Petition to keep Wharton's Roads Open

Ben Ruset

Administrator
Site Administrator
Oct 12, 2004
7,617
1,868
Monmouth County
www.benruset.com

Hi all - I encourage anybody who is interested in having the DEP scrap this new incarnation of their failed 2015 MAP (motorized access plan) and create an access map based on the 1997 USGS topographic maps as adopted by the Pinelands Commission in 2017 sign this petition. Here's the text of the petition. Scroll down to the "Our Ask" section below for a more precise picture of what Open Trails NJ and this site are asking for.

Introduction​

Wharton State Forest is a gem in South Jersey. It consists of 125,000 acres of forest, rivers, and sugar sand roads. It provides endless recreation opportunities for hundreds of thousands of NJ residents. For such a densely populated state, its size is almost incomprehensible. You would never know it today, but in the 19th century, it was home to many small towns and industries. The state purchased the bulk of the forest in the 1950s and continued to add to it over time. While the industry and towns have faded, the vast network of roads continues to provide recreational access to millions of people. Hikers, boaters, fishermen, bikers, hunters, birdwatchers, explorers, and stargazers, have used these roads to gain access to their favorite form of recreation. All of these roads are documented in the USGS Topographical maps and were adopted as the baseline of roads by the Pinelands Commission in 2017. (1)

Why Does the Public Need So Many Roads in Wharton State Forest?​

You can find an analogy for this in the leaves of a tree or our body’s circulatory system. Asking why you need so many roads is akin to asking why do you need your capillaries when you have your arteries? Or why does a tree need so many branches when it has its trunk? The answers to all these questions are similar: the capillaries deliver blood to our bodies, the smallest branches on trees deliver water to the leaves of the trees, and the smallest roads deliver people to their recreational activities. Just like the leaves of a tree would die without their branches, recreation opportunities would die without these smaller roads. Every user of Wharton State Forest, regardless of their activity, is a motorized user.

Department of Environmental Protection’s Action​

In 2015 the DEP decided, without warning, to close over 250 miles of roads within Wharton State Forest. The community outrage against this action sparked a grassroots effort (2) to educate the DEP on the significant negative consequences to outdoor recreation resulting from the closures. Numerous local municipalities passed resolutions (3) condemning the road closures. Ultimately, the DEP relented, reopened the roads, and apologized for the action. (4)
In 2022, the DEP began a new effort to plan to close roads and implement a permit system in Wharton State Forest. The DEP collected surveys from users of the forest and the message was clear: Of the 1,610 surveys submitted, by a nearly 3 to 1 margin, users asked for the same access they have today. “Scenic driving” and “day to day travel” were mentioned over 1,000 times.
The DEP then revealed a new map at an Open House on January 24th with over 500 people in attendance. The overwhelming majority of individuals attending were coming to voice their concerns about these road closures. The new map closed 300 miles of roads and was essentially identical (5) to the 2015 map. Not a single input from the 1,610 survey participants appears to have been taken into account.

Deceptive Acts, Trust is Destroyed​

The DEP has claimed many of the roads they are closing were not legal roads or were already not accessible. This simply is not true. According to the DEP’s own regulations, users can drive on “established public roads”. These roads are clearly identified on the USGS Topographical maps that were codified by the Pinelands Commission and countless other maps. Further, in a funding grant request that was obtained via an Open Public Records Request, the DEP states they were seeking funding for the 600 miles of roads within Wharton State Forest. (6) Were they not truthful about these roads then when they were looking for funding to repair them? Or are they not truthful now when they are trying to close 300 miles of them and are saying they are invalid? These roads are not “trails”, they are not “routes”, they are “roads”. Finally, these roads are nearly inconsequential to the ecosystem relative to their size. At 500 miles, the surface area all the roads in Wharton equate to 0.39% of the area of the forest.
Now the DEP is asking for feedback again on the new map. Why should the citizens of NJ trust the DEP when they didn’t consider the 1,610 voices the first time around and they continue to be untruthful about the legal roads that exist today? The DEP did not take even one step in compromise towards the public in their recent map. Why should the public believe they will take any additional feedback into account?

There are Solutions​

The answers to the issues within the forest are not road closures, which will not curb illegal activity, but only destroy recreation opportunities for law abiding citizens. The solutions are:
  • Increased enforcement- Give our Park Police the resources they need to enforce the laws that already exist.
  • Protection Projects – Leverage volunteer labor and funding for resource projection projects that will protect sensitives areas, but not close roads used to access them.
  • Education – Embark on an education campaign to educate the public about our natural resources, why it is important to respect them, and educate them about how to access the forest safely.

Our Ask​

Given the shattered public trust, there is no path forward on this current plan. The DEP must scrap this 2024 map and adopt the topographical maps that were codified by the Pinelands Commission. The DEP should re-reread the feedback it has already received and, instead of asking the public to justify which roads are needed, the DEP needs to justify to the public each road they believe needs to be closed, individually. We the citizens of your state, districts and municipalities are asking you to take any action within your power to force the DEP to scrap the 2024 map and start over.

Supporting Material Referenced in Petition:​


(1) Pinelands Commission 2017 USGS Topo Map Resolution
(2) Grassroots Effort
(3) Municipal Resolutions against the MAP
(4) DEP Apologies for the MAP
(5) 2015 vs 2024 Map Comparison
(6) OPRA RTP Grant Specifying 600 miles of Roads
 

NJPinesExplorer

New Member
Sep 14, 2016
12
31
Mount Laurel, NJ
I signed yesterday and have been sharing this to everyone I can.

On a separate note for everyone’s awareness of how the opposition is operating: I was banned from The Pine Barrens Facebook group this morning presumably for my comment on Jason Howell’s latest article post about forest fires being started by ORV drivers. I simply asked how road closures would stop people from starting a fire. Apparently that is sufficient grounds for a ban.
 
  • Wow
Reactions: noboat
Apr 6, 2004
3,613
556
Galloway
I signed yesterday and have been sharing this to everyone I can.

On a separate note for everyone’s awareness of how the opposition is operating: I was banned from The Pine Barrens Facebook group this morning presumably for my comment on Jason Howell’s latest article post about forest fires being started by ORV drivers. I simply asked how road closures would stop people from starting a fire. Apparently that is sufficient grounds for a ban.

Ah, yes. A few years back when I was still on FB, I was also banned by Jason from The Pine Barrens group. My sin? Questioning the wisdom of him promoting socialism on the page. Weak minds don't like being challenged.
 

Ben Ruset

Administrator
Site Administrator
Oct 12, 2004
7,617
1,868
Monmouth County
www.benruset.com
Ah, yes. A few years back when I was still on FB, I was also banned by Jason from The Pine Barrens group. My sin? Questioning the wisdom of him promoting socialism on the page. Weak minds don't like being challenged.
I just got banned too. Haven't posted there in a while so he went out of his way to boot me.

Despite my disagreement with him and his methods, though, his account here hasn't been banned or censored. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
 

NJPinesExplorer

New Member
Sep 14, 2016
12
31
Mount Laurel, NJ
The DEP is presenting their plan to the Pinelands Commission this Friday, 3/8 at 9:30 am. Public comment is open for the meeting. This is another potential forum to make our voices heard

Agenda: https://www.nj.gov/pinelands/home/meetings/documents/1_March82024_PC_Meeting_Agenda_Final.pdf

Livestream:

Phone number for public comment: 1-929-205-6099 Meeting ID: 840 9245 7560

I called to confirm and attendance in-person is also an option:

Richard J. Sullivan Center for Environmental Policy and Education
Terrence D. Moore Conference Room
15C Springfield Road
New Lisbon, New Jersey
 
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