April 4 Nature Walk’s Theme Is ‘Fire in the New Jersey Pinelands’

Mar 28, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill Cloverdale Park in Barnegat

The Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation is hosting a nature walk from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4 at the 90-acre Cloverdale Farm County Park in Barnegat.

The event is free, but preregistration is required – call 609-607-1861.

The theme of the walk is “Fire in the New Jersey Pinelands,” certainly a timely subject.

As housing developments have steadily encroached on the boundaries of the Pinelands National Reserve in the past several decades, forest fires in the Pine Barrens have become something to fear.

Early on in the development spree a historic blaze clearly showed that building in or near the Barrens was literally playing with fire. In April 1963 – again, the timing of the nature walk at Cloverdale Farm is excellent – a fire charred nearly 190,000 acres, killed seven people and destroyed around 400 buildings. Property damage totaled approximately 8.5 million in pre-inflation dollars and some 4 percent of New Jersey’s forestry was destroyed.

And remember, in 1963 development in and especially around the Pinelands was still finding its legs. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee wrote in his 1968 classic “The Pine Barrens,” “The damage to the “buildings was light, but only because there were so few buildings to damage.” There are plenty of buildings today.

Another fire, a 2,300-acre blaze in Bass River State Forest in July 1977, is certainly remembered in Southern Ocean County because it killed four volunteer firefighters from Eagleswood. Yet another conflagration, which burned 17,000 acres in Burlington and Southern Ocean Counties and destroyed four homes while damaging about 50 more in 2007, is notorious in these parts because it was touched off by a flare dropped by an Air National Guard plane at the Warren Grove Bombing Range during a routine training mission.

Yet fire is, in a way, the lifeblood of the Pine Barrens. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explains why on its website:

“Fire has been a frequent force in forming natural areas in the Northeast, including pine barrens, oak openings, sandplain grasslands, blueberry barrens and pine pocosins. Pine barrens found from southern New England, through Long Island and into New Jersey are inhabited by pitch pine, scrub oak and other overstory species that are adapted to fire and may depend on it for survival. To release their seeds, the cones of many evergreen trees must be exposed to high temperatures to melt their waxy seals. Pine barrens are also home to rare and spectacular perennials such as blazing star, lupine and sandplain geradia that need fire or other natural disturbances to reproduce.”  —R.M.


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