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Climbing Apple Pie Hill Fire Tower

the highest point in the Pine Barrens

I used to be afraid of heights, to the point where I couldn’t walk along the glass railings on the upper level of a shopping mall without feeling butterflies. I also used to think Tabasco hot sauce was hot. After years of exposure therapy, now I slather my fried rice with Trinidad Scorpion sauce, and I take photos of myself danging my feet off of the Cliffs of Moher.

Moher, looking down.

Apple Pie Hill in the Pine Barrens is only 209 feet above sea level, but that is the highest point in South Jersey. Add the fire tower, and you’re still not at the 702 feet of the Cliffs of Moher, but on a clear day you can see Atlantic City to the east, and Philadelphia to the west. And Bear Swamp Hill off to the north, which was the site of a plane crash where some wreckage can still be found. Maybe I’ll go there next weekend…

No one knows why it’s called Apple Pie Hill; it was once the site of a health retreat, and the owner briefly bottled the water as a health tonic in order to lure guests, and apparently there are some cellar holes and concrete pipes around if you look. They’re overgrown by now, and I have done enough hunting in the Pines for “ruins” that turned out to be a lump in the sand. But you do get a feeling up there of peace and beauty, and can imagine a 19th century huckster trying to create a Battle Creek Michigan in the Pines. (That’s where John Harvey Kellogg established his bland grains and yogurt enema empire, which is why Americans eat breakfast cereal and graham crackers. Be thankful that Chobani doesn’t sell single-use Fleet Yogurt enemas. Fruit on the bottom! YOUR BOTTOM.)

The fire tower was once open to the public, but people started dropping old televisions off of it, drinking up there and throwing the glass bottles into the woods, and other shitty behavior, so they installed alarms, cameras, and hefty locks. But it had become something of a local treasure, especially during the pandemic, when firefighters up in the tower would let families climb up, because it’s hard to transmit a virus when the wind is blowing the aerosol particles away.

The NJ DEP opened the tower to the public last Saturday to test . I’ve climbed rickety fire towers on a windy day, but this one is on a sturdy concrete foundation and the wind wasn’t bad at all. I did indeed see both Philly and A.C. up there.

I didn’t root around Apple Pie Hill much, but I did see some concrete pilings. Nothing worth sharing. That is often the case with my Pine Barrens ventures; I went on a trip a few weekends ago to see the lost towns of Buckingham, Woodmansie, and more; what I saw were fields. That was the same weekend that I revisited the ruins of Brooksbrae Terracotta Brick Factory, and I shared that video here. I left out the rest because it was not worthy of mention. It was an interesting drive; I do enjoy bogging through muddy sand roads along old railroad tracks, but there’s not much to see and share. Driving through lost towns does evoke a certain feeling, and I like writing about it.

The videos today aren’t edited; I wore the GoPro on a chest mount. I have another video in the works where I’m on my bike at Aerohaven, the ruins of the Pine Barrens airport. That one won’t take much work, but if I were to take footage with the GoPro on the car, and my phone aimed at my face as I narrate, the picture-in-picture editing, and switching to the selfie stick or the chest mount as I walk around ruins, would be a lot more work. And I’d be more inclined to do that work if I thought people were watching.

Would you be interested in videos of me driving, biking, and hiking around the Pine Barrens, and narrating my explorations?


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What Pluckery Is This?
The Pine Baron
History, explorations, and culture of the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey.
Thomas Pluck