The Pine Barrens was published the year I graduated from high school, 1967. Eight years later, I moved to New Jersey, to an the southern border of the Pine Barrens. When I arrived, the area was in a state of accelerating controversy. State and federal legislation was proposed and eventually passed (1978) to restrict development in the central “preservation” zone of the Pine Barrens to one house per 20 acres, and in the “protection zone” (where I live) to one house per 5 acres. Very little new business or industry would be permitted. It was a bold land use initiative.
McPhee’s non-fiction, highly descriptive book was referenced by all and sundry, supporters and detractors alike. It probably helped the supporters of the new legislation more. The last chapter detailed the proposed developments that might radically change the Pine Barrens – a major airport, industrial schemes and sprawling suburban housing developments.
Change has not entirely bypassed the Pine Barrens, but much of the central Pines area is unchanged. I often wander in the new Franklin Parker Preserve near Chatsworth, one of several big conservation tracts. More and more people recognize that the Pine Barrens are not “barren”, but rather are a valuable natural resource.
One of my most recent ventures to the area was on the day before Superstorm Sandy was to arrive. It was a breezy, cloudy, tense day. The cranberry growers had their crews working like maniacs, a busy and colorful sight. Giant semis were hauling away cranberries by the ton. If the forecast rainfall of 5 or more inches came, the cranberry crop and the cranberry bogs themselves were at risk. Ultimately, the storm did little damage in the Pines.
Ironically, some people have turned against the use of the term Pine Barrens. They think it sounds unpleasant, and prefer the term Pinelands. But John McPhee fixed the term Pine Barrens in my brain, and that’s how I will continue to refer to the area I now call home.