Forked River Mountains
Forked River Mountains
Since the 1960s, there have been many attempts to develop the Forked River Mountains, including one planner’s vision to create a great city in the Ocean County Pine Barrens. Two gravelly hills that rise 187 feet above sea level, the Forked River Mountains are at the heart of a vast 20,000-acre wilderness that remains relatively unchanged in the last 40 years because of preservation efforts by the conservation community.
The Forked River Mountains are covered with a globally-rare forest type known as pitch pine/scrub oak barrens, and form a ridgeline between the Cedar Creek and Forked River watersheds, which feature stately Atlantic white cedar, black gum and maple swamps. The area provides vital habitat for many rare and threatened wildlife and plant species including Pine Barrens gentian and reedgrass, curly grass fern, Kniesekern’s beaked rush, New Jersey rush, bog asphodel, swamp pink, northern pine snake, timber rattlesnake and the Pine Barrens tree frog. Beaver, otter, mink, and gray fox can also be found throughout the area.
The Forked River Mountains are also rich in culture and history as well with stagecoach routes, railroads and forgotten towns serving as the inspiration for local legends and songs. History suggests that Native Americans used the mountains as a burial ground in the pre-Revolutionary War era. Sand trails that traversed the area transported forest products for the bog iron, cedar and charcoal industries. The Tuckerton Railroad cut its way through the mountains during the 1800s, but as the Industrial Revolution passed so too did the railroad, which today is used for nature and hiking trails.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s 4,000-acre Candace McKee Ashmun Preserve at Forked River Mountain, which is managed jointly with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, is the centerpiece of 6,000 acres of preserved forest in the area.
Most of this forest area, however, is still vulnerable to the active threats of inappropriate forestry techniques, mining, abuse by illegal off-road vehicles and clandestine dumping. Our ongoing preservation efforts aim to stem activities that damage the ecological integrity of the wilderness area, manage the forest for the public’s enjoyment and protect its precious natural resources.
The Candace McKee Ashmun Preserve at Forked River Mountain can be accessed from Wells Mills County Park on Rt. 532, between the Garden State Parkway and Route 72. New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped preserve Wells Mills Park in the 1980s. Trail maps are also available at the park nature center.
To learn more about NJCF’s preservation work in the Pine Barrens, please contact Stephanie Monahan, Pine Barrens Regional Manager, at 1-888-LANDSAVE (1-888-526-3728) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Michele S. Byers,