What's so bad about the Joizey Pine Barrens?

I’m not familiar with the area, but I’ve heard passing references to it in various movies and TV programs, sorta like “You do that, and you’ll end up in the Pine Barrens.” And then there’s the 1980 classic Mother’s Day, which is set in the Pine Barrens–and the residents there were none too pleasant. Is this just the area that the rest of Jersey picks on?

The Pine Barrens is an area dominated by the stunted little pine trees for which they are named and the soil conditions that work far better for the pines than they do for commercial crops.

The Barrens do not look imposing in the same way that, say, the Everglades swampland might; but I’ve also heard it said that the Australian outback looks a whole lot like the New Jersey Pine Barrens. At any rate, for a piece of real estate sitting within hiking distance of the Northeastern Industrial Corridor, it is surprisingly capable of making you real lost, at least temporarily.

In a region of the US dominated by large cities surrounded by suburbs that give way to other large cities, it is a place where you are in a wilderness thinly sprinkled with tiny little towns (with and without living inhabitants–lots of little ghost towns in there). Metropolitan/modern America has a lot of urban legends and beliefs about folks in tiny isolated towns and the things that can happen to average citizens who accidentally end up in their company (think Children of the Corn, or Deliverance).

Also, according to the Sopranos, it might be a convenient place for the mob to dispose of inappropriately behaving goombahs and goodfellas, ergo “ending up in the Pine Barrens”.

It’s also the setting for a creepier than hell story by F. Paul Wilson, called “The Barrens”.


The inhabitants of the Pine Barrens are referred to as “Pineys”, kind of like a hillbilly that lives in the Pine Barrens.

The Barrens are known for their cranberry bog farms.

During the Revolutionary War they were an important smuggling area because of their remoteness and easy access to the ocean, while still being close to two major cities. They made a great a hideout for British tories, bandits, Continentals and other assorted types, and of course I imagine dead mobsters.

The Barrens were also an important source of ammunition as there were many “pig iron” furnaces, using iron sifted theought the sand. As better iron became available these funaces closed.

As for the lay of the land, while there’s not much to look at in terms of scenery, I’ve hiked there before and there s tons of lakes, and it’s very quiet and peaceful. It gets unbearably hot in the summer, and it’s lyme disease and mosquito city.

There is a cool place called “the Plains”, which is a few square miles of small, stunted pine trees on top of sand, and is about as close to a desert as you’ll see near New York and Philadelphia. I’d tell you where it is, but why ruin a good secret?

Larger wildlife is not too common- but I believe there’s deer, and an occasional cougar or bear sighting, but those are usually strays or escapees who wander in from the Poconos. Yes, bears can cover a lot of miles in one day!

Development in the Barrens has been a big issue for decades, but a big part of Southern New Jersy is now covered under a Wildlife or government protection reserve.

I’d get into the Jersey Devil, but I bet thats been covered before!

If you really want to know more, read John McPhee’s book “The Pine Barrens”. In essence, the area was never developed because of the poor soil and its separation from main transportation corridors, and because much of it was protected by both legislation and private ownership by the conservation-minded Wharton family.

The Pine Barrens is a delicious place to visit. (BTW, it’s the Jersey Pine Barrens, none of this “Joizey” shit) As was said, it’s an amazingly isolated place for a location so close to the hustle and bustle of New York and Philadelphia. If you ever visit it, though, stick to the biggest trail you have or bring a compass, because like the woods in The Blair Witch Project, it can be easy to get lost.

There is the legend of the New Jersey Devil who haunts the Pine Barrens.

Personally, I love them. Canoeing on the Wading River in the spring, when the water’s high and you can leave the river and canoe through the trees. And on an early summer morning, when you’ve worked up a nasty sweat biking to the Jersey Shore, you enter the Pine Barrens and suddenly it is ten degrees cooler, and peaceful as well. Heaven.


I couldn’t agree more. Very informative and very sympathetic to the Pineys.

As McPhee mentions, another strike against the Pine Barrens was a semi-scholarly article describing a supposedly inbred family from the Barrens which produced a high proportion of mental defectives. You may have heard of the Jukes and the Kallikacks. Human prejudice being what it is, people are quick to assume that a simple lifestyle indicates a simple mind and the Pineys were tagged as having subnormal intelligence.

Well, the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil are responsible for one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last few years, The Last Broadcast, so I reckon that’s pretty bad…

They’re also about the only place within a few hours drive of Philadelphia where you can actually see stars at night. Light pollution bad. Pine barrens good.

More pictures of the Pine Barrens than you’ll know what to do with: http://www.hoganphoto.com/new_page_1.htm
See, its not such a bad place, is it now?

And it covers some 17 trillion gallons of just about the purest water in the US (Cohansey Aquifer). - from the Pinelands Commission.

I think it’s a very pretty place, but not necessarily with great vistas. You need to look down, to find wonderous things like pitcher plants, where the mosquito Wyeomyia smithii lives the larval portion of its life out. Probably more than you wanted to know, but I’ve always thought that was pretty cool.

The pictures from SirRay’s link pretty well capture the sense of the place.

Yeah, and read Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man about the whole “Kallikak” deal (the name is made up, supposedly to protect them). The articles about them don’t even deserve the designation “semi-scholarly”.

and Nobody in New Jersey says “Joisey”. Tha’s a Brooklyn accent, if anything. And I’ve only met one guy from Brooklyn who talked that way.

Also home to my favorite American frog ( yes, I have a favorite American frog :smiley: ), The Pine Barrens Tree Frog ( Hyla Andersonii ), a relictual, very habitat restricted critter whose range includes the pocosins ( shrub bogs ) of the Carolinas. The photo here barely does it justice:


Worse photo, a little more info:


And a concise little guide to vertebrates of the Pine Barrens:


  • Tamerlane

Wow. The Blair Witch analogy is a good one. There are hundreds of miles of large dirt roads put in by God knows who all over the Barrens. It’s so flat, and there are so few landmarks, I would NOT hike them without a map, water, candy bars and a compass.

It’s so quiet in them that it could give you the creeps. Avoid the Barrens at night if you hate mosquitos and have seen too many horror movies.

A cellphone wouldn’t hurt, either! :slight_smile:

Um, this presumes you actually kill(and bury) them!

[sub]That was a HILARIOUS episode, by the way[/sub]

Wouldn’t hurt, but I bet there are areas in the woods where it wouldn’t work, since it’s so removed from civilization and all. Just a hunch; I haven’t tried it.


Amen. I lived in the Philadelphia area until last summer, and I belonged to the Philadelphia Canoe Club. The Pine Barrens were the source of most of our (non-white water) canoe trips. There are many great streams and rivers down there.

*Originally posted by JeffB *

I grew up in Philly too. Spent some time in the Barrens as a Cub Scout, before I was beaten out of the organization. It was a long time ago, obviously before they had a racial barrier thing going for canoeing. Who’d a thunk? :smiley: :smiley:

Ditto on the mosquitos. Oh, lord. Just TRY going to pee at 1:15am and realizing you fell asleep with S’Mores in your mouth and woke up in Hell. I’m glad it’s protected, though. Rare find, in the Northeast. The Sterling Forest area near Tuxedo, New York could learn a thing or three from the Pine Barrens about land management.