Off-Road Vehicles and Wharton Access Plan
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has estimated that hundreds of thousands of acres of state park, forest and wilderness areas have been damaged by illegal or irresponsible off-road vehicle use, costing taxpayers almost a million dollars annually in damages without the ability to assign that loss to reponsible parties.
On August 4, 2015 the New Jersey Park Service issued a press release about the launch of a Motorized Access Plan (MAP) for Wharton State Forest, located in the heart of the Pinelands National Reserve.
The Pinelands Preservation Alliance fully supports this action by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Over the years more and more roads are unintentionally being created due to illegal off-roading through the state forest. The Motorized Access Plan delineates the 225 miles of sand and unimproved roads intended for motor vehicle use while leaving other access areas for emergency vehicles, wildlife, and low-impact recreation. The MAP achieves balance and provides for the first time a guide to users of the state forest.
Download: NJ Park Service Motorized Access Plan Press Release
Download: DRAFT Motorized Access Plan Map PDF
Download: Wharton State Forest Frequently Asked Questions NJ-DEP
See a map of the damage occuring in Wharton State Forest and throughout the Pinelands below.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff spent four years mapping all the roads, trails and unofficial access points in Wharton State Forest in order to get a handle on the incredible amount of off-road vehicle damage occurring there. Now the DEP has backed away from this plan and appears to be prioritizing motorized use of Wharton over the protection of fragile habitat and passive users of Wharton State Forest.
Please Take Action link and send an email to the Commissioner of the DEP, Bob Martin. Let him know the residents of NJ won't allow their publicaly protected land to be destroyed.
Take Action to Protect Wharton State Forest today!
We’d like to explain why the Pinelands Preservation Alliance supports the Motorized Access Plan (MAP), with the understanding that there is plenty of room for honest disagreement about whether this policy is the best or even a good response to the problems Wharton faces. For years, PPA has called for a set of actions to address what we see as a real crisis in the State Forest: the destruction being caused by illegal and irresponsible “mudding” and ATV use and dumping. The MAP actually reiterates rules that have been in place for many years, but haven’t been enforced. It leaves all public rights of way open for motorized vehicles, with the exception of a few that are currently too dangerous but will be opened when (and if) repaired. The roads the MAP closes to trucks, cars and motorcycles are all unofficial roads have been created by a variety of people over a long range of time. The MAP will make it possible for the State to protect the forest from illegal activities and to repair the public roads within Wharton State Forest.
Some key facts about the MAP that guide our decision are these:
- More than 220 miles of sand roads are open to the public for driving. All of Wharton State Forest is within one mile or less of these public sand roads or paved public roads. Check the maps: it’s true.
- The liveries, including Pinelands Adventures and Micks and Bel Haven, as well as all other groups like PPA, are subject to the MAP just like the general public. There are no special deals for or against the groups supporting or opposing the MAP. PPA doesn’t get to charge people so they can go places in the woods. Like the other liveries, Adventures charges people for the livery service and boat rentals, not for access, because access is free to everyone (except the liveries, which pay the state for permits to the same places that are free to the public).
- The Forest Fire Service strongly supports the MAP because it will keep the fire fighting roads it needs open and safe, whereas today many of those roads have become impassable and dangerous due to “mudding” by trucks and jeeps.
- The only special accommodation in the MAP is for those with physical disabilities who cannot walk to their special places. The DEP states it will provide special permits to those with disabilities.
The MAP will only work if it is enforced by the State Park Police. Some people are justly worried that the people doing harm will ignore the rules and continue to use the informal sand roads, while law-abiding citizens will be the only ones excluded from driving on roads they have used for many years. The Department of Environmental Protection states that the Park Police will step up its game and make the MAP work. We will be watching to hold the State to that commitment.
Press of Atlantic City reporter visits Wharton State Forest - Sept. 10, 2015
Off Road Vehicles (ORV)
[+ ZOOM] ORV damage at Black Run Preserve in Evesham Township © PPA
The term ORV is all-encompassing of all-terrain vehicles, motorized sportbikes, motorcycles, minibikes, motor scooters, go-carts, swamp buggies, mopeds, snowmobiles and any other motor-driven vehicle which is not authorized to be licensed by the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles for use upon the public highways.
As the popularity of ORV recreation continues to increase and the conflicts between enforcement officials and riders are occurring more frequently, the public needs to be aware of what options are available to prevent ORV use on public and private land. The public and illegal ORV riders also need to understand the destruction that occurs on private property, including farmland, and in some of the rarest and most beautiful wildlife communities in New Jersey.
See below for more information about the damage caused by each of these ORVs and the work being done by PPA to limit the damage:
(Map created by South Jersey Land and Water Trust and Pinelands Preservation Alliance)
Street Legal Vehicles
Dirt-bike clubs, also known as Enduro Clubs, enjoy a long tradition of holding organized races in our Pine Barrens forests. They are required to obtain permits for this. But even permitted events come with problems such as illegal trail creation, damage to natural resources, and repeated riding after permitted events are finished on hundreds of miles of new trails every year. These events also require significant oversight by state park employees.
To deal with the costly management of recreation permits, the State Park Service has introduced a method for managing organized motorized recreation in New Jersey State Forests, by instituting a new policy for limiting activities to certain routes comprised of plowed firebreaks, unimproved sand roads, and improved roads. Clubs interested in hosting events within Wharton State Forest are permitted to use any subset of these pre-approved routes. This has significantly reduced the staff time involved in reviewing these events, streamlined the permit process for applicants and balances recreational use and critical natural resource protection.
The State Park Service plans to apply this model to the other state forests throughout New Jersey.
Now, the State needs to hear from the public. Tell DEP that you support this plan to manage motorized recreation in the state forest because it protects natural resources and helps to minimize the staff time it takes to oversee these events.
This approach is a significant improvement over the last 30 years of costly, ineffective management. Wharton State Forest Superintendent, Robert Auermuller, is to be applauded and supported for this extensive effort.
If you have additional time, contact your state assemblyperson and senator to share your support for the State Park Service plan. You can find your legislator email and phone number by visiting http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp .
See latest updates about the siting of a new ORV park in Woodbine, NJ.
Dry, upland areas that are habitat for pine snakes and pickering's morning glory are being continually disrupted. Trails have been transformed into dirt bike racing trails. On many farm fields, ORVs are cutting up fields, causing farmers to lose equipment, crops and. of course, money.
At the federal level, congressional hearings were held to discuss the damaging effects of off-road vehicle use on public lands and what action needs to be taken to deter the illegal use and destruction of private and public property. You can read the transcripts from the hearings here:
ORV parks are not the answer to illegal ORV riding. Legislation that requires registration and tagging and increased enforcement is necessary to deter illegal riding and protect private properties and conservation lands from trespassing and destruction. According to a study done in Pennsylvania, illegal riding continues to occur even with hundreds of acres and trails devoted to off-road vehicle riding.
Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora were the key sponsors of bills S2055 and A823, respectively, which passed the legislature in 2009. Additional sponsors on these bills included Senator Turner and Stack and Assemblymen Wisniewski, Moriarty, McKeon, Greenstein, Rodriguez, and Ramos.
[+ ZOOM] ATV on Private Property in Ocean County © PPA
Bills A823 and S2055 will establish mandatory registration and tagging of off-road vehicles in order to help conservation officers, law officers, and residents hold illegal riders responsible for their damaging activities. The legislation increases fines for illegal riders, creates stricter penalties for repeat offenders, and helps to establish a fund that can be used for the creation of additional ORV parks and maintaining these parks to support those legal, responsible riders.
The provisions of the bills do not take effect until one off-road vehicle park has been "designated". The bill's provisions will take effect three months after this designation, and then two additional parks must be sited within three years. Ideally, these parks should be located in the northern, central and southern parts of New Jersey. The bills also call for siting of these parks on lands owned by the State and not land within existing state parks, forests or conservation lands.
To read the full story about the legislation, visit our newsletter article:
Inside the Pinelands - March 2010
What's at Stake and What You Can Do:
The DEP has purchased a site located in Woodbine in November 2011. You can view the site and read more about the location here. It is now officially designated and open for use.
It is important that DEP Commissioner Martin hears from the public about the urgent need to implement the provisions of the law which includes registering and creating an identification for all vehicles. Please take the time to call DEP and ask them to work diligently on completing the tagging and registering requirements within the 3 month time frame mandated under the law- (609) 292-2885.
If there are concerns in your community, NJDEP has provided a model off-road vehicle sound ordinance, and PPA has a model ordinance for increasing enforcement.
A monster truck is typically a pick -up truck that is modified with big wheels and suspension. Normally, these vehicles are used in competition events and entertainment, but individuals will also modify their trucks specifically for personal recreation. Driving these trucks through wet areas or tough terrain is called mud boggin, muddin', tractor pulls, etc. The muddin and mud boggin is extremely damaging to the environment, and in the Pinelands, it can damage sensitive ecosystems.
Videos found on you tube under the keywords "muddin in the Pines" are especially eye opening to the damage.
This type of activity is not allowed on state lands in New Jersey and enforcement and closing certain roads are the only ways to stop this illegal activity.
Street Legal Vehicles
ALERT - CLASS I VEHICLES CAUSING DAMAGE IN WHARTON STATE FOREST AND ON OTHER STATE LAND:
NJN News highlighted the damages caused by illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) use in Wharton State Forest in a segment broadcast on August 18, 2010. The damages that continue to scar the Pinelands are a result of the illegal operation of ATVs, dirt bikes and Class I vehicles such as street legal jeeps and trucks. PPA released a comprehensive plan (see below) for addressing Class I vehicle traffic on state lands.
It is important that DEP issue a policy directive to address this class of vehicles and the State agencies and the Pinelands Commission implement the measures as outlined in our plan to curtail the damage.
Check out the Aug. 18, 2010 segment on NJN-TV News, featuring PPA's Russell Juelg:
Off-Roaders Destroy Pine Barrens Habitat
NJN Interviews PPA's Russell Juelg about destruction of Pine Barrens habitat by off-road vehicles.
Please feel free to contact PPA with any questions or additional information on off-road vehicle use.