County’s healthy hike features noted naturalist

Program held at park formerly known as Olympia Lakes

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: Burlington County’s parks system invites residents to participate in hikes at Willingboro Lakes Park, a 105-acre site with two lakes, hiking trails, fishing, a kayak launch and picnic areas.

The Burlington County Parks System invited residents to attend a healthy hike at Willingboro Lakes Park on Aug. 9 led by naturalist Kate Forte.

“This park was just redone in 2020, we reopened in October of 2020, and it was a long time coming for this to have renovations,” Forte said. “ … They really did a great job making this park what it is now.”

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According to www.co.burlington.nj.us, Willingboro Lakes Park, formerly known as Olympia Lakes, is a 105-acre site that underwent improvements that included a paved parking lot, picnic tables with grills and one small picnic shelter, three fishing and kayak piers, a children’s play area, a boulder amphitheater, restrooms and improved trails.

“ … The more you come and sit down in one spot (here), the amount of wildlife, whether you’re just looking for dragonflies or whether you’re looking for turtles or birds, they’ll start moving a lot more and you’ll notice all the different species, which is really cool,” Forte said.

The park’s features include spots for fishing, hiking trails, a kayak launch and a playground. Forte explained what inspired her to become a park naturalist for the county.

“I started full time in 2019, but I actually was able to intern here beforehand and get some of that field experience,” she recalled. “That really helped me understand that environmental education is something that a lot of people don’t know is offered to them through the county, but it is really fun and just exciting to see the different things that are through the parks system here.”

Forte also noted the benefits of the healthy hike.

“One thing that we don’t realize, especially now that a lot of people are working from home, is that we don’t really get out anymore as much as we used to, especially with all the technology that we have right at our hands,” she noted. “We can see all these things on our phones, but it’s just so nice to actually be out here and see nature up close and personal.”

“The more you come out to the parks, the more you just feel more connected with nature too.”

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: One of two lakes at Burlington County’s Willingboro Lakes Park.

She touched on the overall transformation of the park, which Forte said used to be a swim club.

“Through the last few decades, the change that’s been here is really crazy, because this used to be something that was for people to come and enjoy in the sense of an attraction of socializing,” Forte said. “But now it has changed into a more nature-bound park that attracts people to come enjoy walks and enjoy nature, fish (and) birds.”

“The changes here have been astounding … “

According to the Burlington County Times, Willingboro Lakes Park is a preserved space that is home to wildlife, including 40-plus species of butterflies and other insects, turtles, foxes, river otters and more than 100 birds.

“There’s no development that’s going to happen here, so that’s really nice to know that 105 acres in Willingboro has been saved and has a natural area for everyone to go enjoy,” Forte said.

For more information on the park, visit www.co.burlington.nj.us.

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