A challenge conquered by many a hiker – and those with a well-handling four wheel drive vehicle – will be preserved for generations to come, Ocean County officials said.
Known as the Forked River Mountains, an 8,000 acre tract in the pine barrens in western Ocean County will be the next purchase of the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust, a fund that is supported by a county open space tax.
The “mountain,” accessible through a series of off-road trails from Route 539, provides a majestic view of the county’s landscape. On clear days, the hill is high enough to view the Atlantic Ocean, the hangars at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and, with binoculars, even the Barnegat Lighthouse. The terrain is rough, and the hill is high, but the view is among the best in the Shore area, which is usually known for its rather flat landscape. Numerous streams flow through the area below the heightened land.
The 7,860-acre tract, which straddles Lacey and Ocean townships and is surrounded by publicly owned land, will be purchased for $15,450,000. The property owner is John J. Brunetti of Old Bridge Township.
“This acquisition, recommended by the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee, is the largest tract and one of the most environmentally sensitive that we have purchased since the county’s open space program first began in 1997,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little, in presenting the purchase at the Sept. 12 preboard meeting of the Board of Freeholders. “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.”
The freeholder board will hold a required public hearing on the purchase during its Sept. 19 meeting in the Ocean County Administration Building.
The site was identified by the Trust for Public Lands in their “Century Plan” and the 7,860 acre piece is the last significant tract left of the 21,000 acre Forked River Mountains Century Plan Site.
“The property is in a very environmentally sensitive and unique area of the county,” said Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who serves as liaison to the county’s open space program. “It is surrounded by thousands of acres of state, county and nonprofit preserved lands.”
The county’s purchase of the property guarantees the area, which holds endangered species and plants, will never be graded and developed.
“Due to the large nature of this acquisition, Ocean County will seek public funding partnerships including with the Department of Defense and state Green Acres,” a statement from the county said.
Government agencies that preserve space near military bases are eligible to receive some reimbursements from the federal government.
“There are two mounts, side by side, with the western ridge at an elevation of 184 feet and the eastern ridge attaining 176 feet,” according to the Trust for Public Land’s “Century Plan,” which identified the area as one that should be preserved. “While most northern New Jersey residents may laugh at such low elevations, here in the Pine Barrens such heights truly represent ‘mountains,'” the group said.