Designated in 1992 as a national scenic and recreational river, 129 miles of the river and its tributaries are the Great Egg Harbor Scenic and Recreational River. The Great Egg Harbor River itself is a 55 mile river that includes 3 free flowing segments totaling 39.5 miles. It drains into the Atlantic Ocean at Great Egg Harbor, near Ocean City, New Jersey.
Early explorers found so many birds nesting and eggs at the river’s mouth, that they called it Great Egg Harbor. That name stuck and the entire river ended up being called Great Egg Harbor River. It is still one of America’s top spots for birding.
Seeing Great Egg Harbor River
A scenic and recreational river in the National Wild and Scenic River System means that it is unspoiled but there is road access, so there are many places you can access the river. But the best way to actually see the river is to get out on it in a canoe or a kayak. There are lots of companies who will launch you up river, so you can do a one way paddle.
We did 11.5 miles and it was lovely, alternating between wide passages to narrow, tree branch strewn sections. In some places, we had to duck under fallen trees that crossed the river. In others, we had to wind among branches.
It is not a fast moving river, nor is it very technical, but you do have to be watchful especially of places where sandbars build up. It’s pretty easy to bottom out. Probably lots of people take a dip in the water, but it is pretty shallow so nothing to be afraid of. The water is clear and clean, although it is tea colored from the tannins from the cedar roots and fallen leaves.
We saw wood ducks, Canadian geese, yellow warblers, herons and lots of turtles. One of the snapping turtles we saw was absolutely huge – probably 3 feet in diameter! Truly ancient. We also saw a northern water snake slither past us as we paddled. He just stopped and looked at us. Pretty cool.
Weymouth Forge / Furnace State Park
One of the easiest places to take out for a picnic and potty stop is Weymouth Forge / Furnace State Park. It is a pretty interesting place… the site of iron production back in 1802, smelted from local bog iron in charcoal furnaces. During the war of 1812 they supplied munitions, but dated technology and a fire put this out of business in 1862. After that there were two paper mills, but they ceased production in 1886. All that is left today are the remains.
Great Egg Harbor Passport Stamp
For the folks who collect National Park passport stamps, you can visit Estell Manor County Park. The nature center there is a tribute to Warren E. Fox, the man who advocated for the preservation of the Great Egg Harbor River.
It is also the site of the Bethlehem Loading Company who built munitions for World War I at this location. Construction began April 3, 1918 and by July 1 the first shell was loaded. A barracks housed 1100 soldiers to protect the plant, and by August, there was housing for 3000 individual workers and 300 families. A city sprung up in the matter of months!
24 miles of railroad tracks carried equipment and munitions around the site. Today these are biking and hiking trails. There are 27 miles of trails, plus a 1.8 mile one way Swamp Trail Boardwalk that takes you out to the Artesian Well and remands of the Bethlehem Loading Company.
All that remains today are the concrete foundations and ruins.
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