HAMMONTON - John Bryans remembers the first Lines on the Pines in 2006, he said Sunday at the ninth annual edition of an event that celebrates the people, the prose and plenty more aspects of the life and culture of New Jersey's Pinelands.
"It was mostly about six of our writers, sitting around at the Sweetwater Casino," said Bryans, the chief editor at Plexus Publishing, the Medford-based publisher of many books about Jersey's Pinelands. "It was a room ... maybe 10 by 10 (feet), with room for six or eight tables."
But Linda Stanton also remembers that first Lines on the Pines - because in 2005, she came up with the idea for a gathering of writers about the Pinelands, mostly a group book-signing. The idea was born, the founder added, while she and some friends were sitting around the bar at the now-late, lamented Sweetwater Casino, not far from her Mullica Township home.
And as the originator and still chief organizer, Stanton has to correct the record, and the memory of one of her favorite Pinelands publishers. Because, she noted, that first Lines on the Pines get-together also featured an archaeologist, a photographer and two historians - although one of those historians was her archaeologist, Budd Wilson.
Now Wilson, who expects to celebrate his 80th birthday later this month, is considered a "Pine Barrens celebrity," Stanton said, because he has been in on every Lines on the Pines. He was honored Sunday night at the annual banquet, which followed the main gathering at Kerri Brooke Caterers in Hammonton.
Wilson lives in Green Bank, in Burlington County, just across the Mullica River from Atlantic County's Mullica Township. But he has lived on both sides the major Pinelands river. He said he considers himself much more archaeologist than historian.
He started almost 60 years ago excavating some of the structures in Batsto Village, in Wharton State Forest. He spent most of his working life doing archaeology of one sort or another. But, then again, his family history in the Pinelands includes his father joining the New Jersey State Police in 1922 - and patrolling the pines in an era when state troopers worked on horseback.
Another celebrity is Paul Schopp, of Riverton, who serves as master of ceremonies at the banquet every year - and as a "roving ambassador" of the Pinelands. He was roving around the catering hall Sunday getting people to sign a giant birthday card to Wilson, and getting noticed for the fancy top-hat he added to his look for this year's Lines on the Pines.
Schopp said he has a bunch of Pinelands jokes ready for the banquet crowd every year - even if he often just adapts other jokes to set them in the pines. But on a more serious note, he was a co-author of "The Trail of the Blue Comet," a book-length history of a famous, now long-gone train line through the pines.
Many of the people who get together every year for this event take it very seriously. John Calu and Dave Hart, both of whom live in or near Trenton, have co-written a series of books on "Jersey history, myths and legends," in Calu's phrase. That includes their latest, "Mystery of the Jersey Devil." They always come to Lines on the Pines to sign and sell their books, because "this is one of our best places," he added.
"Linda (Stanton) is just unbelievable," Calu said. "She works harder than anybody I know. She'll lock us in for next year before we leave today."
Heather Hires, of Mays Landing, is fairly new to this get-together. She is a face-painter for kids and a body painter for adults who started exhibiting at Lines on the Pines a year or so ago. She was having a slow day last year painting butterflies or turtles or snakes or other piney creatures on kids' faces, but Stanton introduced her to Michael Cagno, the executive director at the Noyes Museum of Art, in Galloway Township.
That meeting led to Hires getting body-painting jobs at both the Noyes and at the museum's new Arts Garage in Atlantic City. "I did two or three other things for them," she said Sunday, as she set up to do her face-painting.
Bryans, from Plexus Publishing, also found Lines on the Pines helpful for making connections - and for doing business.
"I'm always looking to speak to new authors, and I do meet authors here," he said. "And if I do a Pine Barrens book, I'm never disappointed in the sales."
But Lines on the Pines also features artists, musicians, photographers and cultural groups. Those groups range from the Galloway Township Historical Society to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance to Tuckerton Seaport to a few departments at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, which owns the Noyes Museum and has long been known as "the college in the pines."
And as some of her fans predicted, Stanton already is getting ready for next year's Pinelands party. As they left the catering hall Sunday, the guests walked by a sign saying the 10th annual Lines on the Pines is March 8, 2015.
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