Category Archives: Information

Open Trails NJ Participates in DEP Protection Project

Open Trails NJ staff participated with other groups in a small volunteer activity to protect four sensitive intermittent ponds in Wharton State Forest. This activity furthers the protection of sensitive areas without requiring mass road closures. We are thankful to the DEP for continuing to forge relationships with the stakeholder groups in their mission to protect the forest and look forward to participating in future protection projects!

Read the DEP Press Release for details.

 

 

Wharton State Forest Hunter Vehicle Access Program

The DEP has announced that they will be allowing vehicle access to two of the Enivronmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) during hunting season this year. A pass can be picked up at Atsion or Batsto offices. The passes are valid from 9/24/16 – 01/01/17. The specific ESAs that will be accessible have not been identified, but we will seek clarification on which will accessible and update you.

Full detail provided by the DEP is as follows:

2016 WHARTON STATE FOREST HUNTER VEHICLE ACCESS PROGRAM

In 2016, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) designated areas on Wharton State Forest to be environmentally sensitive areas (ESA’s) for plants or wildlife. As a result, the State Park Service installed signage to advise motorists accordingly as to the locations of these ESAs and State Park Police have vigorously enforced off-road offenders.

The DEP is providing limited, off season vehicle access to licensed hunters into two specific areas. No cost vehicle access passes shall be issued as part of in-person registration at Wharton State Forest’s Atsion or Batsto park offices during normal business hours. One pass shall be issued to each hunter holding a valid automobile driver’s license. The pass must be carried in the vehicle while driven within the two specific ESA’s and left in plain view in the windshield whenever parked with the hunter afield. Additionally, the vehicle access passes are non-transferable.

State Park Police may issue summonses to any driver operating within the two specific EASs who fails to possess the hunter vehicle access pass. Additionally, motorists may NOT operate vehicles off the roadway. No entering fields, bogs, swamps or adjacent woodlands.

Passes will be available at 9:00 A.M. on Saturday, September 24, 2016, and will expire on January 31, 2017 coinciding with the duration of the Winter Bow Season. The program will be evaluated throughout the fall and early winter for next year. Hunters must abide by established seasons and regulations while afield.

Questions regarding the program should be directed to the Wharton State Forest Superintendent at 609.561.0074

Update on Road Closures in Wharton State Forest

John Druding of Open Trails had a conference call with the Director of Parks and Forestry, Mr. Mark Texel, regarding the DEP’s plans for Wharton State Forest.  Mr. Texel shared that the DEP has identified several “Environmentally Sensitive Areas” or ESAs, in which motorized vehicles are not allowed. The ESAs are mostly bogs, but do include a very small number of roads, specifically, East Stokes Rd and Hampton Gate/High Crossing Rd.  All the ESAs have been posted and Mr. Texel has confirmed that there are no additional closures planned.  That being said, that doesn’t mean that there will never be another closure, however, Mr. Texel confirmed that any new closures will involve the stakeholders.
The primary purpose of the posting of ESAs is to facilitate enforcement by allowing charges to be able to be upheld in court, a previous serious impediment to enforcement.
Regarding the closure of Stokes and Hampton Gate/High Crossing, the DEP is aware that these are major roads with a long history, however, they are currently in disrepair.   As a result of their status as historical through ways,  they will be considered for repair in the 2016 maintenance budget.
Overall, the impact to motorized access is extremely small, only a fraction of what would have been lost with the original MAP plan. Open Trails supports the plan that the DEP has laid out as it is good compromise between access and protection of the forest’s resources.   

DEP Releases New Plan for Wharton State Forest

The DEP released their new plan at the stakeholder meeting last night, which OTNJ and other stakeholder groups were a part of.

The plan consists of stepping up enforcement and protecting environmentally sensitive areas. Technology and equipment, including cameras, helicopters, drones and new vehicles will be brought to bear to enforce rules that already exist and are in place.

The plan does not include mass, indiscriminate, closures of roads. Entrances to the forest will be marked with signs that warn that the area is patrolled and the laws will be enforced. Violators will face stiff fines including possible impoundment of vehicles. The signs posted will help charges to be able to be upheld in court, a previous serious impediment to enforcement. Focus on maintenance will be increased, however, it is acknowledged that there is a shortfall between what is wanted and the funding available.

This plan was forged with input from thousands of stakeholders including environmental groups, hunters, hikers, kayakers, horseback riders and 4×4 enthusiasts. In any compromise, not everyone will be 100% happy, but this is a plan that no reasonable person could disagree with.

We aplaud the DEP for their efforts and we are hopeful that all groups, including those that originally supported the MAP, can now unify support for this reasonable and effective approach.

We will continue to provide updates as we get them.

Update on Pinelands Commission Meeting

The meeting went extremely well. Thanks to all who came out to support and especially those who spoke. Everyone made thoughtful, intelligent, and reasonable comments and it was clear the Commission was listening to us. The MAP opposition significantly, and visibly, outnumbered the MAP supporters. There was no action taken today and the Commission committed to reviewing the comments from today as well all the feedback that came in leading up to the meeting and decide what, if anything, they may recommend. OTNJ will continue to monitor this situation and alert you if any action is required.

News Before the Holidays

We just wanted to check in and give you all an update before we get into the holiday hustle and bustle. We have a few exciting things going on. First, we have been incorporated! That is getting us one step closer to being able to offer OTNJ memberships and starting to plan other activities. We have finalized our committee structure and will shortly be asking for volunteers interested in helping us out. Also, we have an upcoming meeting with the DEP next week to talk about how OTNJ can help in Wharton State Forest. Finally, on a lighter note, we spotted this supporter out “in the wild” today and it brought a smile to our faces. Thank you anonymous supporter! More to come, stay tuned!IMG_1765

Open Trails Ideas for Wharton State Forest

As posted about recently, Open Trails participated in the Stakeholder forums for the redevelopment of the M.A.P. plan.  Leading up to this forum, we consulted with members of many different groups and developed an approach that we think all users of the forest can support, which does not involve mass closures. You can review the ideas we developed and submitted to the DEP below.

Path Forward – Stakeholder Meetings

Update on MAP Plan and Stakeholder Forum

The Stakeholder forum meeting went very well. There were lots of great ideas shared and great interaction with the DEP. Also, in a show of goodwill and commitment to his word, Commissioner Martin has ordered that ALL the newly posted no motor vehicles be removed by the end of the day.

HOWEVER, it is more important than ever that we show up on Nov. 5 to show our support for the DEP’s change in position on the MAP.  We have not won and the forces on the other side will stop at nothing to reverse this recent victory. The good news is that we have achieved a very important goal, but it will be taken away from us just as quickly if we let the loud minority drown out our voices on November 5th.

If you support this cause we NEED you to attend the November 5th public meeting. This cannot be stressed enough.  The meeting will be held on 11/5 at 6:30 PM at Hammonton High School. Please register by calling 609-704-1964 or email whartonmapcomments@dep.nj.gov before 10/28 to be able to attend.

Open Trails NJ to Participate in Stakeholder Forum, 10/22

Open Trails NJ will be participating in the Wharton State Forest Stakeholder Forum on 10/22.  We will be advocating continued responsible use of Wharton State Forest for all outdoor enthusiasts.  Some of of the key points we will be promoting are:

  • All USGS defined roads should remain open unless they meet objective, agreed upon, criteria to be closed
  • Enforcement of existing laws is paramount to solving problems in the forest
  • Need for community engagement-  education, transparency, clean up, volunteer labor/material