“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment”, strong words from famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams! Although spoken many decades ago it is a daily fact in our world, here in New Jersey it ubiquitous. Our environment is assaulted daily by either unneeded pipeline proposals, refusal to allow alternative sources of energy to get a foot hold, water quality degradation, or some assault on the Pinelands National Reserve, a.k.a. The Pine Barrens, to name a few. For purposes of this blog I will stick with the Pine Barrens as my area to defend.
When you track the evolution the creation of the Pinelands National Reserve you would think that our government would be standing on its head to see that it is maintained and preserved for the original purpose intended by the National Parks and Recreation of 1978, the Pinelands Protection Act of 1980, the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan of 1981 and the honor of being named a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1988. Lots of time, money and effort went into preserving our Pinelands now there is no time, money, or much of an effort to continue its preservation.
For me specifically it is the wanton destruction taking place in Wharton State Forest and the massive amounts of destruction being caused by the off-roading community throughout the Pinelands. Personally, I liken it to the Wild West.
4 x 4 Jeep types, dirt bikes and ATVs (ATVs are illegal in all NJ public lands) come and go as they please as if the Pine Barrens is a motorsport arena. We could rename it The Pine Barrens Raceway and it this point it may be appropriate. A culture has developed over decades that our Pine Barrens is just that, barren, and you can run over it with any off-roading machine that you can afford. The off-road community feels that “they” own the Pine Barrens and therefore they can do what they desire there. Even with established laws governing our parks and forest these laws are not well enforced, almost completely ignored by the off-roading public. I am not referring here to the everyday person who owns a Jeep or 4×4 vehicle or dirt bike that loves traveling in the Pinelands to see what is there, enjoying the quiet, the flora and fauna, hunts or fishes, hikes it trails and just loves being in nature. These are the people who park where they should, travel the many sand roads that are usable, obey the 20 MPH speed limit, and leave nothing behind to spoil the visit of the next person. No, the people I am talking about are the ones who operate ATVs in every conceivable corner of the forest because they have a machine that can get them there, operate dirt bikes at high rates of speed, cut unauthorized single tracks into the woods, run up and down fire breaks, create a lot of noise, blow up dust and more or less make the other users of the forest get out of their way, Jeep types that climb every hill that is over 18” high, cut donuts over and over again into paleo dunes, destroy the faces of the ice age gravel hills, run through vernal pools and other wetlands because that is where the mud is, leave behind mounds of beer cans because they can’t get caught with an open container of liquor in NJ, run through the Pine Barrens in large groups (clubs) day and night over the already fragile sand roads, crash through puddles in the roads over and over again until they become mud wallows that have made many roads unusable by anyone but their own kind. Those are the people of New Jersey should all get angry about.
What I have described above does go on every day, especially on weekends, in your Pine Barrens. There are people who travel from New York to Virginia to have the above described fun in our Pine Barrens. Just go to YouTube.com and type in NJ Pine Barrens, NJ wheeling, NJ mudding, or just Pine Barrens and you will get to see hundreds of videos shot by the very people you see in them showing their bravado and the ability of their machines. Just Google “Pine Barrens off roading” and you will see hundreds of still images depicting the culture to which I am referring. There have been ads by Toyota suggesting if you live in NYC you take your Tacoma to the New Jersey Pine Barrens as there is over 500 miles of trails to ride. Companies have run ads showing the use of their after-market off-road equipment performing in the Pine Barrens. Companies exist that teach people how to ride our sand roads on dirt bikes for a fee of $500+ dollars, and others how to use your Jeep in our wetlands. Here is part of an ad for the Pine Barrens Jamboree from Jeep Jamboree, a California based company that annually hold a rally in the Pines, they charge participates $500 per family to ride through miles and miles of our Pinelands: ……..”Water flows from the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer – one of the largest on the continent. There is usually an abundance of water, so expect to get your feet wet and your Jeep® 4×4 muddy in the many mud holes and water crossings.” Google “images for jeep jamboree Pine Barrens” and you will get a flavor of what they offer. Dirt bike groups hold enduros, multi-mile one and two day motorcycle races, with hundreds of participants who are charged a fee to participate. Jeep and 4 x 4 clubs hold what they call “runs” through the Pines and many times with 20 to 40 jeeps participating, the activity is unregulated.
Now you can see where the culture comes from and why people travel many miles to “ride” in our Pinelands. What is worse is that has all been sanctioned by the NJ DEP and the Pinelands Commission. They have been doing this for decades. These authorities have to approve the route(s) of each event, assuming they apply for a permit, and charge the groups and fee of $5.00 per mile of the planned route. So, if the route is 100 miles their fee is $500. These groups do not have to post a bond to cover any damage that they may do during their event. I, personally, have never heard of any group repairing the damage they cause, and they do cause damage. Just think of 70 Jeeps or 200 motorcycles roaring over the trails and sand roads hour after hour and over a course of two days. Their machines are made to challenge land, and that is what they do during their contest. These events go by names like Jeep Jamboree, Curly Fern Enduro , Ride in the Pines, there is a Pine Barrens 500 and a 300, and quite a few others. Some of these events have a long history but that does not make them anymore correct environmentally. Authorities have made an error for decades approving such contest. These events are held only in the Pine Barrens, they are not held in Round Valley Reservoir, Spruce Reservoir or Stokes State Forest. In states that adjoin NJ these events are not permitted on public lands and are only held on private property. The worst of it is not the event itself it is the aftermath of the event. Without permission or permit or financial commitment people who participate in these events return week after week, month after month, and year after year. They come back with friends and relatives, they come from neighboring states, the come to make the “run” again. No one stops them. These USERS become ABUSERS!
In a recent time frame Lacey Township in Ocean County developed a task force to corral ATV and off-road vehicle operators because of the abuses that have been reported by property owners, many of them coming from out of state and N. Jersey. At one arrest it was reported that a police officer was run into by a suspect trying to avoid arrest. Winslow Twp. recently had a task force in conjunction with Wildlife Management Area enforcement. Over one weekend of trying to control off-roading in the township there were multiple arrest for trespassing, alcohol consumption, in park after hours, illegal swimming, people with warrants for their arrest were located and motor vehicle violations.http://www.nj.com/camden/index.ssf/2016/08/undercover_cops_target_illegal_off-road_riding_swi.html New Jersey Conservation Foundation held a tree planting volunteer day along the Forked River to refurbish the stream banks that have been destroyed by off-roading. Within days hundreds newly planted cedar trees were ripped out of the ground and burned in a pile, all protest from off-roaders for shutting down their area. A volunteer group did a watch program over the Labor Day weekend to observe known off-roading areas. In a four or five hour period they observed and recorded and/or videoed 12 off-roading violations in only four locations. Some offensives were committed by youthful unlicensed drivers with unlicensed vehicles. Many of these violations were reported to the Park Police while the actual violations were taking place, but none of the calls were responded to. It was a holiday and the Park Police still don’t have enough manpower and they seem to lack all the equipment they should have, I will give them that, but to my knowledge there was no follow up or call back. And, recently there was a report of a Forest Fire Warden having his truck hit head-on by a dirt bike operator traveling at high speeds on a sand road. The rider got up and fled the scene. The list goes on and on and this Wild West behavior continues.
Last year the DEP developed what was known as the M.A.P. (motorized access plan) for Wharton State Forest in hopes of using that plan as an outline for future motor vehicle access in other State Forest. The off-roading folks screamed and yelled very loudly about losing their access. After some political maneuvering the group succeeded in having the DEP back off the plan. The DEP’s answer to the problem was to beef up enforcement, and everyone agreed enforcement was sorely needed. Its not working. There are many sites of off-road destruction that have been monitored on a weekly basis and the information indicating that even though enforcement is being stepped up these areas continue to be abused. The weekly information was fed to the DEP and the Park Police but no action has been taken in the monitored areas.
The best hope for controlling access to the Pinelands now lays with the Pinelands Commission http://www.state.nj.us/pinelands/index.shtml . They have the authority to designate areas of closure for many reasons, one of them is motor vehicle abuse. They need to come up with a plan, map, blueprint – call it what you will – to delineate where motor vehicle use is permitted and, more importantly, where is not. The wildlife management areas which fall under the jurisdiction of the Div. of Fish and Game have announced that they will no longer permit off-road vehicles events on their lands. The best way to begin curtailing the culture issue is to STOP issuing permits for off-roading events in the Pine Barrens, period. These events cost the public millions in the long run with no monetary return what-so-ever. More importantly, not one of these events has any ecological benefit for the Pinelands. Off-roading events do in fact scare off the general public because the roads in the Pine Barrens have become unusable, denying many many people access. It is intimidating to have to give way to dirt bikes, Jeeps and ATV s who are speeding and/or creating lots of dust, noise. It is unfair that one user group commands such control over the most wonderful environmental asset we have in this state. What about the wildlife, I am sure they aren’t real happy to have their home invaded by these land destruction machines.
As a parting thought – We have all seen beautiful photographs and paintings, read poems and heard songs about our Pinelands but never have I seen or heard any that include a muddy Jeep, ATV or dirt bike in artful depictions of the Pine Barrens!