BARNEGAT, NJ -The water has seemingly disappeared. In fact, it’s something that happens every spring in Cloverdale Farm County Park. It’s as if floodgates open, and a lake-like oasis vanishes. Right now, there’s no indication that a waterway ever existed.

As it turns out, it’s all part of a ritual. Nestled along the back of the 90-acre park are cranberry bogs. Every April, county park officials start the process that allows the cranberries to grow into the next year

“We pull up a couple of boards from the sluice gate in the patch of land in the middle,” explained Patti Trasferino, Program Coordinator at Cloverdale.

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“Draining the bogs allows the vines to grow,” Traferino continued. “Eventually, pollination occurs, and flowers appear. The flowers produce the fruit.”

Visitors to the cranberry bogs in the summer months won’t find the plants particularly impressive. Their leaves are dark green and attached to low-growing vines. The cranberries themselves are someone unnoticeable. They are also green, and the buds are the size of pinheads.

By late September or October, the cranberries ripen to darker colors. The bogs at Cloverdale feature an ‘Early Black’ variation of the tasty fruit. They start off with a bright red hue. Ultimately, they mature to a dark purple that almost appears black in color.

Cloverdale hosts programs specific to cranberry harvesting in New Jersey. School groups, as well as civic organizations, such as scouting troops,  come for the experience. At the conclusion of the educational sessions, the participants receive a bonus. They have the opportunity to actually pick the cranberries and relish in their flavor.

“Sitting in the bogs and picking the berries is very relaxing,” shared Trasferino. “It reminds me of the calming benefits of adult coloring books.”

In November, the process starts again. Boards are reinserted in the sluice gates to flood the bogs. Meanwhile, farming cranberries began long before the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation took ownership of Cloverdale Farm.

Some History of Cloverdale Farm

In 2004, the Ocean County Parks system purchased Cloverdale Farm from Katherine Collins. She and her husband, Bill owned the property since at least the 1950s. From all appearances, the land was in the family since the 1890s.

The Collins family farmed the cranberries and harvested them for sale. They were originally hauled to Penn Producing Company in Barnegat, a cranberry distributor.  The Mosquito Commission currently occupies the location of the now-defunct Penn Producing.

Eventually, the owners decided to market the fruits on their own. They sold the freshly picked cranberries to local supermarkets and other concerns within Southern Ocean County.

In the early 2000s, Bill Collins died. “Katherine knew she could have sold the property for real estate development,” Trasferino said. “However, she felt that would go against Bill’s wishes.”

Instead, Katherine looked for a way to preserve the natural landscape. She decided that transforming the land to a park atmosphere would continue the family legacy. Katherine recognized the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Program as a means of achieving those goals.

Cloverdale Farm County Park offers a scenic view, as well as the sounds and sights native to the Pine Barrens. Wildlife observation attracts avid birdwatchers who report sightings and share their finds on a board maintained by park officials.

Separate from the bogs is another waterway, currently littered with beautiful lily pads and charming pink and white flowers. An occasional frog uses the pads as a resting perch. At night, the flowers close with the darkness.

The sounds and feel of nature allure visitors who also take strolls and hike on the dirt trails. A wooden structure completely lined with log benches serves as an outdoor classroom. It sits within yards of the Visitor Center.

From dawn to dusk, there’s no cost to visit Cloverdale Farm County Park, located at 34 Cloverdale Road, right off West Bay Avenue in Barnegat. Educational seminars can be scheduled by calling 609 607-1861.

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.