Friends of NJSOC Past Projects and Events

Piney Point Reforestation Project

Stokes State Forest was established in 1907 after Governor Edward Stokes donated some of his holdings, and combined it with other land owners’ holdings, including Skellinger’s family land, which was acquired by the state in 1924.  

Ten years later, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived on the site and built a campsite for underprivileged children and a water reservoir now known as Lake Wapalanne. Piney Point was created in the early 1930’s. Piney Point was so named by one of the founders of the School of Conservation, Dr. Robert Morrison in 1949, because of its parallel rows of trees, planted in soil carted from foundation areas of CCC construction sites elsewhere on the property.  Piney Point has been the site of opening and closing campfires for the Camp Wapalanne campers and a greeting place for students and their teachers who are welcomed by the Director and staff at the beginning of their education program.


The original plantation was largely a Red Pine forest.  Although not native to New Jersey, Red Pine was believed to have been selected by the CCC because of its fast growth rate. Piney Point is one of just a handful of red pine plantations in New Jersey. Stokes State Forest is the southern-most reach of Red Pine habitat.

Several years ago, while visiting the SOC, Friends officers Kerry Kirk Pflugh and Shayne Russell lamented the fact that the trees at Piney Point were showing their age and many had fallen due to the passage of time, and storms. They recalled the Camp Wapalanne overnights of their youth, sleeping under the dense canopy listening to the bullfrogs croaking and the wind whispering in the pine needles.  

Realizing that Piney Point could be lost, and knowing the importance of this iconic gathering place, they consulted with Director Dr. Bill Thomas and asked if they could do a reforestation project on Piney Point.  He agreed under the condition that they resurrect the Friends of NJSOC, and work under the auspices of a formal Friends group. And thus, the Friends were reformed and Piney Point rescued.

The Friends group proposed a project to clean up, clear out and replant Piney Point in the hopes of restoring its use as a camping location, an outdoor classroom, and a link to the CCC’s storied past, but most importantly as a gathering place for future students, teachers and campers to enjoy each other’s company and learn about our natural resources. 

The Friends consulted with former State Forester, Jack Schuart, who provided instruction on plant health and the importance of forest diversity. He indicated the first task should be to take soil samples to identify the soil chemistry and composition of the area. This would help to determine what types of trees would grow best here. 

Next, the Friends turned to Rutgers University Instructor and former Park Superintendent, Dr. Frank Gallagher.  Frank stressed the importance of considering the impact of climate change and suggested selecting trees that could withstand an increasingly warmer environment. To help with this effort, he offered Piney Point Reforestation as a class assignment to his landscaping students.  They were charged with creating a plan that would link to SOC’s past, while preserving Piney Point for the future.

Officers Shayne Russell and Alberto Fernandez met with the students, first to present the history of the School of Conservation and Piney Point, and again on October 19, 2015 to hear their proposals for replanting Piney Point. After reviewing all the thoughtful proposals, the officers incorporated the best suggestions from each into a restoration plan that would take Piney Point into the future while still honoring its past.

That plan included a Director’s Circle paying homage to the six directors who had served at SOC.  In the center of the circle, a larger tree was planted which pays tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps who created Piney Point. More trees would be planted following the circular pattern of the Director’s Circle.

When the Friends started the project, the thought was to plant seedlings and maybe three or four older trees. But after listening to the recommendations of the Rutgers students, it was decided that the best option would be to plant trees that were from 5 feet to 12 feet in height.  This would eliminate the need for fencing to protect seedlings and offer a better chance of survival.

There is in the Jewish religion a tradition of planting trees in the memory of a loved one who had passed.  The Friends borrowed from this tradition and conceived the idea of Legacy Trees. A Legacy Tree would be dedicated to a loved one or an NJSOC programs or idea that had been part of the NJSOC’s history. Contributions from donors allowed the Friends to purchase 20 Legacy Trees dedicated to their loved ones and seven additional trees which would form the Director’s Circle.

The SOC Legacy Trees represent important personalities and programs which, over the years, have resulted in the New Jersey School of Conservation being recognized regionally, nationally, and internationally as a premier field center for outdoor and environmental studies, learning, and instruction.

On March 12, 2016, the Friends officers and two landscape students from Rutgers University took a field trip to Brown’s Tree Farm in Pennsylvania to select Red Pine trees that would be delivered and planted on Piney Point in May.

On a cool and rainy Friday in early May about 20 Friends volunteers and SOC staff planted the 27 Legacy Trees.  The site had previously been cleared, dead trees taken down and removed, and the locations for each new tree determined by Friends Officer, and former SOC Assistant Director, Jerry Schierloh.  SOC Maintenance supervisor, Earl Hotalan met the flat-bed truck that had arrived from Brown’s Tree farm and moved each tree to Piney Point where the volunteers removed them from the backhoe, placed them in the holes, and covered with dirt. The 27 trees ranged in size from seven feet to 12 feet. Despite the rain, all 27 trees were planted in time for a dedication ceremony the following day.

The ceremony to dedicate and bless the trees was held on May 7, 2016.  The donors who had purchased Legacy Trees were invited to speak about their legacy.  Music was shared as well and Friends member, former camper and poet, Zoe Francesca wrote and performed, with the participation of all in attendance, a beautiful “circle poem” about Piney Point. The ceremony ended with a blessing of the trees performed by Rev. Kiernan McHugh, Administrator of Pope John High School. It appeared that Piney Point was on its way to restoration.

The spring was kind —cool weather and plenty of rain resulted in lots of healthy new growth.

The Friends Officers and NJSOC staff monitored the trees carefully, watering when necessary and otherwise inspecting them for any stress that transport and transplantation may have caused. All seemed to be going well until the first week of August, when NJSOC staff were alarmed to notice browning needles and, even more concerning, small holes bored in the bark of some of the trees. This prompted an immediate call to the State Forester. The diagnosis was Pine Boring Beetles. On August 6th, the Friends Officers met with New Jersey forestry professionals. Together, they inspected the trees and determined which would need to be removed. It was believed that the stress of replanting the trees, combined with the hot, dry weather that followed the cool, wet Spring made the new trees susceptible to the infestation.

Sadly, by summer’s end all 27 trees had to be removed and destroyed in order to protect the few remaining original Red Pines planted by the CCC. Brown’s Tree Farm recommended an insecticide to further protect these trees. Necessary approvals and permits were acquired from the state pesticide program and the remaining trees were treated by a certified pesticide applicator.  Fortunately, the old growth trees were not affected and will likely live out their days on Piney Point until time brings them down.

Fortunately, contingencies were built into the long-range plan. The trees that were removed were replaced by new, healthy trees – White Pines this time instead of Red Pines. The newly planted trees were located in the same spots as the previous ones to remain associated with their Legacy.  Forestry experts had advised strongly against planting any additional Red Pines, which influenced the decision to use White Pines. The planted White Pines, along with the many young Spruce, Cedar and other conifers that now grow on Piney Point increases the diversity of the Piney Point plantation and will help to increase its resistance to pests and disease.

Today, the Legacy Trees on Piney Point continue to grow healthy and strong in the shadow of their older relatives.  And Piney Point continues to be a gathering place for students, teachers, campers and visitors arriving at the School of Conservation.

Piney Point Legacy Kiosk

“Around the circle’s blazing fire, Crusaders for our Earth inspired…
Indeed, what inspiration fared so fine as that we witnessed ‘neath the Stately Pines.” 
     ~Jerry Schierloh, Former Associate Director, NJSOC

PINEY POINT is a focal point of the historical origin of the New Jersey School of Conservation. A wealth of evidence exists suggesting that the SOC pioneer visionaries gathered around the Piney Point campfire to discuss plans for a ‘camping institute’ that would pride itself in outdoor education and conservation.

Since that time Piney Point has been the site for thousands of program orientations and summations. Dr. John J. Kirk, the 5thDirector of NJSOC from 1963-2001, used the Piney Point campfire ring as a ‘platform’ to address incoming and outgoing visitors to the School on the critical need for environmental awareness and stewardship.

The Piney Point Legacy Kiosk, appropriately located on Piney Point, captures the historical achievements of the New Jersey School of Conservation since its inception as a CCC base camp. The Kiosk also seeks to memorialize the significant contributions of Dr. John J Kirk, during his 38-year tenure as Director of NJSOC.

The Legacy Kiosk was dedicated at the 70thAnniversary event of the New Jersey School of Conservation, held in celebration of not only the School, but the birthplace of an idea and an educational movement with a global impact.

The Kiosk concept was conceived and meticulously designed by former SOC Associate Director, Jerry Schierloh. Jerry worked side by side with Dr. Kirk for decades. His long tenure at SOC and thorough knowledge of its history enabled him to thoughtfully organize the kiosk content and oversee how the kiosk cards were designed, laminated and safely stored over the winter months.

Bringing this kiosk to life was truly a labor of love! It involved a full year of research, as well as hours and hours of collecting and exploring old photos and artifacts from numerous sources. Every source has been carefully scrutinized and selected based on the authenticity and value it brings to this iconic structure that captures the essence of the New Jersey School of Conservation.

While this kiosk celebrates the mission of our founders and the contributions of long-time director,  Dr. John J. Kirk, it is hoped that it will continue to influence generations of visitors for years to come.

Located directly in the center of the kiosk structure is the Dedication Pedestal featuring an image of Dr. John J. Kirk, greeting each visitor, just as he did for the many years he served as Director of the School. The Pedestal suggests significance as a ‘platform’, from which Dr. Kirk would share his philosophies on conservation and environmental education. It also recognizes his most significant contributions to the School, its program participants and the citizens and educators of the Tri-State Region.

The creativity and vision applied in the design and construction of the Kiosk is evident from within the structure. Six windows, each depicting a notable aspect of the School of Conservation, beckon the viewer to peer through and witness the magic allure of the pine grove and beyond, while learning about the School’s legacy as seen and interpreted through the perspective of Piney Point.

Window 1

NJSOC’s Origin/Founders/Leaders/Directors

Window 2

NJSOC’s Academic Programs/Participants

Window 3

NJSOC’s Curriculum/Instruction/Research

Window 4

NJSOC’s Camp Wapalanne Summer Program Legacy

Window 5

Continuation as an Exemplary Environmental Institution

Window 6

NJSOC’s Anniversary Celebrations and Enduring Legacies

When on display*, Information Cards associated with each window provide a ‘retrospective’ look into the historical significance of the New Jersey School of Conservation’s role in promoting the evolution of outdoor experiential learning and environmental education.

For those who have fond memories of their youth, education, or career in School of Conservation programs, the Kiosk will likely elicit ‘introspective’ recollections of a memorable time of their personal SOC experience.

When on display* the Testimonial Portfolio book highlights the storied legacy of Dr. John J. Kirk’s service to his beloved School of Conservation and the thousands of lives he touched through his leadership and environmental philosophy that evolved significantly during the latter half of the 20thcentury. Letters and entries are divided into 5 categories:

PART 1: In His Own Words

PART 2: Timely Capabilities

PART 3: Testimonials to John Kirk’s Endowments

PART 4: John Kirk’s Legacy-Programs, Passion and Place

PART 5: Epilogue-A Mission in Perpetuity


*The kiosk’s Information Cards and Testimonial Portfolio Book are removed for storage during the winter months. 

The Piney Point Legacy Kiosk is an experience you will not want to miss when visiting, nor easily forget!


Friends Family Fun Weekend

In addition to projects and service weekends to support the School of Conservation, the Friends officers wanted an opportunity for supporters to gather just for fun, and thus the Family Fun Weekend was born. Held annually on Columbus Day Weekend in October, Friends travel to SOC from near and far to enjoy traditional camp activities and each others’ company. Arriving early on Friday evening, participants often kick off the weekend with music and a campfire at Piney Point or an indoor jam session with an assortment of “found” instruments.

More Friends arrive on Saturday morning and the group meets over a continental breakfast in Long House, which early risers may have preceded with a trail run or birding walk. Program volunteers are soon heading off in several directions with Friends  in tow for the morning activities,  including boating, archery, climbing wall, and Action Socialization Experiences. In the afternoon, these activities  repeat, with additional options such as hiking, fly fishing, orienteering, or craft actitivities available as well.

Lunch and dinner are served family-style in Long House with meals prepared by Friends Officer, Abby Farber, or Chef John Williams, a Friends supporter, with an ample amount of volunteer help. Friends of NJSOC business may be conducted after a meal, with participants given updates on key projects and upcoming events. Weather permitting, the day is capped off by a campfire and songs and/or stargazing in the corral.

Sunday is a more laid-back affair, with long distances to travel making it necessary for some supporters to make an early departure. The highlight of the day may be an event such as the Woodsman’s Frolic activity—a team competition consisting of a series of silly and challenging events that is always a hit. The weekend officially ends with lunch, followed by cheerful farewells and promises to meet again next year.

The Friends Family Fun Weekend is the most anticipated event of the year. No matter how long it’s been since a member was last at SOC, it’s an opportunity to “come home” again. On any given year, the participants consist mostly of former campers, counselors, and staff members from a wide range of years. Although many had not originally met at SOC, common experiences enable the group to bond quickly and new friendships form with people who already feel like “old friends.”