Wharton Forest Open Trails for All

Our Mission:

• To create a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and maintaining access to Wharton and other state parks in New Jersey.

• To collaborate with other organizations and help keep the public informed about limited access initiatives.

• To work with the state when it comes to proposals and initiatives that impact fair use of public areas.

• To advocate for plans that encourage responsible use and effective protection of the Pine Barrens and other state forests.



We are deeply concerned about a serious situation taking place in Wharton State Park, an area used by many people in the state of New Jersey for recreation.


The issue is that Wharton State Forest Superintendent Rob Auermuller and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protect came up with a plan to remap the state park and decided to close reportedly between 50-70% of the trails used by outdoor enthusiasts, including hunters, fishermen, geocachers, motorists, campers, paddlers, equestrians, and others. What’s disturbing about this plan is that the community and the public were not informed about it until it was already implemented and were not offered any input into this plan, which resulted in the closing of many trails which have been open to the public since the 1800s.


Additionally, a group known as the Pinelands Preservation Alliance has been lobbying for Auermuller to take these actions to restrict access to the Pine Barrens to others, while they in turn opened a business called Pineland Adventures, with the support of Auermuller, to sell that access back to the public through their sponsored trips.


Even worse, however, is the fact that someone authorized volunteers to go into Wharton and cut down several of the trees in this protected forest to block many of the closed trails. Not only is that counterproductive to protecting the Pine Barrens, but it’s also ineffective, as many of the vehicles causing damage to the Pine Barrens can easily drive over these trees, and it also presents a hazard. Recently, an able-bodied adult tripped over one of the trees they placed at the start of a hiking trail and injured herself, which creates enormous liability issues for the state and unnecessary obstacles for senior citizens, the disabled, and others with limited mobility.


The people of New Jersey are proud of the Pine Barrens and it’s a place many of us are happy to actively maintain. It’s not fair that Auermuller and a small group of vocal lobbyists can deny access to a significant portion of a state park that we pay for without any input from anyone but themselves. We feel that the State Park Service may be inappropriately influenced by special-interest groups, such as the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. These trail closures place the interests of these groups as a priority over the interests of the people of New Jersey and the destructive nature of these closures is inconsistent with their stated goal of protecting the Pine Barrens.


At this time, many officials are reportedly denying having any knowledge of who authorized the cutting down of those trees. However, those actions were taken before their new map of the area was released to the public, so it's only logical to conclude these actions were taken by someone involved with the plan either at the state or at Wharton.


These people need to be held accountable and, at the very least, they owe the people of New Jersey some answers as to who is responsible for this.

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Organizer

John Szurley 
Organizer
Vincentown, NJ
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