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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'd like to briefly respond to some of your points.
"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."
Couldn't those roads be maintained without shutting down the rest of them?
"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."
I wouldn't call it a conspiracy theory so much as an observation. The fact is that the vast majority of those who enjoy Wharton State Forest were unaware of what was being done, which is unacceptable.
"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."
I don't think anyone here is unaware of the damage. The debate is not whether or not there are people who selfishly and carelessly abuse wetlands and hills. The debate is whether or not all of the roads that the State intends to close should in fact be closed. ORV abuse can only be curbed by enforcement, not by closing the roads. Take Jemima Mount, for example. It has been closed off to motor vehicles, but the damage being done there only worsened.
"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."
A travesty, I agree. Imagine if one of these vandals were caught and heavily fined. I bet that would be an excellent deterrent. I do agree that we ought to work together here. It should begin with level-headed discussion.
Ben, you are only furthering the paranoia and misperception of what is happening here with this post. You put up pictures of hard-working, pine barrens loving, Wharton volunteers in order to demonize them while all they were doing was closing a Forest Fire Pushcut to protect a pond destroyed by off-roaders. Many of those same off-roaders are now spreading that picture around the internet. Do you know there has already been death-threats from this crowd?
Your misinformed statements are now dangerous and the people here should respond like decent human beings and ask you to take this post down.
How dare you try to tie me to people who are making death threats! And don't try to label the people here as not being decent human beings because they don't find a problem with what I write. I can not believe how obnoxious you are. Firstly, who are the people who are receiving death threats? Second, I'll bet you $100 that anybody who does that is not a frequent visitor to my site. Frankly, you're the one posting misinformation.
If all you got out of my post was that I'm simply against the plan then apparently you didn't truely read it. Either you can't or do not want to answer any of the other questions I had. Until you can adequately explain how sweeping closures will accomplish what you say it's going to then yes I'm against them.
You are the king of hyperbole.
1. All that I am alleging is that the DEP claims that there have been no roads blocked yet there are multiple areas that have in fact been blocked. There's photos of the people blocking them, including a work party that Superintendent Auermuller was present for and also included Al Horner. I don't know how simpler I can make this logic for you to understand.
That push line was a "road" for 6 years before it was closed. I agree it should be closed but it should have been done long ago. A lot of damage could have been avoided and we wouldn't even be talking about it now.No there are not photos of people blocking roads. That photo is of a forest fire push cut less than a mile in length that lead to a pond that was being destroyed by off-roaders. You are being dishonest about that fact.