In an effort to preserve and maintain the Forked River Mountains, the Ocean County Freeholders have announced the purchase of the nearly 8,000 acre tract of land.

The 7,860-acre tract, which stretches between Lacey (6,258 acres) and Ocean (1,602 acres) townships and is surrounded by publicly owned land, will be purchased for $15,450,000.00 which will be covered by revenues from the county’s dedicated open space tax.

“This acquisition, recommended by the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee, is the largest tract and one of the most environmentally sensitive that we have purchased since the county’s open space program first began in 1997,” Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry Little said. “By adding this to what we have already preserved, Ocean County will have saved almost 30,000 acres of open space and farmland under its Natural Lands program.”

Little says it's just the latest acquisition made thru the county's open space preservation program.

"The goal of this program is to acquire open space, natural areas and maintain them in that state," Little said. "These areas must remain an open space, they cannot be redeveloped."

In 1997 Ocean County residents voted to form the program and approve a 1.2 cent dedicated tax to help the county preserve these lands and prevent redevelopment.

Little says all residents will still be able to enjoy the Forked River Mountains.

"It is for passive recreation, walking, hiking, photography and bird watching and all those types of activities but the land remains in its natural unspoiled state," Little said.

He says this insures that the Forked River Mountains remain untouched and preserved for generations to come in Ocean County.

"That land is some of the most pristine and unspoiled and environmentally sensitive land in Ocean County or anywhere along the coastline of New Jersey," Little said. "It is under that Forked River Mountain tract that is the largest aquifer...with over 2,000,000,000 gallons of very clean and pristine groundwater. It is also home to a numerous amount of endangered species and plants and animals including the tree frog, the pine snake, the timber rattle snake and various timber tracts of land."

The purchase of the Forked River Mountains and all the other open spaces is to also insure the health of the plants, animals and environment as a whole is well kept and maintained.

"We allow public access like walking and hiking and we will also have a few benches around," Little said. "There will be plenty of opportunities (at the Forked River Mountains) for bird watching and for individuals to hike and enjoy the outdoors."

One of the upgrades they plan on making is with the old Tuckerton Railroad which is currently owned by JCP&L.

"It's been defunct for decades and decades but the line is still there," Little said. "We envision at some-point linking that as a walking trail with our Barnegat Branch Trail which goes throughout the southern communities of Ocean County."

Clear streams such as Factory Branch, the North, Middle and South branches of the Forked River, Cedar Creek, Oyster Creek, Cave Cabin Branch, Long Branch, Dennis Branch and Cold Branch flow through the region.

There are also miles of pine oak and pitch pine lowland forests and an array of habitat types for many rare, threatened and endangered plant and wildlife species.

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