concept of “forest bathing,” or immersing your senses in the forest, is catching on here!
A few tips for enjoying the woods:
To find great forest hiking trails, visit the NY/NJ Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org, the New Jersey Trails Association website at www.njtrails.org, or check New Jersey Conservation’s interactive trailhead map at www.njconservation.org/recreation.htm. For information about state parks and forests, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/parkindex.html.
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