Home Pinelands News The top stories of the year

The top stories of the year

One library echoes history, another is built from scratch

As we come to the end of 2023 and look forward to the new year, the Pinelands Sun looks back at the top three stories that stood out this year in the Pinelands, Shamong, Tabernacle and Southampton.

History on the shelves

There’s so much history at the Sally Stretch Keen Memorial Library. The Sun learned it was raising funds for a matching grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust Fund and featured the endeavor in an October article titled, “Historic Vincentown library continues preservation,” by Kathy Chang.

The historic library – also known as the Vincentown library – is continuing efforts to raise funds for a matching New Jersey Historic Trust Fund received in 2022. Individuals have been able to purchase an engraved brick – until Dec. 31 – that will line the library walkway of the library.

In its winning matching grant, the Keen library was described as a key contributing resource to the Vincentown Historic District, listed in the New Jersey and National Registers for Historic Places for significance as an agrarian commercial center in rural Southampton Township.

That’s why when library staff learned they had won a matching grant from the trust fund for $85,622, they were beyond grateful.

“This matching grant will allow us to do much-needed work to ‘seal the envelope’ and preserve the library building for future generations,” a post on the library’s website says. “We cannot do our work without a sound building and are fortunate to have a beautiful, historic building in our wonderful town.”

The 2022 grant will help fund interior and exterior preservation at Keen, a key contributor to the Vincentown Historic District. The library was built in 1923, gifted to the community from Mary Irick Drexel and endowed in memory of her mother and prominent local resident Sally Stretch Keen.

Designed by noted Philadelphia architects Stewardson and Page, the small, one-room facility incorporates elaborate Georgian Revival details; a central front door flanked by sidelights; and a large rear Palladian window, according to the library’s website.

Courtesy of Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey
“We built everything using wood and nails, which was nice, because I got to learn to use hand tools,” Girl Scout Wyn Bremner said of building her own library.

Built to engage

There is a new library at Camp Inawendiwin in Tabernacle thanks to Wyn Bremner, a 14-year-old Girl Scout from West Berlin. We learned about her endeavor and featured her in an October story headline, “Girl Scout hand-builds library to combat ‘summer slump,'” by Vani Hanarinian.

Bremner a freshman at Camden County Technical School, attends Camp Inawendiwin during the summer and wanted to do something to help her peers combat the loss of reading skills, or what she learned was called the “summer slump.”

Bremner a freshman at Camden County Technical School, attends Camp Inawendiwin during the summer and wanted to do something to help her peers combat the loss of reading skills, or what she learned was called the “summer slump.”

Through research, Bremner learned kids in grades three to five lose about 20% of their school-year gains in reading and 27% of their gains in math, according to Scholastic. The same source reports that only 48% of parents with students between the ages of 6 and 17 have even heard of summer slump. The best way to combat it is by reading, according to WeAreTeachers.com.

That’s why Bremner thought of building a library for her Girl Scout bronze award project. She took matters into her own hands – literally – by hand-building her own public facility with the help of family and friends. During the process, she organized several donations of books through her school and camp and was able to fill the shelves of her hand-made bookcases.

The library officially opened on Oct. 1 with an unveiling celebration.

Kathy Change/The Sun
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) planned strategic prescribed burnings to protect wildlife, the public and residential areas from wildfire risk.

Climate ‘ground zero’

Lastly, in the dense forest and parks of Shamong’s Pinelands National Reserve, wildlife is alive with snakes basking in the sun and birds nesting. We were able to observe a live prescribed burning and featured it in a March story headlined, “DEP sets goal to ‘prescribe burn’ 25,000 acres of state forest,” by Kathy Chang.

To ensure a suitable wildlife home, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) planned strategic prescribed burnings to not only protect wildlife, but public and residential areas from wildfire risk. The DEP set a prescribed burning goal of 25,000 acres from January to March of 2023. From 2019 to 2020, state officials hit that goal and in 2021 and 2022, some 17,000 acres were burned.

“New Jersey is ground zero for the worst impacts of climate change, which includes the risk of wildfire,” DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette said. “This work really serves multiple purposes of preserving our existing stock of carbon, and the natural environment in which that exists, (preserving) the habitat, the animals and rare plant species and at the same time protecting public health.”

The prescribed burnings help state officials “beat back some of the vegetation that typically would have been disturbed through a more natural process.” A burning can last for days or as little as 20 minutes.

“It helps to open up the forest,” noted John Cecil, assistant commissioner of State Parks, Forests and Historic Sites.

Following is a timeline of area fire history:

  • 1930: Some 10,000 acres of fire came through the area and did not stop until it got to a field in Tabernacle and Shamong.
  • 1942: The same area burned.
  • 1954: Another 5,000 acres of fire swept through the corridor, virtually undeveloped at the time.
  • 1963-’64: The area saw another 10,000-acre fire.
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