To: Bob Martin, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, Mark Texel, Director of the State Park Servuce, The New Jersey State House, and The New Jersey State Senate
Restore Fair Access to Wharton State Forest
The sand roads in Wharton State Forest have been open to motorized traffic even before the state purchased the tract from the Joseph Wharton estate. While there are serious concerns about the damage that illegal off-road vehicle traffic causes, the blanket closing of over 50% of the roads in the forest is not the answer. This action will only serve to keep law-abiding people out while doing nothing to curb the abuse from the minority who drive destructively. By and large the effect will be felt by citizens who do not even drive vehicles capable of creating the kind of damage that this policy attempts to address.
Closing these roads - most of which have no damage from irresponsible drivers - will forever change the character of the forest as a place to get away into nature, explore, hunt, launch a canoe, photograph, etc. This will make the forest less attractive for use as only a limited amount of "main" roads remain open, providing very little in the way of interest.
Additionally, this action was taken without any announcement or period of public comment. The only way that people found out of the closures was when they came across freshly posted signs in the woods. A decision like this that would affect tens of thousands of users of Wharton State Forest should be a lot more transparent.
Only roads that have significant damage from irresponsible off-road vehicles should be closed off and repaired or allowed to revert back to nature. Additionally, Park Police need to step up enforcement of the existing areas that are off-limits to motorized vehicles. Less closed roads would mean that the number of places that would have to be patrolled would be fewer and easier to manage.
The people who are enthusiastic users of Wharton State Forest and other State Forests demand that this wrong headed policy be reversed.
Why is this important?
Wharton State Forest is the "jewel" of the Pine Barrens and offers a large variety of recreational outlets. Most of those outlets will now be cut off - historic sites important to the early colonial period of New Jersey will be cut off, hunters will no longer be able to reach the majority of the woods, canoeists and kayakers will no longer be able to reach their favorite spots to launch into the Pinelands rivers, and an area that had an enormous impact in developing the culture of South Jersey will be off-limits to everybody to just name a few.