Some of your claims need to be addressed here as I found many of them inaccurate or misleading.
Increased enforcement is indeed required and desired by MAP proponents, but many of your allies in the off-road community are not in favor of increased patrols. This Motorized Access Plan helps establish what roads can be maintained with the budgets available, thus ensuring Forest Fire Service personnel that they can navigate these roads in times of emergency. One firefighter was caught in a mud-wallow caused by off-roader abuse while trying to get away from an approaching fire. Where is your concern for our first responders?
Hi Jason. I'm not part of any sort of "off-road community." I'm a photographer and history buff. I drive a Ford Taurus. I will say that, since this issue has come to light, I have not met or spoken with a single person who has not agreed that additional enforcement is necessary.
It's important to note that I am 100% against ORV damage and abuse. I always have been and always will be. I am only advocating for a saner, farer way to protect the forest while respecting the rights of the public to access their public land.
Closing roads and trails to law-abiding people is not going to solve the problem of damage being done by ORV abusers. It's going to just keep the law abiding people out, and since there's no enforcement, the abusers are free to run amok. How long have Quarter Mile, Hidden Lakes (in Greenwood WMA by Old Half Way), and Jemima Mount been closed to motor vehicle access, yet the damage caused by illegal entry has continued unabated?
As far as keeping closed roads passable for emergency crews, what about those roads that have been physically barricaded with fallen trees?
The DEP has implemented the MAP unilaterally and without the opportunity for public comment. As a result of this back alley deal roads have been marked closed prior to any public announcement being made. The DEP had planned to wait until the end of the summer to announce the MAP, after it had closed many trails, but were forced to move the announcement forward to perform damage control over the widespread outrage at the secrecy of the closures. Their secrecy has been so complete that even elected officials in Trenton have been unaware of this plan.
This is a conspiracy theory. I was there when Rob told Guy Thompson about the Motorized Access plan, he was hiding nothing. Rob has had many stakeholder meetings about the plan and continues to. He has already made modifications to the plan based on these meetings.
What groups did Rob meet with? Who are the people in those groups that he met with? Considering that a huge swath of forest has been shut down to motorized access I'm going to bet that IF he actually met with groups they were groups that would have towed the line and bent to his own agenda.
The funding for the plan came from the Recreational Trails Grant Program, a Federal Highway Administration program designed to provide provide funds to states looking to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both motorized and non-motorized recreational trail uses. Funding for the program is provided by federal taxes collected on gasoline. Interestingly, the State’s grant application makes no mention of road closures at all. Had they done so it is possible that the grant would not have been awarded.
The grant also covers road maintenance. Wharton is keeping open the roads that they will be able to maintain for the safety of guests and emergency personnel. I am a search and rescue volunteer and the importance of reliable navigation on these roads is hugely important. We have to deal with the off-roaders rutting up the roads at every low point, they are putting lives at risk for a short thrill.
And you're going to continue to have to put up with ruts in the roads as there's no provisions to actually keep people off those roads. The grant could have been awarded and the main roadways maintained without shutting down over 50% of the roads.
The overwhelming majority of the visitors of Wharton State Forest use the road and trail system responsibly. These people will be disproportionally punished by the implementation of the MAP. Roads and trails that have been open for public use for decades, if not centuries, are now suddenly closed with no warning given.
My family has lived and worked in Wharton for centuries, they did not use jeeps and mud-trucks. All of the paths are open with the MAP and on 225 miles of them you can use a motor.
I'm glad your family has a deep connection with Wharton. My great-grandfather spent a lot of time in the area that would later become Brendan Byrne State Forest. Other ancestors on my mother's side ran the sawmill at Van Note Camp.
I know you don't need a "Jeep" to get around Wharton. I also know that a Jeep or other four-wheel drive equipped vehicle can be driven through the woods without causing environmental damage.
As for the mud trucks, do you know what the maximum tire size of a vehicle in Wharton State Forest is? Do you know if such a rule has ever been enforced? Have you noticed Jeeps and mud trucks parked outside of the ranger station at Atsion totally un-harassed by any rangers or park police?
It’s true: The MAP brochure shows some pretty grim images of off-road devastation which are totally inflammatory and do not represent the impact that the majority of the people who drive on Wharton’s sand roads and trails have.
The damage is real. There is a large off-road culture that thinks driving through a vernal pool and wetlands is perfectly acceptable behavior. You know this culture exists and is by no means small. This plan wouldn't have been needed if it wasn't for their behavior.
Jason, I understand the damage is real. I've seen it firsthand. However I know that the majority of the forest has not been damaged, and that's after decades of motorized vehicle traffic.
In any event, you and others like you suggest that we punish the entire public for the actions of a few. That I find morally repugnant.
One of the DEP’s jobs is to provide stewardship and protection of the natural and cultural resources of the forest. This would be the case even if the MAP was not implemented. As far as stewardship of the forest goes, there are many main roads that have been ill-maintained for years, and many historic buildings such as cotton mill at Atsion or the entire ghost town of Friendship have been lost from neglect or arson due to the state’s particular brand of “stewardship.”
I have seen the evidence of bonfires in Friendship ruins, I have been told the off-roaders have been trying to drive up the walls and use them as jumps. I've seen the trees the Park Service desperately put in the ruins to discourage this type of behavior.
Yes, there has been intentional damage to some historic sites by irresponsible ORV users. I've never denied that, and in fact I have a history of complaining - loudly - about it. If the state was serious about stopping that there would have been more enforcement. Barriers could be erected to prevent people from taking a vehicle down into ruins such as the packing house at Friendship. Right now there's a lone guardrail on one end of the building. Where do people enter? The other end.
Remember, this is the state that "allegedly" torched the Cotton Mill at Atsion rather than do effort to secure, stabilize, and protect it.
Not every person with a Jeep is looking to light bonfires inside, or drive through, historic sites.
The state has been closing some roads by barricading the way with freshly cut or dead fallen trees. Far from allowing swift access for emergency first responders, the crews will be held up. They will be losing valuable time clearing fallen trees from the road during a potentially life-threatening emergency.
This is false and you know this is false. I am a first responder and I participated in the closing of a pushcut done by the Forest Fire Service as a temporary access point to an active blaze. The pushcut was always meant to be closed and off-roaders had gotten in and destroyed a pond at the end of the mile cut. The Forest Fire Service is completely in support of the Wharton MAP.
Jason, how do you reconcile that statement with the fact that there are barriers across roads and trails? There's photographs of people happily posing with their handiwork!
While we're talking about fire roads, the Forest Fire Service is one of the worst offenders for damaging the environment! How many roads have been cut through the woods in the course of fighting fires? How many have actually been remediated by anybody?
I had a meeting with Superintendant Auermuller where he lamented the number of roads that the FFS cut and did not repair, despite him saying that they were required to. He pointed out roads that were cut by the FFS all the way back in the 1930s! Decades of damage done by the FFS and now all of a sudden, on the eve of this new MAP project, they're suddenly concerned about closing off fire roads?
And, for what it's worth, fire is the best thing for the ecology of the Pine Barrens. If there's a fire that does not endanger lives or property, maybe the FFS would do better to let it burn and not cut so many roads through the woods.
The fact that the mileage of the roads left open in Wharton is twice the length of the turnpike is irrelevant. Just as you’re not going to develop a true appreciation for the pinelands by driving through it on the parkway, you won’t get the sense of the wonder that the Pine Barrens has to offer on the wide, crowded sand roads that are now the only ones left open to the public. Remember, over 50% of the existing roads and trails have been CLOSED for public motorized access. Those roads, already crowded, are going to get much worse.
It is relevant if you don't want your whole forest to be roads. You won't get a true appreciation of the forest by driving over it. You need to get out of the car.
I'd wager that the mileage of roads cut through the woods by the state is far more than any roads made by off-roaders. There the most damage happens when they make go-arounds for impassable obstacles. Trust me, when I see obstacles like that blocking a road I get just as mad as you do.
That might be true, but that mile that you have to traverse to get to a spot that was once conveniently located next to a road might now lie behind a mile of tangled briars, an impassable cedar swamp, or a river that would be dangerous to ford. Plus, if you were a kayaker looking to launch at your favorite secluded spot, or a photographer laden down with heavy gear, how feasible is it to bushwhack a mile or more through the woods to get to a spot that once was easily accessible? Not to mention the risk of exposure to poison ivy and disease carrying insects increases the more time you spend crashing through the forest getting to where you need to go.
There are risks in the wild, this isn't your front lawn in Asbury Park. Poison Ivy is about the last thing you need to worry about in the Pine Barrens, it is very rare. The path to Mannis Duck Pond has been closed to vehicles for years and is still easily accessible on foot.
What's your point? I understand the risks of being in the Pines. But there's being able to get to a spot safely and without damaging the environment as has historically been the case, and then being needlessly subjected to risks because someone unilaterally decided to close some existing roads and trails!
The wording of this is too vague. How exactly does the MAP make provisions for park visitors protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Disabled persons will be able to use their motor vehicles according to the Superintendent.
Until that policy is written down it does not exist. There's nothing saying that he won't deny a special use permit because he sees no reason for someone to go down a road. And does that special use permit allow you to drive down any road, or do you have to get a permit for each road you go on? Again - way too vague.
Another bald faced lie: The State is actively placing physical barriers on some of the closed roads, making it difficult if not impossible for emergency crews to access roads in time critical situations.
Again Ben, you are completely misinformed here. See the earlier comment.
The photograph proves otherwise.
It’s important to note that the Wharton MAP has been designed and approved without the input of the stakeholder groups. Now that there has been widespread outrage at the plan and legislators now questioning it the DEP is interested in meeting with certain “stakeholders.” It seems unlikely that, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement the MAP, the state would incur the cost of changing the plan which would show that the DEP’s actions were a waste of grant money.
You are wrong here Ben, the DEP is actively seekingly constructive criticism and the plan to meet with stakeholders was in place well before the social media paranoia erupted. Changes have already been made based on these meetings.
Why have so many people - especially people in Trenton - been caught off guard? Why have so many local municipalities not been informed of what was going on. Maybe Superintendant Auermuller met with some people, but it must have been an extremely small, limited group. Given the widespread outrage over the MAP - from more than just the off-road community - I think that the DEP knew that this wouldn't pass scrutiny.
Regarding the Photographs.
4 of the 7 pictures you posted were of the Pushcut to the Pond near Sandy Causeway I wrote about in earlier paragraphs. Two of the pictures from high crossing are not blocking any path. These images are very misleading.
Here's the thing: the Wharton MAP is closing roads. There are pictures of people, known to have an agenda against "off-road" access, posing with cut trees. From what I understand there are plenty of paths all over Wharton that have been similarly cut. On top of that, why have live trees been cut?
I have a long family history in Wharton State Forest and I value it more than any place in the world. You should be helping us protect this place from further damage by these off-road enthusiasts and let our land managers do their job. You should be supporting our Forest Fire Service in their wish to protect the lives of their personnel and supporting our Park Police for increased enforcement. Please help us do this and please do not undermine this effort further. I am speaking to you as a person that grew out of this forest and who continues to work hard for its protection.
I AM helping to protect this place. If you had done any of your homework you would have seen that I am not anti-closure. I am simply against a blanket closure. Targeted closures and a ramp up in enforcement is the answer. How anybody can think that just calling some roads "closed" - not even having them all marked - and expect that the people who would destroy the environment to stay out is the height of lunacy.
Your idea of "protection" is to alienate tens of thousands of people who access the forest by closing off roads and trails that have been open for decades. I'm sorry, but I don't agree with your flavor of protection. This could have been done better, albeit with a bit more effort, in such a way that would have closed off areas that needed protecting while keeping areas that are not damaged and have been used for decades passable.