Native Americans exploited the Pine Barrens for game and berries. The remains of their settlements are common, though generally unobserved, in and around the Pine Barrens. Europeans began to arrive in numbers during the early 18th C. and quickly transformed the region, both socially and ecologically. They cleared farms around the Pine Barrens, but found the sandy soils of the barrens itself unwelcoming for farm crops – hence the name “Pine Barrens.” Rather than farm, European settlers exploited the Pine Barrens for its natural resources of timber, bog iron and sand. But as virgin forests and richer sources of ore opened up to the west, our society largely abandoned the Pine Barrens, allowing the forest to recover and reclaim many of the villages scattered throughout the region for nature. Only today’s sand and gravel mining operations harken back to the early, pervasive industrial exploitation of the Pine Barrens.
Today over 400,000 people live inside the Pinelands boundary. More than 20 million people live within 60 miles of the Pinelands.
The 20th C. brought changes both benign and destructive. Starting in the late 19th C., cranberry and blueberry farmers learned to grow these native crops on a large scale, and they continue to prosper today. Most drastic, however, has been the simple influx of people who live in and around the Pine Barrens but do not make their living off the land. Today over 400,000 people live inside the Pinelands boundary. More than 20 million people live within 60 miles of the Pinelands. Residential subdivisions, shopping malls, offices and roads have eliminated and fragmented much of the original Pine Barrens ecosystem. The region’s natural, cultural and historic resources have taken a beating across much of the Pine Barrens. And unlike colonial villages and industries, today’s development will never give way to nature again.
Citizens and their political leaders stepped in during the late 1970s to try to save the Pine Barrens before it was lost forever. Through a tremendous effort, the national and state governments were persuaded to institute the country’s most ambitious and most creative natural preservation effort. Rather than create a national park expropriating all the thousands of residents already living in the Pinelands, they decided to create a growth management plan that would use regulations and incentives to concentrate development in specified growth areas around the Pinelands’ edges, while severely restricting development options in the large intact forests of the Pine Barrens’ interior.