“Wharton M.A.P. (Motorized Access Plan)”
A Personal Opinion
What is the M.A.P. – It is a plan to, first and foremost, protect Wharton State Forest from the ravages of excess off-road vehicle use that has gone on for years, nearly unabated, and has taken its toll on the forest’s resources. This abuse has destroyed prime wetlands, forest habitat, wildlife habitat, all forms of infrastructure, cultural and historic sites and has turned many miles of sand roads into impassable muddy mires that prevent use of the forest by citizens who do not have, or intend to obtain, an off-road vehicle. Many roads are so poor that first responders and Forest Fire Service vehicles can not use them either.
Who developed the M.A.P. – The Stewards of the forest and the Forest Fire Service, the professionals that we hired to preserve and protect our public lands, have spent years gathering information that form the basis of the MAP that will preserve our natural heritage and allow full access to the Wharton State Forest. Every trail, path or road has been tracked with GPS to insure accuracy of the developing map. The plan takes into account the preservation of wetlands and forest habitat balanced with access to motor vehicles. Where motor vehicles will not be permitted under the plan access will still be available to hiking, biking and equestrian endeavors. Under the plan people who enjoy passive recreation in the forest will not have to be run off roads by enthusiastic off-roaders, will be able to have areas that will be free of noise and dust, making their experience much more pleasurable. Wildlife will have homes that are less disturbed by noise and habitat destruction. Our State Forest were never intended to be motorsports arenas even though the activity has been going on for years. Recognizing this the M.A.P. is in development in order to return the forest to a more natural state, one that everyone can be proud of.
Please watch the video below. The activity you see here has been going on long before this video was produced by a large organized Jeep group, and has been going on ever since up to the present. There are many off-road clubs and groups that run through the forest like it is the WILD WEST! I recently encountered a couple of groups from Philadelphia using ATV’s (illegal in all NJ public lands) in a Wildlife Management Area (WMA), none of the vehicles were registered and when asked if they knew it was illegal to operate their ATV’s there they said “yes, so what!” Please turn down the sound on the video as it is rather painful to listen to. After watching please continue with the text below.
Opinion – some of the very people you observed in the above video are fighting tooth and nail not to have Wharton’s M.A.P. put into place. You can understand why…………they will lose their playground. All of the off-road groups, ATVs, dirt bikes and 4 x 4s have a lot of money invested in their equipment, some of which I am sure was purchased just because they could go to Wharton or our other public lands and test it against our precious Pinelands and get away with it. Once the MAP was introduced the social media world lit up with keyboard jockeys typing back and forth to each other into the night until they came up with reasons that they felt they could use to prevent the MAP from going into effect. Much of the information was fabricated in their own minds because they did not go to the source to find out what the MAP is really about.
Some of the current major complaints –
The MAP was done in secret without public input – the secret part is nonsense. Many groups and clubs along with other State agencies were informed that it was being worked on, including Jeep Jamboree. The Forest Fire Service worked hand and hand with Wharton personnel in developing the proposed MAP to insure public and fire fighter safety. When has it become necessary for the Superintendent of the Forest or the Forest Fire Service to consult the public about how to save the forest from abuse and fire prevention?
The MAP is closing too many roads – NOTHING is being CLOSED! Every trail or path proposed for closure is available to hiking, equestrian pursuits and biking. There will 225 miles of roads going through all the major parts of the Wharton Forest that motor vehicles will have access to. Some of the numbers quoted by those opposing the plan are erroneous and over stated. An interesting fact is that Yosemite National Park with its 761,266 acres and $70,000,000 (this is 70 million with an M, Wharton’s maintenance budget is roughly $40,000 a year, that is thousands with a T for TINY) budget has just 214 miles of motor vehicle access. Many of the so called “roads” are not roads to start with, they are fire push lines and old logging trails. For years the off-road groups called everything in the forest “trails” now they have renamed them all “roads” so their cause looks more impressive. Many of the areas discussed for closure to motor vehicles lead to nowhere or go to highly sensitive areas like wetlands, endangered species habitat, river access that has been abused and needs protection. There is only one case, that I am aware of, where the trail slated for closure is a mile long. There is no state or federal forest that I know of that does not have areas closed to motor vehicles to keep the areas more natural for enjoyment of the public and the wildlife. Hunters like those areas because the game is not spooked by noisy off-road vehicles and it limits access giving them a more enjoyable hunting experience. In such areas horseback riders do not have to be worried about horses being spooked by off-road vehicles traveling in their riding areas.
The MAP was developed so certain groups would control the forest – Nonsense! All organizations that work within the State Forest have to have permits and obey guidelines set by State Forest regulations. There are no exceptions.
Roads that are being repaired are being done improperly – Since when did everyone become an engineer? The roads are being repaired with local materials and the materials that are needed to do the job correctly. The Fire Service is in charge of doing the repairs and they are making the roads safe for use by the general public and for first responders and fire safety. So many roads have been damaged beyond normal use that it is going to take quite some time to get them open and in usable condition and, then, maintain them.
The people who are not responsible for the damage to the forest and its roads are being punished for the work of a few – I would first disagree that the damage is being done by the work of a FEW! But……..YouTube is absolutely covered with video after video of 4 x 4 jeep types, ATVs and dirt bikes raising holy hell in the Pinelands and Wharton State Forest in particular. That is not a FEW, that is called MANY. That being said how do we tell the bad guys from the good guys. If I put 1000 off-roaders of all types in a room and on a table we had 500 white hats and 500 black hats and asked everyone to pick the hat they should wear we would be short 500 white hats. We can’t tattoo them either. So with all the experience everyone claims to have in the woods they must have seen some illegal activity going on at one time or another. The best bet is to report it immediately. Get a license plate number, take some photos or video and call 1-877-927-6337 and report the incident and your location (necessary as Wharton is a large area). Even if they cannot get there in time to stop the problem there is a record of that call and the location can be monitored in the future. Another alternative is to gather the information and file a complaint against the person doing the damage in the township in which it is occurring. It is not an easy process but it can be, and has been, done, if you are concerned enough you will make the effort to do so yourself.
They are cutting down trees to block off areas – Yes, a small amount of trees have been cut to block areas, it is standard forestry practice for areas where there is no other choice. Also, there has been some suggestions that the volunteer group that helps Wharton State Forest cut trees down. Not true! I started the early initiative for volunteers and was present for every volunteer day but one (when trails were remarked for hiking) and no volunteer cut down a tree nor even touched a chain saw.
What to do? There several areas that just about everyone can agree on.
- The forest has been abused and is in need of serious repair.
- Not everyone using the forest is creating the problems.
- There are currently all the laws needed to prosecute abusers.
- The forest is not adequately patrolled by the NJ Park Police.
Hopefully the volunteer group will be able to address #1 where possible. So others are invited to apply to be part of the volunteer group. # 2 and #3 watch for and report problems as outlined above. #4 present your proposal to the New Jersey Park Police on how they can more adequately protect our forest.
Once the M.A.P. becomes part of the landscape in Wharton I hope similar plans will be put in place with all of our public lands.
Someone once said if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Or as I would say – :show me your plan!” (about the same as “show me the money”).
If you are not willing to sacrifice a little of your privileged use of our State Forest then you are SELFISH.