Leeds Point & Batsto, NJ
Laura K. Leuter, Charley Lolio, Katie Brown, Heather Norcross, Devin Winkelmann
What better way to kick off the winter hunting season than with a trip to the Pine Barrens during Phenomenal Week? We couldn't think of one, either!
Hunt #40 is a milestone event for us. It marks our 40th research mission into the Pines in search of the Jersey Devil, which is something we are thrilled about. Additionally, it's exactly 100 years since Phenomenal Week took place. Of course we had no choice but to get out there and search!
We started the night off right by meeting at JD's Pub for our 100th Anniversary dinner. Charley, Heather, & I did it up right by ordering a Jersey Devil burger as well (it's very good!). We just couldn't resist. After the feast had ended, we started adding layers to our already odd clothing and got ready for the hunt.
There's something hugely important to realize regarding this evening - it is COLD. And I don't mean chilly, I mean damn cold. We've been in a "record breaking" cold streak for the past few days. It was 18 degrees when we started adding our layers in the parking lot of JD's, and we were beginning to question our sanity. There's nothing quite like wearing all of the clothing you own at once. I felt like I had gained 150 lbs.
Still, we pushed on, even though reason would have told us to go back inside to the warm pub and spend the rest of the evening there. But instead we made a small scene in the parking lot by adding hats, earmuffs, gloves, hunting socks, and all sorts of fun apparel. Someone looked at us like we were crazy and asked if we were going on a hike. Yeah, we looked pretty weird.
A short while later we found ourselves packing up the bags and heading in to the house foundation in the woods of Leeds Point. This was Devin's first hunt with our group, so it was important that she get to see the house foundation with her own eyes as well. The place was much different than it had been over the summer, and it wasn't even that long ago since we'd been out there. Someone is definitely doing some work in that region. Things have been changed, trees have been trimmed or removed, and some of the debris has been cleared out of the foundation itself. At first we were surprised, and I admit that we are still nervous about the work, but in actuality it made things a little easier for us. We were able to stand in the foundation more easily and get a better view of it in its entirety. Hopefully, whomever is doing the work out there is doing it with good intentions, such as preservation of the foundation, and not destruction for additional building purposes. It's very sad when we watch the history of our state get buried under condos.
We spent about 40 minutes on site by the house foundation before Katie warned us that her fingers might be ready to snap off. Overall, our body temperatures were good, but the extremities are always the first to suffer. So we headed back to the cars and warmed up for a little bit, then decided to go to the tip of Leeds Point.
We drove down the windy road through Forsythe towards the very point of Leeds Point, and then stepped out of the cars to look at the marsh. It was a great sight to take in, but there was a major complication - wind. Extreme wind. The temperature was hovering around 20 degrees, but with the non-stop wind chill, it was more than we could handle, and we decided to get out of there fairly quickly. The same thing happened when we went down a little further to the more isolated docks. In fact, the wind there was more intense, but since there were no people around, we stuck it out a little longer for the sake of research. The waterways were still and primarily frozen, at least on the surface. It was interesting to see. You could make out the shapes of the plantlife that had been frozen in place when the water temperature dropped. All we could hear, however, was the wind whipping around our faces, so being able to determine any activity in the woods was practically impossible. We'd had all we could take of the cold.
After a brief pause (and some heat), we turned the vehicles a little further inland and revisited Batsto. We had had some success in the past at finding weird unexplained activity in Batsto during Phenomenal Week, and thought we'd give it a shot. It wasn't long before we were packing on the coats again and heading out.
We crossed the bridge and took in the eerie sounds of the water. This area was frozen on the edges of the water, but most of the creek was still somewhat flowing. We decided to continue down the trail. Our efforts to do so were quickly thwarted, however, by a loud ominous bark somewhere in front of us further down the trail. It was far enough for us to not be able to see it, but close enough for us to realize that if this were an angry dog, it wouldn't take very long for it to get to us. Charley & Heather had had a bad run-in with a wild dog years before where they actually narrowly escaped an attack, so they are very concerned with avoiding dogs during our hunts. Needless to say, we thought it was a wise decision to back out of the trail and not push our luck.
Next, we decided to scour the nearby cemetery, and approach the creek's edge from a different angle. We briskly walked towards the cemetery and scanned the area with our flashlights. The cemetery is fairly large, and has quite a few reflecting objects scattered throughout. We're used to shining the lights and having something reflect back at us. However, during this hunt Heather started to notice that one of the reflectors was periodically being blocked by something. It was as though someone were turning it on and off, or walking in front of it. It was approximately 2 or 3 feet off the ground in height. Devin started noticing it as well, but none of us were able to discern a shape that was causing the reflector to be blocked. Suddenly, we heard a very loud banging noise from the woods on our left. It was two quick noises back to back, and then silence. We theorized that it could have been a gun, though it didn't quite sound like a gun, or perhaps the sound of a truck. Charley reminded us that the woods go back at least 5 miles. The bang had a metallic sound to it, but we'll probably never figure out exactly what it was.
Now the cold was becoming unbearable again, so we got back into the vehicles and proceeded to travel through the cemetery in the cars. We figured we'd try to get closer to whatever it was blocking the reflector. We slowly drove through the paths in the cemetery, hanging out of the windows and scouring with flashlights. We paused by the woods edge to listen for additional noises. At one point, Heather and Charley heard something large rustling in the woods just beyond our visual range, but since no one could see anything, we aren't sure what it was.
After a while longer, and no additional activity, we decided to wrap up and head out. We were just too frozen! At that point, we were all thrilled to get warm again.
So, this hunt was interesting but left us with a lot of unanswered questions. What was the loud bang in the woods? It was probably something mechanical or metallic, but we can't say for sure. It's probably not related to our research at all. What about the shadow moving past the reflectors? We're not certain on that one, either. It's possible that there might have been more than one dog roaming around out there, and perhaps we were seeing one of them watching us in the distance. That might also explain what was causing the loud rustling in the woods while we were driving through in the cars. Or perhaps that was something else - like a deer that was remaining concealed in the woods.
I woke up the next morning (January 18th) with bright red chapped cheeks from the night's activity. I opened the window shades to peer into my backyard in Burlington, New Jersey, with the hopes that maybe I'd find strange footprints in the light dusting of snow, as it happened here 100 years ago during Phenomenal Week in 1909. Sadly, I was disappointed to find nothing but cat footprints and soggy grass. Ah, oh well. One can always hope, though!
Well, that's our story for Hunt #40. Questions? Comments? E-mail us at Contact@NJDevilHunters.com.
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