TOMS RIVER – Three generations of one family were among hundreds of visitors to Cattus Island County Park last Saturday to enjoy a day outdoors.
Kathy Driggs and her mom, Karen Morgan, sat at the picnic tables outside the park’s environmental center for a few moments. Four-month-old Liam Driggs was basically along for the ride – in a well-equipped stroller.
Temperatures in Toms River rose to a high of 60°F, an anomaly for February weather in any part of New Jersey. Kathy said she decided to take advantage of the nice day and the park’s proximity to her home.
“I like the trails here and like that it’s easy to wheel a stroller on them,” Kathy shared. “I also enjoy the Nature Center and think it will be great for Liam when he gets to be a little bit older.”
“During the spring and summer, there are a lot of butterflies that come in the Butterfly Garden,” continued Kathy. “They also attract honeybees in there.”
The area where the family of three rested a bit also included a display marked “Indian Oak of Toms River” with details on how to determine the age of a tree.
Visitors to the Cattus Island County Park Cooper Environmental Center also had the chance to meet one of the live exhibits from outside its regular enclosure.
A park worker named Victoria held a black and white spotted pine snake, which seemed content to wrap around her arm.
“He is about six feet long and much taller than I am,” Victoria said. “He’s going to get pretty girthy. So, he’s not only the longest snake, but he’s also the chunkiest snake in New Jersey.”
Rows of tanks and terrariums contain other living creatures native to the area. Not only were there more snakes, but also turtles, fish, and crabs. Another exhibit displays the seashells found along the Jersey shore beaches.
A tour inside the Cooper Environmental Center also includes an amazing assortment of other area wildlife preserved by the art of taxidermy. For example, a groundhog sits on the counter at the front entrance and no longer has to worry about the significance of his shadow.
Birds of prey and songbirds hang throughout the Center, while the eyes of deer look alive from inside one of the cases. Children and adults climb a few steps to look where an osprey stands guards over eggs in its nest.
Perhaps one of the most incredible visions within the Cooper Environmental Center serves as a reminder of survival of the fittest. Creators positioned a large hawk with a squirrel dangling between its claws. Nature’s reality appears caught in still motion.
Another county worker comes into the Center to inform Victoria the parking lot has reached capacity at 3 pm. Victoria’s already counted off more than 250 people who visited the Center by that time. No doubt it’s not the usual onslaught of guests during the month of February.
In the meantime, Victoria’s count doesn’t include the many people walking outside on the wooden planks that resemble boardwalks. They will undoubtedly come across birds attracted to the numerous feeders set up in the park. As another plus, the water tower across the bay at Seaside Park serves to pinpoint Cattus Island on the mental map.
Children take advantage of the playground on one side of the park. As they race down slides and pump on swings, another group has decided it’s a fine day for a picnic.
Yes, it’s a February day, soon to be followed on Sunday with flurries in Toms River. One thing is for sure about the weather in recent history. There’s nothing predictable about it.
According to the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation, Cattus Island Park covers 530 acres of land and contains seven miles of trails. The Cooper Environmental Center itself opens from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. during the week. On weekdays, it doesn’t open until 10 a.m. The first hour of the Center’s operation allows seniors and vulnerable population members to visit independently.
Ocean County acquired the park in 1973, using county funds and money from Green Acres, a state program. The park earned its name from John V. A. Cattus, the last owner of the property.