WELLS MILLS COUNTY PARK
Route 532, Waretown, Ocean township, Ocean County
Wells Mills has the distinction of being the largest park in the Ocean County park system with over 900 acres of pine and oak forest.
Garden State Parkway at Exit 67. Go west on Route 554 to Route 72. Stay on Route 72 west. Turn right on Route 532. Watch for park signs on your right after about 2.5 miles.
From the south. The Garden State Parkway at Exit 69. Go west on Route 532. Watch for park signs on your left after about 1.5 miles.
The three-story Nature Center offers a great display floor, a library, and the third floor "Elizabeth Meirs Morgan Observation Deck", recently dedicated in honor of a very active naturalist and conservationist in Ocean County. There is a nature center with a cranberry display.
Wells Mills Lake has trails meandering around it. Canoe rentals are also available at a nominal cost.
The Annual "Pine Barrens Jamboree" is held at Wells Mills each October. Include are music, piney vittles and hand-made crafts.
History (from the website "New Jersey Pinelands Visitor Facilities at a Glance") :
Elisha Lawrence, once sheriff of Monmouth County, owned much of the land that is now part of today's park. Imprisoned by Colonial forces in 1788 for his loyalty to British King George III, his lands were purchased at auction by James Wells.
Wells, realizing the value of the Atlantic white cedar on his newly acquired property, built a sawmill and dammed Oyster Creek to create a mill pond for water power. Cedar--a strong, light weight, rot resistant wood--was harvested by Wells and sold to the ship and boat building industry. For almost a century, the mill flourished under Wells and other owners. Ports all along the Atlantic coast received shipments of lumber milled at this thriving hamlet.
Christopher Estlow and his sons purchased the property in the 1870s and built two new sawmills. The Estlows, an ingenious family, are credited with several inventions including a turnip planter, a boat rowing device, a kind of telegraph network that facilitated communication between buildings at the mill, and a patented turbine-type water wheel.
Ownership of the sawmill passed from Christopher to his son Francis and then to his grandson Francis Tilden Estlow. Under Tilden's direction, moss gathering, lumbering, and shingle making took place at Wells Mills. He also initiated clay mining at several locations on the property. Records show that Wells Mills clay was hauled by the Tuckerton railroad to a Trenton factory where it was made into fine pottery and china.
In 1936, Charles M. Conrad and his son, Grove, purchased the property primarily for recreational purposes. The Conrads, a prominent local business family, oversaw the construction of the sportsman's cabin that still stands above the 35 acre mill pond.
The New Jersey Conservation Foundation purchased the land from the Conrad's in the late 1970s. In 1985, the Ocean County Board of Freeholders completed their acquisition of land for the future 810-acre park by acquiring 200 acres of the Wells Mills site from the Foundation.
Ten miles of marked nature trails through a variety of Pinelands habitats including pine-oak forests, Atlantic white cedar swamps, freshwater bogs, and maple gum swamps. Canoes can be rented.