Alcyon Park – Pitman, Gloucester County, NJ
Distance – 0.92 miles
Type – Loop trail
Difficulty: 1 of 10
Total score: 5 of 10
Website – None
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – slight hills around open fields, with nice patches of woods
Trailheads – With it being a loop, you can start about anywhere in the park. We started at the boat ramp.
39°43’42.07″N, 75° 8’35.01″W
Directions – Sports Road and W. Holly Ave, Pitman, NJ
Benches – Benches scattered throughout the park.
Description – My wife went away for the weekend, so I took Friday off. I dropped The Pres off at his preschool religious classes, and took Tree Rider for a hike. A couple hours later, I picked The Pres up, grabbed some soft pretzels, and looked for another hike to do with both of them. My first hike location fell through, and Alcyon Park popped up as the next closest hike to where we were. It looked a little tame, but a hike is a hike, so we went for it.
I was glad that we did! Right off the bat, this park is filled with baseball and other sports fields (and a playground. And a boat ramp), so it isn’t exactly a wilderness experience. What it lacks in wilderness, it makes up for in history.
In the 1888 George Washing Carr purchased 192 acres of land (including what was known as Wyne’s Mill Pond) and with his brother, Dr. Henry H. Carr formed a partnership to run what would become Alcyon Park… He gave the name “Alcyon” to the Lake and Park, [He dropped the “h” from the word “halycon” because it was easier to pronounce] when it was opened in 1892. Over time Alcyon Lake and Park included a lake for fishing and boating, a boardwalk, bath house, merry-go-round, bowling alleys, casino, roller-skating rink, and other amusement rides. In July 1905, a sham naval battle, “The Fall of Port Arthur,” was performed on Alcyon Lake by the “cottagers.” Grange Fairs were also held at this location in the 1920’s which included endurance auto driving. Horse racing was held here in the 1930’s. During the 1930’s attendance dropped. On July 7, 1945 the Park which had been taken over for tax liens, was sold at public auction for $5,200. ~ Pitman History – njrootsweb
The track expanded over the years, from the original 1/3 of a mile track (for bikes) to a 1/2 mile so that horses could race as well (and eventually, cars). This is the size track so clearly seen on the topo map above with our hiking track. After WWII, the track was a racing mecca of sorts for lots of talented drivers. If you want to read stories of those days, there is a great site called 3 Wide’s Picture Vault that collects folks pictures and memories of the track from the 1940s and 50s.
Anyway, we had no idea of the history when we started our walk. We started at the boat launch at the lake, parking in the small lot nearest to that point.
We headed south on the trail, into a grove of trees. The paved trail quickly gave over to a dirt path, and the trail would alternate between the two surfaces throughout the loop.
The trail weaves past a little brook, then intersects twice with other cut across trails in this stretch with other trails, but we kept to the outside of the loop. This led us around some fields and slightly uphill, which led to a stretch overlooking the rest of the park.
While walking on this stretch, I started to wonder if this spot had been a sand mining quarry or such, because of the lower height of the land (similar to Connolly Park in Voorhees). I almost immediately found out I was wrong, because all down this high bit of trail were posted pictures of the old Alcyon Park and Alcyon Speedway days, which revealed the history of this bit of land beautifully.
The oval on my topo map now made a ton of sense, so I listened carefully for the roar of racing engines as we completed the second half of the hiking loop. The trail passed the sign of the park by the entrance, crossed the entrance road, and immediately found another patch of quiet woods tucked behind an apartment complex.
The final turn brought us parallel to the lake, which we walked along with partial views of the lake (and a visit from two dogs) the rest of the way. Just before hitting the boat ramp, we reached a little bridge signifying that our stroll through the park and through history was done for.
Retrieving Tree Riders mitten (which has fallen off on several consecutive hikes now, but which we’ve – by which I mean The Pres because he has better eyes than I do – managed to find every time), we piled into the car and headed for home.
Alcyon Lake and the racing pictures
As nice as this trail is, it's still just a loop around some playing fields.