Spring break — finding fun in the Garden State

The College’s students seem to be leaving the state for spring break in larger numbers than Washington’s troops crossed into it that Christmas night of 1776. Tourists, on the other hand, spend $30 billion yearly in the 7,836 square mile state of New Jersey, which brags of beaches, casinos and ski slopes. New Jersey must not smell as bad as so many people say it does.

For those New Jersey students braving the Jersey devil, commuter traffic and their own parents for spring break, there are plenty of diversions in their own backyard-or, more precisely, their own garden.

For the Outdoorsy in New Jersey

March can be the ideal month for the outdoors in New Jersey. If the weather is cold enough, downhill skiers take to the slopes of Mountain Creek and cross country skiers head over to trails around the Delaware Water Gap. Sometimes the sun even shines warmly to bring to light a multitude of recreational possibilities.

Ski season is not over yet. Skiers at Mountain Creek (mountaincreek.com) will take to the slopes March 5 to compete for cash and prizes in superpipe and slopestyle competitions for the Freeski super fling. For the non-competitive snowlovers, the mountain, which features an Olympic-standard superpipe, five terrain parks and 45 trails, is open seven days a week for skiing, boarding and tubing.

In South Jersey, prospective sailors do not need a college degree – or even a boating license – to help with the sails of a restored 115-foot oyster schooner, the AJ Meerwald. For $25, visitors may sail the Delaware estuary and help the schooner’s crew trawl for fish and dredge for oysters, an industry that collapsed in 1957 because of a parasite appearance.

Farther north at the Delaware Water Gap, visitors may canoe, swim, camp, picnic, bicycle or horseback ride. They may also hike 25 miles of the Appalachian Trail or take an automobile tour past 40 miles of the Delaware River, farmland, forests, mountains, waterfalls and historic Millbrook village. Visitors may watch rangers at Millbrook village on March 12 draw maple sugar from trees, while displaying maple syrup samples and recipes.

Throughout the state, 4,000 lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs offer opportunities for fishing. Printable fishing licenses are available online from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

If interested in touring more of the home state, check out visitnj.org for attractions and upcoming events.

Things to See, Places to Go

For those who prefer more passive activities to dirt, snow and water, New Jersey also offers a number of cultural events and indoor activities.

The Irish or Irish-loving people looking to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day ahead of time can find plenty of other shamrock-wearers in the state, since Irish is its second leading ancestry group. On March 6 in Belmar, pipe and marching bands and floats will entertain Irish and non-Irish alike at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in New Jersey. Mummers, drums, bugles and bagpipes will all be at the 21st annual Seaside Heights St. Patrick’s Day Celebration on March 12.

College students do not often have heavy pockets to empty, but they may still appreciate opportunities to shop, if not purchase. Wheaton Village in Millville, N.J. houses artists at work and the Museum of American Glass. Strolling, parking and gift wrapping are free, but visitors should bring their checkbooks for glassware and crafts. Outlets in Flemington offer discounted prices for over 100 designers and manufacturers.

With 39 state parks, 11 forests and 57 historic sites supported by the New Jersey division of Parks and Forestry, New Jersey is a nature watcher’s or photographer’s dream. Four packs of wolves eat, play and interact with each other in natural habitats at Columbia, New Jersey’s Lakota Wolf Preserve, open to the public at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day except Monday. Call 1-877-733-9653 for reservations.

New Jersey also has various dramatic and musical performances. Union City’s own Park Performing Arts Center preceded Mel Gibson in depicting the passion of the Christ. The Passion Play, a yearly musical drama about Jesus’ life, is in its 90th season and is the oldest performance in America. Performed by local and professional actors, it will play at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, March 5 to April 2. Visit parkpac.org for tickets.

For a listing of New Jersey’s cultural events, visit jerseyarts.com.