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‘It’s what’s here’

County parks system holds spring frog walk series

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: The Burlington County Parks System held its Spring Frog Walk Series at Smithville Historic Park earlier this month, where residents walked through the wetlands in search of frog species.

The Burlington County Parks System held its Spring Frog Walk Series – one of many nature programs offered by the parks department – earlier this month at Smithville Historic Park.

Dr. Carlos Martinez Rivera, curator of living collections at the DaVinci Science Center, took residents on a journey to look for and hear amphibian species in the wetlands.

Naturalist Jen Bulava explained how back in 2021, the parks department partnered with local experts to diversify its offerings for the public. Bulava had already known Martinez through working with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, where he was working as a scientist. Fast forward to that same year when Martinez started leading the Spring Frog Walk Series, a program that’s grown successful fast.

“It’s really nice to have another scientist that is maybe representing a different organization, and they can bring something different to the topics and the presentation that maybe I wouldn’t have thought to cover,” Bulava said of working with Martinez.

While Martinez was studying to receive his PhD in amphibian research, he began working on conservation projects with amphibians. He then landed a job at the Philadelphia Zoo and from there, he worked with endangered amphibians in the near tropics of the Caribbeans and the Tropical Andes. Martinez worked locally in the Philadelphia area, but after that he started working for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and then ended up at the DaVinci Science Center.

“To me the main purpose was that as a scientist and as a conservation biologist, the frog species you find in the parks in Smithville and Long Bridge (Long Bridge Park) and other areas are quote on quote, a common species that you would see most places,” Martinez said. “The beauty about it is that it’s what’s here and it’s what’s left.”

According to the county, New Jersey is home to 32 species of toads, frogs, salamanders and newts. Martinez explained why he feels the southern part of the state – specifically the Pine Barrens, wetlands and parks – is unique with its spaces.

“You have the Pine Barrens or the Pinelands, which is this very unique habitat that makes you feel that you’re somewhere in the south,” he said. “… It’s this solitude of mainly pines that to the untrained eye looks pretty but it looks barren … It looks more of the same.

“As you start looking to what’s actually there and if you know what’s supposed to be in different areas, you realize that it’s such a high diversity of species and such a unique habitat.

“In the area that we are in right now … It has a lot of history attached to the ecology and ecosystems you see,” Martinez said of the Smithville Historic Park. “You can see that what we have, in a way it’s what’s left, but it’s also what’s coming back. It’s a unique mix of things you can see.”

Martinez encourages anyone who has yet to attend the frog walk series to do so, given it’s an opportunity to see nature in a different way.

“It’s also another way to let people know that these parks are here for us to enjoy and if the residents are living in the county, they’re paying for it, it’s theirs because it’s their money being used for this,” he said. “It’s one way that you can enjoy nature, and see how it’s being protected and why it’s being protected and what it offers to you.”

For more information on the Spring Frog Walk Series, visit https://www.co.burlington.nj.us/235/Parks.

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