Wharton State Forest is prized by millions of people for its vast wilderness areas, protected rare species habitat, historic sites, and its recreational opportunities, including paddling, hiking, and horseback riding across 125,000 acres. Wharton is the largest state park in New Jersey and the keystone of the Pinelands National Reserve.
Wharton State Forest has seen increasing rates of issues like illegal dumping, vehicle break-ins, illegal off-road vehicle use, and vandalism. The public has been pressing the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to find a solution for many years.
In 2022 the DEP announced a process to improve the visitor experience in Wharton State Forest that would also protect culturally and ecologically sensitive areas. They gathered public input through stakeholder meetings and conducted a web-based survey that leveraged mapping tools. Over 1,600 people submitted feedback through this process. Survey results were then compared to the known location of wetlands, threatened and endangered plant and animal species of conservation concern, historic/cultural resources, and other critical conservation information. All of these factors were considered to create a visitor use plan and map for Wharton that balances conservation needs while optimizing recreational opportunities.
In February 2023 the DEP shared survey results with the public and have prepared a Wharton State Forest Visiting Vehicle Use Map. The map will be released on January 24th and will clearly delineate safe, legal routes through Wharton State Forest, on which a licensed driver can drive their street-legal, registered, and insured vehicle. Preexisting motor vehicle regulations will remain unchanged with ATVs, side-by-sides, non-street-legal enduros, and other illegal off-road vehicles restricted from all areas of the forest.
The DEP will accept public comment on the draft Visitor Use Map from January 24 – March 9, 2024. Public comments can be submitted online. DEP anticipates releasing the final map sometime in 2024. A link to submit your comments, see the proposed map, and review the process followed by the DEP can be found here:
There is a very complete FAQ section at the bottom of their webpage which we recommend you review.
Public Comment due by March 9th
Submit your comments to the DEP by March 9th. It is critical that the DEP hears from you and why you support a map that creates opportunities for visitors to use, experience, and enjoy Wharton State Forest while protecting the area’s natural beauty and historic sites.
Email your Legislator
Your Assemblyperson and Senator need to know that you support the proposed Visitor Use Map for Wharton State Forest. Please use the link below to email your New Jersey legislator.
Sign the Petition
Sign and share our petition to Governor Murphy supporting common sense visitor maps for our state parks and forests.
Listen to The Pine Barrens Podcast
The January 9, 2024 episode is called Wharton State Forest – Navigating the New Visitor Use Map with Russell Juleg of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Read our blog post “Why do we want a Visitor Map for Wharton State Forest.“