This Friday we’re taking you on a tour of the Phillips Preserve, a part of the Middlesex County park system. While the namesake of this park is John A Phillips, former Middlesex County Freeholder, I’m dedicating this trip to Jordon Phillips, Rutgers alumnus and one of the most influential student leaders in the GO Outdoors program at Recreation.
Phillips Preserve is located adjacent to John A. Phillips Park in Old Bridge, NJ – you can easily find the main parking area just off of Route 18. You’ll find plenty of place to leave your vehicle at the parking area here, and even on this beautiful May morning there was plenty of room in the asphalt lot.
Head south-southeast along the walkway and you’ll soon arrive at the designation of the trails and natural area.
The trail-head is very easy to spot, denoted by plenty of signage and a large wooden walk-through. Feel free to stop here and pick up a trail map, but they’re also available here for you to use on your phone if you prefer to reduce paper waste.
The trails themselves are easy hiking over soft and sandy soil. They’re very well delineated with a combination of blazes and directional signage.
One can really take their time and feel fully immersed in this wonderful pocket of wooded trails. There is sufficient space in the preserve to prevent the auditory creep of distant highways that we so often take for granted in the Garden State, and the wetland environment makes for a truly lush sea of verdant greens at all levels. Where creeks cross the landscape, small and unobtrusive wooden bridges span the gaps, and in the marshier areas the footing is improved by the installation of wooden puncheon walkways.
I’ll note here that the preserve is bisected by Pleasant Valley Road, a relatively quiet street, but nonetheless do take care as you cross here. In the spring and summer, foliage reduces the view on this winding road for both hikers and motorists alike. While there is no actual parking space here, during my own trip a car pulled abruptly up into the shoulder area by the trail crossing very near where I was emerging from the woods.
In order to fully appreciate this pocket of preserved land, I’d recommend the route that I followed on this day. Take the yellow Nature Trail from the park onto the white-blazed Pleasant Valley Trail across the aforementioned road and then continue the loop that this trail forms prior to joining the blue Old Bridge Sands Trail. The OBST will then return towards the northern half of the preserve, where it meets the orange Blueberry Flats Trail, which in turn forms a loop before returning to the white Pleasant Valley Trail, on to the Nature Trail, and in turn leading back to the preserve’s entrance.
The Phillips Preserve is home to many wetland species of plants and animals, and on this mid-morning hike I was treated to the sight of lush marsh vegetation in full swing, as well as whitetail deer, toads, and a variety of songbirds. Of particular note were the wild flowering orchids that were in full bloom at the end of May.
With flat and well marked walkways, acres of tranquil quiet, and easy access for hikers, the Phillips Preserve is a great destination with miles of trail to fully immerse oneself in this northern section of what is technically the New Jersey Pine Barrens. If you visit, be sure to hike smart with a map, drinking water, and comfortable footwear. I would especially recommend bug-repellent clothing in the warmer months, as the wetlands environment does create an excellent habitat for mosquitoes and other flying insects. Overall, this location is very much worth visiting and I would highly recommend that you consider checking this area out soon. I know that I’ll be going back as well.