This past summer, Lincroft resident Jennifer Bernabeo combined fun, history, hiking, and family time into one amazing adventure for her two sons Hudson, 9 and Chase, 5. Though only living in Lincroft for four years, the Bernabeos have lived in several counties of New Jersey and New York before choosing to raise their family here. “Because of our travels, we know what Monmouth County has done through its park system and it is unmatched,” she said.
So while visiting Shark River Park in Wall in June, she mentioned to her sons that since it was the beginning of summer, they could visit all the parks. “My nine-year-old took the idea literally and wanted to visit as many as we could. By the time we visited the Parks website and found out there were 30 parks, the idea was already planted in his head. We then decided to make it our goal. We listed the parks and checked them off after each visit.”
Starting on June 26, 2016, when school let out, Jennifer, Hudson, and Chase visited the following 30 Monmouth County Parks and posted their journey on Facebook. Beginning with fossiling at Shark River Park, Wall, they included visits to Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold; Tatum Park, Middletown; Big Brook Park, Marlboro; Holmdel Park, Holmdel; Historic Longstreet Farm, Holmdel; Hartshorne Woods Park, Highlands; Huber Woods Park, Middletown; Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth; Manasquan Reservoir, Howell; Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown; Wolf Hill Reception Area, Oceanport; Clayton Park, Freehold; Historic Walnford, Freehold; Crosswicks Creek Park, Freehold; Dorbrook Recreation Area, Colts Neck; Perrineville Lake Park, Millstone; Union Transportation Trail, Freehold; Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area, Manasquan; Fort Monmouth Recreation Center, Tinton Falls; Manasquan River Greenway, Howell; Henry Hudson Trail, Highlands; Swimming River Park, Red Bank; Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch; Monmouth Cove Marina, Port Monmouth; Weltz Park, Oakhurst; Thompson Park, Lincroft; Metedeconk River Greenway, Brick; East Freehold Showgrounds, Freehold; and ended their journey at Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook, Atlantic Highlands on September 11, 2016, where they visited the Mt. Mitchill 9/11 Memorial.
Jennifer said the Monmouth County Parks System website gave detailed information about each park including the address and specific activities available at each. Most of the time, she and the boys did their own exploring, such as skating/biking, fishing, hiking, and playing. “Sometimes the boys would tell the park staff about our goal while we were at a park and they were always very responsive and friendly. I can’t say enough about the park staff. They were always so helpful and full of information. You can tell when somebody loves their job, and that’s what I sensed when I talked with any of the park staff,” said Jennifer. She shared some of the highlights of their trip. “While visiting Historic Walnford, a most patient Al of the park system opened up the family estate and gave us a private tour, teaching my eager boys about the life and times of the historic site. At Wolf Hill, we tried our hand at the 18-hole disc golf course. When bystander Josh from Good Karma Disc Golf saw my boys trying the sport for the first time, he rummaged through his equipment and gave my kids some of his starter discs, happy to see children learning a sport he so clearly enjoys. Some other highlights included finding four bald eagles on the Manasquan Reservoir boat tour, beachcombing at Bayshore, hiking at Tatum, camping at Turkey Swamp, and biking along Thompson’s 5-mile loop.”
Aside from the genuine fun she and her boys had at each park, there were opportunities to revisit history, see firsthand how life was long ago, and learn important environmental lessons. “We learned about the significance of James Garfield and other presidents in Long Branch, the workings of a 19th century farm at Historic Longstreet in Holmdel, and the area’s Native American history at Huber Woods in Middletown. Besides our own findings of plants and animals along the way, we learned more through the parks environmental centers,” said Jennifer.
Each park offered a different outdoor experience for the family. Jennifer shared, “My oldest son Hudson really loved all of the parks by water, especially kayaking in the Metedeconk River. He has a great eye for finding animals so he never misses a frog, crab or turtle that’s nearby.” The favorite park for younger son Chase was Seven Presidents Park. “Because to him a perfect day is spent on the beach and playground!” Jennifer couldn’t choose a favorite park. “I can’t pick just one because I loved them all for different reasons. It used to be that some of the parks held special memories for me, such as Chase’s first art and music classes, Hudson’s first day camp or our first family camping trip with the scouts. But now we’ve formed more memories in ALL of the parks, so they’re all special.” The boys shared their overall feelings about the summer-long adventure at the 30 parks. Hudson said, “I want to go back to all of them. It was so much fun. I brought my net with me and found crabs, frogs, and other animals.” Chase said, “I was sad when we did the last park because it was so much fun and I didn’t want it to end. I learned how to hold a crab so he doesn’t pinch me and I got to kayak for the first time.”
Jennifer enjoyed herself as much as her sons did. “This turned out to be so much better than I ever could have imagined. We played and explored all summer long, while learning about the different areas in Monmouth County. We learned about our local nature and history by going out and seeing it. I try to get my boys outside as much as possible, so we often go to our closest parks like Thompson, Holmdel and Tatum, but this park tour got us to go see the parks that we didn’t even know about and may not have visited. Monmouth County Parks System offers different activities and sites, so no matter what you are looking for (hiking, boating, walking, swimming, bird watching, etc) there’s a park for that, all within a short drive.”
One of the highlights of the trip for Jennifer was a chance meeting with Freeholder Lillian Burry and members of the Monmouth Board of Recreation while visiting the Mt Mitchill 9/11 Memorial Ceremony at the last stop of their park tour. “Besides giving us an opportunity to thank our county representatives for taking care of our parks, it was a great way to introduce my boys to the concept that these parks are not here by happenstance. We have these parks because of people that care, people who have made it their mission to preserve the county’s open spaces and landscape. The more I think about it, that’s really the most important lesson our boys can take away from this. Maybe they don’t fully understand that yet, but I know a seed was planted and they had a lot of fun in the process.”
Hudson and Chase will be sharing their parks trip with their teachers and fellow students. “We tracked our progress on Facebook and had such a great response from friends, family and our community. Wherever we went whether at the store or work or church, our friends would talk to us about our park tour. Everyone was following along and encouraging us to finish.”