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
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 our preservation
work in the Forked River Mountains, please contact Chris Jage, Assistant
Director, South Jersey, at 609-567-2112 or Chris@njconservation.org.