Ocean County Preserving 8,000 Acres in Forked River Mountains

Feb 27, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill On a clear day, from the Forked River Mountains you can see Navy Lakehurst’s Hangar One on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Nearly 8,000 acres of forest in Ocean County will remain undeveloped after officials recently closed a $15.4 million deal funded by the county’s open space tax. The purchase of 7,923 acres from John J. Brunetti, Old Bridge Township, is the county’s largest preservation deal since the program began in 1997, according to the county. Freeholders began discussing plans for the purchase last fall.

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

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

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

“By adding this to what we have already preserved, Ocean County will have saved almost 30,000 acres of open space and farmland under its Natural Lands program,” added Freeholder Gerry P. Little.

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. —E.E.

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