Decided what you’re going to do this summer? Get-away-from-it-all tourism? Day trips for family time? Water and beach on the coast? Hiking, biking, boating, bird-watching, tasting specialty eats, sampling specialty wines? Movies, maybe? Or perhaps you go wild for music and dancing?
How about if you could do all of that, mostly for free (That is not a mistake. “Free” is the operative word.) and meet, greet, party with your neighbors besides? Okay. I will grant you that to enjoy the ocean and beach on the Atlantic requires a trip to the coast, but, seriously, every other activity is coming to you this summer courtesy of your local townships.
There’s no need to travel outside your town and its neighbors to spend a day or an evening sightseeing and sampling new experiences free, free, often free. Your township really wants to entice you to stay, have fun and build a cohesive goodwill, a pride of place. They took your tax dollars, now they want to give some back to foster community and, not incidentally, local businesses.
“I think it’s wonderful to have events that bring people together,” said Diane Hale, Swedesboro councilwoman and chair of the Economic Development Committee, which plans and oversees Swedesboro’s public entertainments and activities. “The taxpayers pay (into) the municipal government. They should get something special, something for the community.”
Hale tries to ensure that every event is popular and the community is pleased. “At each one I’ll ask people how we can improve this particular event, what don’t they like, how we could make it better. The biggest critics are the kids. They’ll tell you whatever they think, no holding back.
“It’s a group effort to provide our events. We try really hard to have some activity every month,” Hale said. “I think it’s wonderful to have events that bring people together.”
Most community activities are self-sustaining, said Lois Elder, deputy clerk in Swedesboro. “The borough doesn’t make any money,” she said. “The vendors pay for their spots, which pays for advertising and such. We pretty much break even. So it’s free entertainment,” Elder said. “That’s our purpose, to build fun, to showcase our town, and it benefits the commercial interests.”
Public events are not limited to Swedesboro, but can be found in Logan, Woolwich, and most other nearby communities. And you can go to each and every one whether you live locally or not.
So just what is available?
DANCING IN THE STREET
This is a favorite freebie for Swedesboro residents and anybody else who shows up. Geared for the kids for the first hour, when music and dancing instruction encourages them to coordinate their rhythm with their feet. Then a live band plays for full-on fun dancing for everyone along a closed-to-traffic Kings Highway until 10 p.m.
“We get a really big crowd,” Elder said. Hale concurred, estimating last year brought out up to 1,000 dancers. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger, depending on weather. When you look out and see all the little kids waiting to dance, Oh my! You know it’s going to be a good night,” Elder added.
Dancing is every third Wednesday in June, July, and August from 7 to 10 p.m. on Kings Highway between Dunn Drive and Tavro 13. Think about bringing a chair. Free water ice is available, courtesy of a local business.
Should the weather be unmannerly enough to rain, Dancing in the Street will become Dancing in the School. It will move to Walter Hill School, according to Elder.
FREE KAYAKING ON THE LAKE
It seems that in the Swedesboro/Woolwich area, kayaking is as big a draw as dancing, at least according to Elder. “This is a big event,” she said. “It’s huge!” she elaborated. The free event, held twice each summer at Lake Narraticon, offers kayaks and instruction on using them, if needed, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 8 and Aug. 5 this year. It’s a joint effort between the Swedesboro Economic Development Committee and the Swedesboro-Woolwich Joint Environmental Committee.
“People like to kayak,” Elder explained. “This is a way to learn about it. We were pretty overwhelmed last year, and it’s a nice local lake, not too big or too small.” Of course, there is kayaking on the lake all summer, but this offers a chance to try a kayak for (did I mention this already?) free! Other than dry clothing, what’s to lose?
FOOD TRUCK THURSDAYS
This brand new entry into the summer activity schedule has everyone excited. Alice O’Blennis, a councilwoman on the Economic Development Committee, said food trucks “are a new concept for us. This is our inaugural event.”
Food trucks, of course, are certainly familiar to the councilwoman, but placing them at Auction Park at Locke and Fow Avenues from 5 to 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of June, July and August is not something you come across often.
Yet, before the trucks even arrive, there is popular demand for them, O’Blennis said. “We placed (the idea) on our Facebook page and in just the first few days we had 11,000 likes. I was shocked; overwhelmed, but happily.”
So Food Truck Thursdays is a go. “We will have tables and chairs and background music to eat to,” O’Blennis said. “We’re seeking (trucks) from local eateries and breweries and we expect a variety of foods: brick oven pizza, Indian dishes, BBQ, seafood, desserts, a cupcake truck. We’ll have something different each Thursday.”
Wait. A Cupcake Truck?!
O’Blennis said the committee brainstormed to decide how they’d do it and added that the thinking was, “This is not an event to make money. We’re doing it to attract people to Swedesboro and show them we’re a nice place to be.”
Lest there be confusion, the food may cost you, but the chance to sample new dishes and drinks, to mingle with friends at no cover charge, in a café atmosphere with music, that part costs nothing. And besides, a Cupcake Truck!?! Bet whatever night that is, a crowd comes too.
Every town, big or small, has a movie night or several, it seems. Popular as a family night, Swedesboro, Woolwich, and Logan, all offer movies that are kid friendly on a night time schedule. Check with your township, or at all local municipalities since, like all these activities, movies are for area residents rather than specific neighborhoods or townships.
Movies, like Disney’s ‘Moana’, are always popular and the ones sponsored by Gloucester County come with free popcorn. Woolwich also offers a Senior Movie night. They’re playing ‘The Interns’ at the Woolwich municipal building this month, date not yet listed on their Website.
HIKING, BIKING, NATURE DISCOVERY
Woolwich Township has about 400 acres in its parks and recreation program, having been “very aggressive preserving private land, farmland and open space,” claimed Matthew Blake. A portion of those acres are environmentally protected as swampland and woodland, but the township has an active park system that recently opened a new trail for public use.
In April, Tranquility Trail, named in a contest among district school kids, opened for “hiking, jogging, bird-watching, walking, and just enjoying,” said Blake, Director of Community Development for the township.
Tranquility Trail allows the public to access the “primitive” portion of the Locke Avenue Park/High Hill Road Park dual system, he said. While Locke offers fields for athletic endeavors and paved trails for bike riding, roller blading, and the like, High Hill’s new trail brings visitors “about an hour and a half” of much wilder nature, Blake said.
“We had some aggressive public input, targeted phone surveys, online surveys, four public hearings. This is one of the best planned public spaces I’ve seen,” Blake said. What did the public clamor for? “People just want to connect with nature,” he said. Woolwich, he added, “is blessed with a beautiful environment.”
It is expected to become even more beautiful, Blake divulged, when some $10,000 worth of wildflower seed is sown in strategic places. The seed, chosen by a state biologist, was paid for mostly by a pilot program for public parkland and cost the township only $1,000. “I can see the potential for a butterfly festival in the future,” Blake said.
The public can use the park system dawn to dusk. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but only on-leash and must be picked up after should there be a ‘deposit’. The park does not allow hunting or trapping.
Nature, family fun and cupcakes are not to be sneezed at, but the greater Swedesboro area also has enticements for adults only. This section of South Jersey is part of what is known as Two Bridges Wine Trail, named for the Commodore Barry and Delaware Memorial bridges. The rural sections of this chunk of the south has blossomed with vineyards and wineries, possibly because the soil, the sun, the cleaner air and water are attractive to grapes as well as residents.
Cedarvale Winery, Wagonhouse Winery, Heritage Vineyards, and Monroeville Vineyard & Winery are all local winemakers who welcome tourists, tours, and tastings under the auspices of the Two Bridges Wine Trail. The Wine Trail packages tours, starting at one bridge and ending at the other.
Besides ticketed tours, the area’s wineries, which also include Di Bella Winery, all have events from music nights, tours, festivals and tastings to special activities like cooking with wine lessons or wine and paint afternoons.
The idea behind all these public events, from the family friendly to the adults only, is to have fun. And the best way to start that fun is to learn what’s out there in your own backyard.
Each township has a webpage, which usually is listed first in a Google search for the township name. Try it and look for “events.” Some websites are easier to use, but all municipalities give you a way to contact them.
The wineries also have webpages that Google can find, as does Two Bridges Wine Trail.
By Jean Redstone