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Some people say that New Jersey is “boring.” My retort is but one word: “Wrong!” Sure, anywhere can seem dull if you don’t know where to look, but the Garden State has a lot to offer, especially the Pine Barrens!

Nobody is throwing on their party hats when they hear something is called a “pine barrens,” but yet this area has much to offer. Thousands of years ago, a massive ice sheet stretched as far south as what’s now New York City, leaving much of New Jersey as a frozen wasteland. In time, as climatic conditions slowly warmed over the millennia, the ice retreated and new biodiversity began. While we did lose mastodons and bison, new species came in droves to fill other niches, like pine trees. The poor, sandy soil that was left at the end of the ice age was not suitable for many other trees. Pines and other cone-bearing plants have been slowly outcompeted by flowering plants. This has left coniferous trees restricted to areas that are too hostile for most flowering plants. Their extreme adaptability came through, however, allowing these special trees to dominate a vast swath of southern New Jersey.

Despite conifers not being as abundant as in times past, they still have many tricks up their metaphorical sleeves: They produce tannins that make the already poor soil more acidic, further reducing competition with deciduous trees. Periodic wildfires are essential for the Pine Barrens environment, helping to clear space for new plant life to grow and encourage the germination of pine trees (their protective cones may only open up after exposure to high heat, in some cases!)

A fantastic array of other plants are found in density only in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. They include such resplendent flowers as bog asphodel, swamp pink, lizard tail, mountain laurel, blue flag, pink lady slipper orchids and even carnivorous plants such as sundews and pitcher plants. While farming is challenging in the Pine Barrens, original cultivars of cranberries and blueberries thrive. These bogs and swamps are fed by the massive Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, which also supplies clean drinking water to much of South Jersey.

Many remarkable animals live and visit as well, such as Eastern spadefoot toads, Pine Barrens treefrogs, corn snakes, pine snakes, timber rattlesnakes and hundreds of species of migratory birds.

Humans hold history in the Pine Barrens, too. Native Americans inhabited the region for thousands of years. With the arrival of European colonists, this humble place became a hotspot of industrial activity. This activity includes holding large businesses in the fields of timber, turpentine production, glass and brick making, making cast iron from the low grade bog iron ore and agricultural innovation, while serving as a convenient trade connecting point between major cities such as Philadelphia and New York City. Unfortunately, the area became highly degraded and exploited, resulting in both loss of businesses and much of the Barrens. As nature so often does, it slowly recovered from the damage dealt. Today, the Pine Barrens region stands as the most massive continuous patch of wilderness in the eastern United States, with only the Florida Everglades having it beat. Much of it has been protected as the Pinelands National Reserve since 1978.

Despite how amazing the Pine Barrens area is, it still faces many threats. Development, pollution, and plans to construct a pipeline through the middle of it all threaten its future. To raise awareness of how fascinating the Pine Barrens is, and why it matters, a group of biodiversity committee students made plans for a service-learning project to inform the Stockton populous. Being awarded a grant to fund them, a multitude of informative signs dot the trails that wind through the area surrounding Lake Fred. Everything from biodiversity to controlled burns are covered as topics, helping others to learn of this marvelous place. So, consider taking a stroll around mainland Stockton University’s Lake Fred (on a Saturday or Sunday for parking purposes). Discovering and connecting to this new feature that helps describe what helps make the Stockton University Mainland Campus and the total Pine Barrens region so unique!

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