Way back in the 1970's a group of friends of my 'then-husband' and I would rent a cabin in what is now Brendan Byrne Forest, and was then Lebanon State Forest. It was the most wonderful weekend. We would rent in winter and there would be snow and we'd have wood for the fireplace and some of the group played guitar and sang. We ate, hiked, sang, told stories, and in every way had such a wonderful time that all these years later it is still a fond memory for me.
Those cabins are still in great shape though I no longer camp in them. The last time I did, my daughter was about 10 and we camped there with another mother and daughters. We hiked and built a fire in the fireplace and played games and had a wonderful time.
Never at either of those times did I know that the cabins had been built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Those young men worked there for 10 years clearing roads, digging fire breaks, re-building bridges, and planting trees. They also built the handsome pavilion on Pakim Pond, which gets my vote for prettiest pond in South Jersey. What a splendid view from the Pavilion over the pond. I frequently go there with my dog and often another friend or two and we hike the 'cranberry trail' from Pakim Pond to the Ranger Station. We take a picnic lunch to eat in the Pavilion overlooking the Pond, and if we have energy when we get back, we hike around the pond where colorful clumps of carnivorous plants can be seen in season. Now, however, I often think about the young fellows who worked those 10 years at Lebanon and I feel their ghostly presence with me when I hike. I hope they feel my gratitude for their labor.
Oh, by the way, the last time I was there, about a month ago, there was a fellow playing guitar in the pavilion. He was playing Neil Young songs and it was a funny and poignant jump back in time to a younger and more festive period in my life. But not a happier time!
According to the London School of Economics, the two happiest years in a person's life are age 23 and age 69 - so I like to think I have something to look forward to down the road. I am pretty happy now, though! I believe hiking every day and visiting the woods regularly definitely increases happiness and well-being, so does volunteering - giving something back!