Ocean County preserves nearly 8,000-acre wilderness area

The view from the Forked River Mountains in Ocean County. (Image courtesy of JSHN contributor Kara Ann.)

The view from the Forked River Mountains in Ocean County. (Image courtesy of JSHN contributor Kara Ann.)

Nearly 8,000 acres of wilderness in Ocean County will remain undeveloped after officials closed on a $15,450,000 deal funded by the county’s open space tax late last week.

The purchase of 7,923 acres from a private landholder is the county’s largest preservation deal since the program began in 1997, according to officials.

The land extends through Lacey and Waretown and includes the Forked River Mountains, a ridge that rises to a peak of 187 feet above sea level, streams, and lowland forests, according to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia Haines said in a statement that not only is it the largest open space purchase but also one of the most environmentally sensitive.

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“This environmental gem will now be preserved in its natural state forever,” she said.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said purchasing the land, previously owned by a developer, is a “big victory” for open space.

“It is an important buffer and environmental connector between coastal areas and the Pinelands. This purchase will help protect important streams that provide habitat for threatened and endangered species,” he said.

Rare and threatened wildlife and plant species include the 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, according to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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