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Trailblazing
Blogger Mike McCormick hikes South Jersey – and takes notes
By Madison Russ

When Mike McCormick’s first son was a baby, he did what many new dads do to give their wives a break: take the baby out of the house. But McCormick’s choice of activity was a little unusual: the father and son would hike. Everywhere. Sometimes all day. Today, that passion for hiking has morphed into a blog with almost half a million visitors.

On SouthJerseyTrails.org, McCormick, 35, breaks it all down if you’re looking to soak in some nature. You’ll find posts like his top 14 favorite hikes in the Pine Barrens, an interactive map of trails and play-by-plays of various hikes he’s done, with some reader responses thrown in.

And since McCormick now hikes with his entire family – his wife and three sons – the blog also has lots of advice for parents looking to take the kids hiking. (McCormick has nicknamed each of his kids on his blog: oldest son Lincoln, now 5, is “The Pres,” his 3-year-old is “Tree Climber” and the newest addition, McCormick’s 3-month-old son, is known as “Kite Flyer.”)

The blog began after McCormick couldn’t find any books on hiking in South Jersey. With a lifelong love of nature – he grew up as a Boy Scout and now serves as a troop leader – creating a blog made sense. More than a hundred trails later, he’s still walking and taking notes.

 

How many South Jersey hiking trails have you hit?
McCormick: I’ve gotten to hike 130-plus trails, and I think I have about a hundred places I haven’t gotten to hike yet. There are so many nice trails out there and so many parks people don’t know about. I certainly didn’t until I started doing this.

How do you find some of the hiking spots?
McCormick: Most of my new trails come from people saying, “Hey have you heard of this one?” We have a Facebook page we started four months ago that has over 1,000 people on it. People post pictures of their hikes, and people can ask questions. It adds a nice, extra dimension to the page.

What are the biggest hiking mistakes people make?
McCormick: Probably footwear. You don’t need expensive boots at all, most of the time I hike in my Chuck Taylor sneakers. You should make sure you have sturdy shoes, water and a snack if it’s going to be longer than a couple of miles. And a big thing is: tell someone where you’re going before you go. It’s odd because in South Jersey, you can have a trail down the street that if you fell over and got hurt, you’d have 15 dogs licking your face in just a few minutes. But there are spots in the Pine Barrens where you can hike all day and not see anyone.

How do you hike with three little kids?
McCormick: When we first started, I had a baby back pack I carried with me. My wife is really into carrying the babies and not using the strollers so much, so there are a lot of places we walk where you can carry a baby but not a stroller. I think because they started so young, they took to it. When my oldest was 2, he’d go 4½ miles on his own and wouldn’t get into the back pack. My second, I carried him until his third birthday. He was in the back pack for a long time. If you’d put him down, he’d go five steps and he’d be in the woods getting ticks, poison ivy and who knows what else. He does a good job now. He went from not hiking – at all – to 3 miles in just a couple of months. I pack a snack and that usually keeps them motivated. They take binoculars and look for birds, and they’re always looking for turtles and frogs.

What trip would you love to do with your family?
McCormick: My wife and I kind of have a goal. We’ve been trying to go to every National Park. She and I have been to 29 of the 59 so far. I would love to take my family on a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen on a hike?
McCormick: Out in Chatsworth, if you go into the Pine Barrens, they have the Parker Preserve, which is an old cranberry bog. On the trail, they have a suspension bridge over the river and it’s this cool, Indiana Jones-type bridge. About 3 or 4 miles into your hike – it’s a 7-mile loop – there’s these two, giant Adirondack chairs that someone built in the middle of a nature preserve. People don’t know they’re there.

What’s your favorite SJ hike?
McCormick: That’s a really hard question. The Parker Preserve is one of my favorites. I love the Batona Trail out in the Pine Barrens, which is a 53-mile-long trail you can hike or backpack. Maurice River Bluffs Preserve down on the Delaware Bay in Cumberland County has beautiful cliffs. But the place we go most is Crowds Woods in Haddonfield. We can be there in two minutes in the car.

Do you have a dream hike?
McCormick: I would like to backpack the whole Appalachian trail. It’d be really tough – I probably have to wait until I retire – but if I had the money and resources I’d do the whole trail. It’s funny, I didn’t particularly like the Appalachian Trail because I had a bad experience in the Boy Scouts, but my mother-in-law got me hooked on Appalachian Trail memoirs. I guess I like the idea that there’s a lot of history on the trail – so you get a mix of wilderness and great views.

What’s a must-do hike in South Jersey?
McCormick: There are so many good spots, I can’t pick one. I couldn’t even give a top 10 list at this point. I made a top 10 list after two years, and it was really hard. I feel like I should do one again for my blog’s fifth anniversary, but I’m dreading coming up with the top 10 trails in the state, because there are so many I love.

Any advice for someone who wants to hike but doesn’t know where to begin?
McCormick: The big thing is to just do it. Hiking sounds crazy, but hiking is just walking. That’s all it is. Get a water bottle, start with something that sounds nice and gets you excited – and there’s this website I know where you can pick from 130 hikes.

 

MCCORMICK’S 5 TOP HIKES IN THE PINE BARRENS

1. Batona Trail
Franklin Parker Preserve,
Woodland Township
8.3 miles (one way)

2. Batona Trail
Carranza to Apple Pie Hill,
Tabernacle
8.2 miles (out and back)

3. Red Trail
Franklin Parker Preserve,
Woodland Township
6 miles (loop)

4. Cloverdale Farm
County Park
Barnegat Township
1.5 miles (loop)

5. Black Run Preserve
Evesham Township
9 miles of multiple trails

Find detailed info about these hikes and more at southjerseytrails.org.

November 2017
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