An Interview with 21st Century Pine Barrens Explorer Diane Davis of Chatsworth, NJ

Disclaimer- Diane Davis contributed to this article in her own personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of author and Piney Tribe team administrator William Lewis.

Favorite partial quote from Diane about her deceased father, “I know in my heart every time we are rolling he right there in passenger seat with that smile and a beer in hand. Riding those old dirt roads, he loved so much they are and will always be a family tradition when I miss him the most those roads are the closest thing I have to him. All the memories of rides we all loved so much. So, ride flat up there dad I miss you!”

Diane Davis

Interview Conducted on 10/22/2020

1) If you were forced to categorize your interests in the great outdoors what one would you say fits you best? Example botany, local history, geology, herping etc.

Diane- “4X4ing and riding the dirt roads in trucks. Some of these roads you have to have some big trucks. Not so much about the mudding part of 4X4ing. We used to take rides on rainy days since I was a child. I’ve done it with my own children. My oldest son is now a father, and he’s continued the tradition with his own child. It’s just something that, these dirt roads here especially in this town (Chatsworth), are where I have the most memories with my dad. I have a 4X4 Jeep. We ride through the woods there are water holes and different things that you see. Many people are out there to do the mudding and it does tear up the land and stuff. We are not out there to do that. Most of us are not there to do that. Most of us just like to take peaceful rides through the woods stopping along the way if there is a group of us and talk. Reminisce and things like that.”

2) We never truly know the influence we have on others. Someone out there probably lots of someones look up to you in your endeavors in the Pines. Who do you list in your top 3 influencers of your own interest in adventuring?

Diane- “My father (Teddy), my stepdad Hazy Dilks, and #3 would be just friends.”

3) Do you prefer solo or group outdoor adventures?

Diane- “Either or when I’m having like bad days since I lost my dad, I prefer to do it by myself. But we have a group of friends we do it with and that is a lot of fun too. No destination we just go until we tire of it. We go with about 5 or 6 vehicles in our group. Majority of us when taking rides take garbage bags with us. And we’ve cleaned up a lot of trash. We aren’t out there to tear stuff up. Teaching younger ones, “Just to appreciate what you have.” I grew up here all my life but moved away for 8 years. And I just came back over a year ago and it has totally changed. Because now there are places where I had grown up and my parents had taken me, and I have taken my kids to now you can’t even go to. It’s a shame because it’s something that a lot of us here were used to.

You take a chance now, and you can get in trouble. It’s not worth it and it’s a shame that it turned out that way. Many people say it’s because of the drinking and yes that has happened here. But not all of us when we decide to get in our vehicles and go somewhere that’s not what we are out there doing. Your being accused of doing this or that, but you know not everybody is out there to do that. Must of us are out there to take a ride like everybody else that does it on a tar road. We are just doing it in the woods because it’s something we have done all our lives. Since I moved back here, it’s nothing like it was when I grew up as a child. Everything has just changed. When I was little, we rode in trucks, dune buggies, and ATVs. You used to ride down the tar roads here but don’t do that now. The laws have changed. I understand that you can’t ride on tar roads with an ATV and I get it and I respect that. But some of us who just like to take a ride on our ATVs just like we do in our pickup trucks. You can’t even do that without the fear of getting in trouble. Now we just go out of state where there are designated places where you can ride.

Most of the land here is now owned by conservationists and it is a shame that there is not an area where you can ride at. Because personally in this town there is nothing to do. It is a peaceful place to be. Just about everyone knows everyone. It’s a good place to be. But from what we did when we were growing up you couldn’t do it now because it has changed so much. A lot of the kids play basketball or ride their skateboards and bikes but there isn’t nothing here for these kids to do. My oldest is in his 30s we rode with him and now he started his own family but now other than riding on your own private property if you go off it you take a chance. As big as the area is to me, I wish there was a place where kids go ride. Not every kid in this town rides motorcycles or ATVs but there is a majority of them that do. It would be nice if there was a place for them to ride instead of having to go out of state to do it.”  

4) What’s your typical mode of operation (MO) when it comes to how you interact with your interest. Is it pure hobby, part nostalgia, or academic in purpose? What’s your goal from doing it?

Diane- “Its how we grew up. You used to be able to do a lot of things in Chatsworth; pits here and Hidden Lakes. But it just got so out of control with drinking and bringing in things that shouldn’t have been here. For safety reasons you can’t do what we did when we grew up. When we are out, we’ve stopped and had conversations with people we’ve seen out on the woods roads. If you are going to come out here and enjoy the area like we are and are going to stop and have lunch take the trash with you. Just don’t leave it behind as that seems to happen a lot around here. There are probably local people who have littered too but now that I’m older like just keep the place nice and there wouldn’t be all these problems.”

5) Is there a way to encourage people to follow your passion or should we not encourage others that may or may not be respectful in the same manner to the environment?

Diane- “It’s a shame because it’s the same thing that is lacking in the world today it’s just respect. Treat other’s property like it’s your own. Have respect. I mean that has been said by quite a few for a lot of years. You got away with doing things for so long. Being carefree and doing whatever you wanted around here pretty much. But now there are new people here and have been for a while and it come to a point where nothing is tolerated anymore. And everything is closed; there are gates here, trees cut down, or where you can’t take a road where you were able to take one before.

To me it’s not fair to the people that have the respect for these parts of the woods and land but it does hurt everyone not just a few people. There are places where Pineys went in the woods to make a living where you can’t today. I can remember my stepfather doing woods work all his life. You had to ride the woods to go to places where he went to make a living and you could not do that today. For 18 years when he was with my mother, I went with him to cut brush (hoghuck & sweethuck); he taught us how to cut birch and how to get pinecones. Everything that he did like cutting cattails he taught us. He’s 75 years old now living in Chatsworth still and he lived off the land all his life, but you are not doing that now. So, we have those memories, but they are lost because you can’t do it no more. I do crafts a lot and to go into the store and buy the stuff that I know I could probably get right in my backyard is just insane. And it takes away from the pride of the product I create. You can tell the difference between a craft store grapevine wreath that you bring home or the one you go out and make yourself you can really tell the difference.

It’s a shame it’s a beautiful place here. There’s a lot a lot of roads here. That’s something I did with my biological dad all my life and I lost my dad in a tragic accident. Some days are better than others it’s been 16 years but when I need my dad, the most I just get in my truck and take a ride on an old dirt road. I’m sure we’ve been down it before with him plenty of times.”

6) How many people do you know that have told you that what you do in the wild is crazy or kinda weird?

Diane- “If you’re from here, you understand it if you’re not some people maybe a handful might say its nuts. But when you’ve grown up here and done it all your life its not weird to you. We’ve got coyotes here and people complain about them being in their yard. What are you going to do? It’s part of nature its part of living here. Same with deer it’s what this place is about. You are in the middle of nowhere. I moved away for 8 years when I had an opportunity to move somewhere else me and my husband moved back home. I’m glad we decided to come back because there is no place like home.”

7) What’s the best resource you can share with someone looking to pursue your specific hobby?

Diane- “I know there are jeep groups out there that you could join. From us living here and growing up here we know most of the roads. We just get in our trucks and take a ride.”

8) What’s one thing you’d like to change about our current New Jersey environment?

Diane- “Open up the roads or something so people like us have somewhere we know we can go without getting into trouble. Things need to change at the state level.”

9) I may have asked this and or you answered it in another question but now that you had more time to think on it, “What drives you to your specific sport?” Is it exercise, mental renewal, religious experience etc.?

Diane- “Mental thing you are relaxed out there. So many memories I have on these roads around here with my kids, my dad, and with my stepdad Hazy. Too many to remember. And now especially for me if I have a bad day like rainy days, I’ll take a ride. Especially on rainy days my kids would go to school and my dad would come by and say,” We can take a ride before the kids come back from school.” And that’s something we did when it rained. Took a ride and listen to the radio and ride all day long. On the radio with my dad driving the music playing was Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Creedence, and any country music because that’s what I grew up on.”

10) Do you consider yourself a Piney?

Diane- “Yes, I do. I grew up here. I’ve seen a lot of things I’ve done a lot of things with my stepdad Hazy. I worked with him. Back then I only had one child and being able to go out and do that work helped me take care of my child. Just from living here all my life and seeing how it was and how it is today. New people to the area have a view different from mine. I’m not a nature nut but I have an attachment to places here. It’s a beautiful place to live. This is a special place to me this is my home in Chatsworth with places like Petticoat hill, Goose Pond, Wading river in the summer months kayaking, and favorite place to eat especially breakfast at Lucille’s.

You know they have a stereotype that you have a big truck you are out here just to tear up. Not everyone is out there destroying stuff. I feel it is a disagreement between different people. But this stereotype is ignorant. We stop and smoke cigarettes and talk. When the kids are with us, we reminisce about what we used to do out there, there are a lot of memories on those roads.  We don’t stop and eat but we take the dirt roads to restaurants and bars in the area. Places like Pic-A-Lilli Inn on rte 206 and you can go from my home through the woods without hitting a tar road to Lucille’s restaurant on rte 539. And that’s a great morning ride. There are roads you can take to get to Mayo’s and there’re roads you can take to get to Billy Boy’s Four Mile Tavern on rte 72. And there were ways to get to the old Hedger House when it was open. The biggest memory we have here especially with my dad growing up even with my kids when we get a snowstorm its unimaginable. The things you see and the pictures we have of you being the first one going down a road after it has snowed. That’s always something I did with my dad after the first snowstorm of the winter. We’d get up and be the first one on the roads. That feeling is so good, and it still is even after I lost my dad. We still do this as a family.”

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