REJOICING IN ALL OUR COUNTY HAS TO OFFER

Burlington County Times, July 23, 2001

Until I read an article several months ago about an escapee from the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, I didn’t even know there was a prison at Fort Dix. Not only is there a federal prison facility there, but according to the article, it’s the largest one in the federal Bureau of Prisons.

A while later, I went to the offices of the Burlington County Times, on Route 130 in Willingboro. I’ve been in Willingboro before, and I’ve been on Route 130 several times. But I’d never been to that part of Willingboro or driven that far north on Route 130.

And some time afterwards, I had an appointment in Columbus. I thought it was my first time there until I passed the Burlington County Resource Recovery Complex and realized I’d taken my kids to a “recycling fair” there. But it wasn’t until I looked at a map that I figured out exactly where “there” was.

These three incidences made me realize just how little I know about Burlington County, despite having lived here for almost 20 years. I decided it was time to do some exploring.

What I discovered was an incredibly varied county, encompassing rural stretches of Pine Lands and State Forests (Lebanon and Wharton), active cranberry bogs, farms growing everything from blueberries to soybeans to corn to asparagus, Native American reservations, historic sites, small towns, suburbs, malls both strip and in-door, flea markets, modern mini-mansions and Victorian gingerbread houses. The only thing I didn’t find was an urban area with skyscrapers. We don’t have a Philadelphia or a Camden or a Trenton. Unfortunately, we do have many of the “urban ills,” such as homelessness, drugs, crime, substandard housing, even in the rural villages and suburban subdivisions. But Mount Holly, the county seat and closest place we have to a city, with its courts and bail bond offices and narrow winding streets is as urban as we get. And Mount Holly’s charming Victorians, even if they have been converted into offices for lawyers and doctors, are much nicer than skyscrapers.

Living in Evesham, I’m pretty familiar with the southwestern part of the county. And, working on the other side of northeast Philadelphia, I know the northwestern part, too. Basically, we’re talking about Route 73.

But I decided to travel the other boundaries of the county, too. The first thing I found, even before I got into my car, is that it’s impossible to drive the boundaries. If I had a boat (or, more practically, a canoe), I could traverse some of the boundaries more easily, since in the west and north, they’re demarcated by rivers – the Pennsauken Creek in the northwest, the Mullica in the southwest, and , of course, the Delaware River along the northern border. (Actually, I’m not sure about the orientation, since Burlington County runs northwest to southeast, which means that roads that intersect with each other at right angles – such as Rte. 73 and Rte. 130 – all run north-south.)

I particularly like the Rancocas Creek, which at places looks wider than the Delaware. In fact, when I first crossed the swing bridge between Riverside and Delanco, I was sure I’d gotten lost and was on the Burlington-Bristol Bridge instead.

My plan was to drive north on Rte. 73 and then follow the Delaware River as closely as I could along River Road (which changes its name several times). I made a few detours, to drive around Taylor’s Farm and later through the cranberry bogs of Whitesbog. Otherwise, I stuck pretty much to my plan. And found a world very different from the one seen at 65 mph while whizzing along the Turnpike or I-295. Here were towns with real shopping districts and sidewalks and mom-and-pop stores. There were almost no subdivisions, but a lot of horses and cows. There were trees that were tall enough to meet in the middle of the street and make a leafy bower overhead.

When I first moved to Evesham, I was working (or pretending to work) on my doctoral dissertation. I would start off for the library in Westhampton, and somehow find myself driving around unfamiliar streets. (I justified my rambling by saying I was looking for short cuts, although I’m not sure why I thought it would be quicker to get to Westhampton via Atsion Lake.) I realize now that I hadn’t seen even a fraction of the county. This time, I drove for several hours and a lot of miles (after all, Burlington County is the largest one in New Jersey), and still covered only a fraction of the area.

Dorothy discovered that there’s no place like home. I’m beginning to realize she was right.

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