Open Trails NJ’s Positions on Access, Maps and Permits

Open Trails NJ’s purpose is to help solve the problems facing our forests while maintaining access for responsible recreation. It is for this reason that we are taking a keen interest in the upcoming DEP plans to engage the stakeholders of Wharton State Forest and potentially limit responsible motorized recreation and create a permitting system, restricting access. The following are our key positions on these topics:

  • Stakeholder Engagement – We are pleased that the DEP intends to engage with the stakeholders on their plans and hope they will truly take our input into account.  Their lack of engagement with the community was one of the fatal flaws with a previous iteration of this plan, the Motorized Access Plan. An in-person meeting with public comment must be part of the process
  • No New Permits – OTNJ is against the idea of motor vehicle permits for entering and using established roadways in our state parks and forests. Our position is that the costs and impacts far outweigh any potential benefits and that the system fundamentally changes the access model from one of “permitted unless forbidden” to “forbidden unless permitted” and is an encroachment of our access to state owned land.  Today, infractions are judged in a court of law. Under this new permit system, who can take a permit away? Will it have the due process of the law? Will an unelected, unaccountable, bureaucrat be able to revoke your access?
  • Responsible Access to Roads – The roads in Wharton State forest have been important to the citizens of NJ dating back to the Revolution. Wharton is a 120,000 acres and any sort of recreation in the interior of Wharton requires road access. This access is especially important for those with children, the elderly, and the handicapped. We have experienced the beauty of Wharton State forest and we want our children and  grandchildren to be able to have the same experiences we have had.
  • No New Maps are Required- The 1997 USGS Topographical maps are widely recognized as the most comprehensive baseline of roads that exists for Wharton State Forest and OTNJ is against the DEP establishing an additional map.  It is not clear how the stakeholders would be engaged in the creation and maintenance of a new map going forward.  Some groups will undoubtedly view this as an opening to assail current, legal, responsible access, setting up the potential for a continued and protracted battle for access, which will further consume resources that the DEP does not have. More detail can be found on USGS Topo maps here.
  • Volunteer Opportunities – OTNJ believes there is a great untapped capacity for volunteer resource protection projects that the DEP has not fully taken advantage of. These projects could include blocking off sensitive areas of the forest but don’t impact the roads that provide access to these locations.  The DEP needs to take advantage of these eager volunteers to help achieve their goals rather than considering any draconian measures which impinge on responsible motorized access.
  • Transparency – All results from the survey and stakeholder activity should be made public so the community can feel confident that the process is being handled fairly and transparently.
  • Funding for State Park Police – No new laws are needed, no permits are needed, no maps are needed. The State needs to give our Park Police the resources they need to enforce the laws that already exist.

We think these positions are reasonable and in line with the beliefs of NJ citizens who make responsible use of our beautiful parks and forests.