New map aims to stop ATV damage in Wharton State Forest
New limits on where vehicles can travel in New Jersey’s largest state forest have been approved by the Pinelands Commission and may soon take effect, unless vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.
For years, the Pinelands Commission has heard from hikers, hunters and others about damage being done by off-road vehicles in Wharton State Forest. After almost two years of study, it has voted to adopt a map designating the sand and dirt roads where vehicles can drive – and barring them elsewhere.
Port Republic resident Rosemarie Mason, who through the Outdoor Club of South Jersey maintains the forest’s Batona Trail, said all-terrain vehicles are leaving ruts on the trails, destroying bogs and altering ponds.
“We see so much destruction out there. It breaks my heart,” Mason said.
“I like to get my truck in the woods as much as I can. I love being in the woods,” said Diane Mason of Absecon, Rosemarie’s sister and also part of the Outdoor Club. “It’s really disheartening to come across dug-up mudholes that are deeper than I am tall.”
The map, the first of the forest, derives from four U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps made between 1972 and 1997. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said that limits the map’s usefulness.
“The map may be useful as a guide, but it is based on maps that are many years, even decades, old and should not be relied upon as a definitive map of all the roads and trails within the state forest,” Hajna said.
No printed editions of the map yet exist. Here's a copy from the Pinelands Commission meeting documents.
Wharton State Forest covers around 123,000 acres in the most ecologically sensitive area of the Pinelands National Reserve. Only street-legal cars are supposed to be driven in Wharton, but all-terrain vehicles are regularly operated there.
Oaklyn resident Paula Yudkowitz of Oaklyn said the DEP now must go one step further and step up enforcement.
“Enforcement isn’t happening,” Yukkowitz said. “Many documented incidents – we’ve called, we reported, we have license plates, we have latitude, we have longitude, etc., etc., etc. And nothing is being done. And this is going to be a hollow victory if we don’t then enforce it.”
Hajna said the DEP is enforcing vehicle limits already and that the state Parks Police created a special unit to increase staffing and patrols at Wharton. Statistics show the Parks Police issue more than 400 summonses a year for off-road driving in the forest.
Pinelands Commission member Ed Lloyd says the compromise was “a long, long, long haul” to reach, pitting off-road vehicle operators and groups who wanted to bar vehicles from the forest entirely. He said roads can be added to or taken off the authorized list – and that the approach can be a model for protecting other state lands.
“It’s not just about Wharton. It’s about other state forests as well,” Lloyd said.
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