Pine Barrens Scenic Byway Marks Area Natural Attractions
A curious sign went up along Route 9 in Tuckerton, stating, “Pine Barrens Byway,” with a picture of a canoe and an arrow. Another pointed southeast to Great Bay Boulevard and another to Bass River Township, a stop on the way to Galloway Township and the Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge. The signs are the first material indication of a vision to bring economic development via eco-tourism to the Pine Barrens municipalities.
It started 15 years ago when the Pinelands Commission worked with Pinelands municipalities to develop a New Jersey and National Scenic Byway that would bring greater awareness and interest in the natural assets of the Pine Barrens.
The Pine Barrens Byway has been approved as a state and federal designation that traverses 130 miles of existing roadways in the southern portion of the Pinelands, crossing five counties. The southern portion travels along existing roadways through Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties, including portions of 16 municipalities. It meanders through areas of striking natural beauty and rich historic heritage. With a focus on maritime portions of the Pinelands, the route takes particular advantage of the scenic qualities and historic hamlets of Tuckerton and the Tuckerton Seaport, as well as the Mullica, Maurice and Tuckahoe river corridors.
Beginning in 2001, the commission started working with representatives of the 16 municipalities and five counties. In 2009 the Southern Pinelands Natural Trail Committee included Bass River Township Mayor Richard Bethea, Tuckerton Mayor Liz Moritz and Little Egg Harbor Township Committeeman Gene Kobryn. Tim Hart, now director of the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission and Tuckerton Seaport financial director, at the time was also part of the committee.
On Tuesday, Hart explained that the signs are important but not the end of the project.
“We (the committee) still have to reorganize. Our liaison to the Pinelands Commission retired. And then Sandy hit. There’s still work to be done to get the 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) designation so we can get sponsors and take donations.”
The impetus for the byway designation was the Pinelands Rural Economic Development Program, which examined economic conditions in several Pinelands towns and recommended measures to stimulate environmentally suitable economic growth through various planning initiatives, incentives, public improvements, and redevelopment.
A consulting firm prepared an inventory of the natural and cultural attractions along the byway and a corridor management plan that looked at traffic concerns. All municipalities and counties through which the byway passes adopted resolutions supporting the designation.
In 2005, the Pine Barrens Byway was designated as an official New Jersey State Scenic Byway. This designation enables the byway sponsors to apply for program-affiliated grants, and provides access to a variety of promotional and marketing opportunities, including development of visitor centers, wayside exhibits and self-guided tours.
Following the state designation, the Pinelands Commission was awarded a federal grant to continue the process to obtain National Scenic Byway designation. The commission used the funds to hire a consulting team that issued a comprehensive plan for the byway in 2009. The plan sets forth a vision statement and includes specific recommendations and measures that can be undertaken to accomplish a series of byway goals. For example, the plan urges the identification and prioritization of conservation lands for acquisition, and the use of smart growth policies and strategies.
Additionally, the plan calls for increasing local and visitor awareness and appreciation of the Pinelands’ fragile environment. Examples include the creation of better signage, branding and marketing to increase tourism, and enhancing access to appropriate resources.
The Pinelands Commission adopted the Plan in 2009, and it was then approved by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
A managing entity, the Pine Barrens Byway Association, was formed in 2010. It includes an oversight board, which has final decision-making powers and consists of representatives from all of the counties and municipalities along the byway. Its five-member executive committee members are appointed by the counties.
The DOT developed the signs to help visitors identify the byway and navigate their way through it. The Pine Barrens Byway is one of seven scenic byways designated by the state.