John A. Phillips Preserve Loop
Directions to trailhead
Phillips Park is located at the western end of Maple Street in Old Bridge, about 1.1 miles west of NJ 18. Maple Street is about 7 miles south of Exit 9 of the New Jersey Turnpike and 2.5 miles north of the intersection of US 9 with NJ 18.
If coming from the north, take the Garden State Parkway south to Exit 123 and continue south for 6.2 miles on US 9. Turn right onto Ferry Road, follow it for 1.0 mile, and turn right onto NJ 18 North. In 1.0 mile, turn left onto Maple Street and follow it to Phillips Park
Park in the right rear (southeast) corner of the second parking lot, near the soccer fields.
This hike is a pleasant stroll through the Spotswood Outlier of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This ecological “island” is located approximately 20 miles north of the main Pine Barrens and is an ecologically unique area characterized by sandy acidic soil and vegetation that is adapted to soil with few nutrients and little water holding capability. The hike meanders through mixed hardwood forest wetlands and pitch pine forests, crossing and paralleling numerous branches of Iresick Brook
The park has four major hiking trails -- the yellow-blazed Nature Trail (0.5 mile), the orange-\blazed Blueberry Flats Trail (0.95 mile), the blue-blazed Old Bridge Sands Trail (1.1 miles), and the white-blazed Pleasant Valley Trail (2.1 miles). This hike makes a lollipop-loop, following all four marked trails. There are many unmarked trails in the area and care should be used to stay on the marked trails.
The area of the Preserve south of Pleasant Valley Road is open to hunting in the fall and winter. A shorter 2.7-mile loop can be made to avoid this area and is described below.
From the parking lot, follow the trail signs and paved paths for 0.2 mile to the kiosk at the southeast corner of the soccer fields at the edge of the woods (interpretive booklets for the Nature Trail are usually available here). Here, a triple-yellow blaze marks the start of the Nature Trail (numbered posts along the way indicate points of interest described in the booklets).
The Nature Trail heads into the woods on a sand road. In 100 feet, just beyond Post #1, it turns left, briefly parallels Iresick Brook, then loops back and re-crosses the sand road. Half a mile from the start of the hike, just beyond Post #7, the trail turns left onto the sand road and soon reaches the start of the white-blazed Pleasant Valley Trail. Turn right onto the Pleasant Valley Trail (the Nature Trail, which continues ahead, will be your return route).
After crossing a bridge over a tributary stream, the Pleasant Valley Trail parallels Iresick Brook on the right for a short distance. In 0.4 mile from the Nature Trail, you'll reach a Y-intersection, where you turn left onto the orange-blazed Blueberry Flats Trail. Soon, you'll cross a bridge over another tributary of Iresick Brook. Just beyond, you'll come to another Y-intersection. Bear left and begin to follow the loop of the Blueberry Flats Trail in a clockwise direction. The trail continues to parallel Iresick Brook (in the distance on the left) and crosses several wet areas on puncheons (bog bridges).
Notice as you walk through this area the unique vegetation that has adapted to the harsh Pine Barrens conditions. The lower areas near the streams feature mixed hardwoods (white oaks, black gums, sweet gums, maples), but pitch pines grow in the slightly higher and drier areas. This area is also home to pink lady slipper orchids that bloom in the spring.
In just over half a mile from the start of the loop, you'll pass the start of the white-blazed Pine Glen Spur Trail at a Y-intersection. Bear right to continue along the orange-blazed Blueberry Flats Trail. In another quarter mile, after crossing some more puncheons, you'll reach the start of the blue-blazed Old Bridge Sands Trail on the left. If you wish to take the shorter 2.7-mile loop, continue ahead a short distance on the Blueberry Flats Trail, turn left at the start of the loop, then turn right onto the white-blazed Pleasant Valley Trail to return to the Nature Trail and your car. But to continue on the described hike, turn left onto the Old Bridge Sands Trail and cross a small bridge over a tributary stream.
In a quarter mile, the Old Bridge Sands Trail forks right, with an unmarked trail heading off to the left. In 2014, this unmarked trail will be incorporated into a new red-blazed trail that will intersect the Pine Glen Spur and can be used to lengthen the hike. But for now, continue following the blue-blazed Old Bridge Sands Trail. Soon you will cross another bridge over Iresick Brook and several short boardwalks in a wet area and reach Pleasant Valley Road. Cross the road (note that hunting is permitted in this section of the preserve) and continue along the Old Bridge Sands Trail through pleasant woods, crossing a small bridge and several more puncheons. About one mile from the Blueberry Flats Trail, the Old Bridge Sands Trail ends at a junction with the white-blazed Pleasant Valley Trail. To the left, the Pleasant Valley Trail passes through an unattractive area that has been damaged by ATVs, but you should turn right onto the Pleasant Valley Trail. In about 100 feet, you'll pass the other end of a 0.7-mile loop of the Pleasant Valley Trail on the left, and then in 0.1 mile you'll re-cross Pleasant Valley Road (and leave the hunting area).
Continue ahead on the white-blazed Pleasant Valley Trail, passing the start of the orange-blazed Blueberry Flats Trail on the right. Half a mile from Pleasant Valley Road, you'll reach the yellow-blazed Nature Trail. Turn right and follow the Nature Trail back to the kiosk and the parking area where the hike began.