Distance from a Road: 3.3 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: Yes
Conservation Land: Yes, Brigantine Wilderness Area within Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
Travel Method: Motorboat
Something We Learned: The Atlantic City skyline is visible from the New Jersey Remote Spot…a reminder that many conservation lands–even Wilderness Areas–are not necessarily remote anymore.
September 21, 2011. We embark to the remotest location in New Jersey around 10 a.m. from Scotts Landing on the western side of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. It is low tide and should be incoming all day during our excursion to the Remote Spot. This is what we want–to avoid the possibility of becoming tidally stranded in unfamiliar, shallow waters. A guy at the boat ramp asks incredulously if we really hauled our boat all the way from Florida. Ryan replies, “I’m afraid so,” with a smirk bespeaking his own disbelief. We think of last night, how we nervously maneuvered our truck and boat through the monstrosity that is Philadelphia in order to poise ourself closer to our remote destination. Seems like we always have to go anti-remote before Going Remote. We explain to the gent just what in the world we are doing here. He jokes about our funny accent, and vice versa. His interest nonetheless peaks, and we hand him a Remote Footprints contact card.
New Jersey is yet another eastern state bordering ocean that has a coastal or island Remote Spot. In fact, our calculations preliminarily show that–of the 21 continental United States that border ocean–16 have coastal or island Remote Spots. This is a very interesting story unfolding. It appears that, in our nation’s history, the rate of coastal or island development has lagged behind that of the mainland. Until lately, that is.
…Heading due east down a narrow tidal creek. The boat goes aground in the exposed shallows. Time to peruse the map for another route and turn around. We slowly boat back toward the landing, then pick a channel that meanders north into Great Bay. We idle eastward toward the Brigantine Wilderness, where the Remote Spot resides.
Herring gulls perch on the edge of a marsh island. Waves pound the shore, and the gulls watch for food in the surf. The 47,000 acre Forsythe National Willdlife Refuge is composed primarily of salt marsh, shallow, tidal wetlands, meandering creeks, and bays. This refuge is situated within one of North America’s most active flight paths for migratory birds. In fact, the Forsythe NWR was created primarily for the protection of water birds and their habitat. From an aerial view, one can see numerous linear features that look like a grid overlying the green marshy landscape. These are probably ditches emplaced there long ago during past efforts to drain the salt marsh. Who knows how long that might take to heal ecologically.
Mama comforts Skyla on the long slow boat ride. We soak in the outstanding view of the extensive marsh and bay habitat.
Aground again. Ryan uses the paddle like a pole to push the bow off the shallow bar. The Atlantic City skyline is visible at 11 o’clock off port side from nearly 8 miles away.
As we approach the Remote Spot, Atlantic City hovers on the southern horizon beyond the expansive salt marsh. Aircraft frequently roar. Ship engines hum from off the Atlantic. There seems little chance for us to experience what we refer to as “remote silence” at the New Jersey Remote Spot. Remote silence is what you experience when you are truly remote from the roar of a fossil-fueled civilization. In remote areas, you only hear the sounds of natural processes, such as wind, rain, waves, or calling animals. Often, there is complete silence in remote areas. To find this anymore in the United States requires a trip to either Alaska or to a few roadless areas of the American West. In fact, we have experienced remote silence in only 1 out of 12 Remote Spots we have accomplished so far during Project Remote. Guess which? Click here to find out…
Before venturing onto the Forsythe NWR, Ryan called the refuge to 1) inform them all about our Project Remote, 2) tell them that the Forsythe contained the New Jersey Remote Spot, and 3) ask whether there were any issues for us to consider while documenting the Remote Spot. We assumed that we would be welcome. They said that the Brigantine Wilderness was closed to public access except for special use permit. We politely asked about applying for a special use permit, thinking that our work would be the perfect “special” reason to allow some fellow conservationists to do unobtrusive documentary work…We told them that we’re long-time wildlife biologists who understand all the reasonings behind limiting access to the general public onto ecologically sensitive lands…that we travel with “leave no trace” ethics…that we know how to not disturb wildlife…and that our work ultimately is all about the conservation of remote, roadless areas…We asked for a little “professional courtesy,” all to no avail. The Refuge didn’t see it that way. They reasoned that we would start an exodus of people wanting to visit the remotest location in NJ. We told them that was not in the plan for Project Remote. Then we said that the exact coordinates for the NJ Remote Spot would be a guarded secret, and that we would gladly provide them with the coordinates for their records. The more we asked, the less interested they became. Phones hung up. A little lesson was learned that day.
This said, we decided that our work in NJ must be done in spite of a small hiccup (or was that a belch?)…without breaking any laws, of course. Since the Remote Spot was located at the ecological boundary between publicly accessible high tide mark and closed beach and upland dune habitat, we reasoned that we would be able to get as close as we could in a boat, then wade up the beach to within about 50 feet of the R-spot, staying in water the whole time, and get our work quickly done. Heck, being within 50 feet of the R-spot would actually be within the margin of error of the Remote Spot calculation, anyway…
We anchor the boat in moderate surf with two anchors. The boat is placed as close to the beach as possible, in a little protected spot behind an active sand bar. There are no signs posted along the beach identifying the area as closed to public use. We debate moving forward with our original plan and landing on the Remote Spot. But ultimately, we want to respect the management decisions of those charged with protecting our nation’s wildlife.
Waves pound the bow as we scramble about the small vessel to orgainze gear and get everything strapped on properly. We step out of the boat in knee-deep water. Ryan hatches a plan to go solo, but the whole family wants to partake in New Jersey remoteness. Why be this close and not get as close as possible? Furthermore, carrying the gear is a 2-person job. Of greatest importance is our 2-year old daughter, Skyla. Ryan, being the tallest, stoutest parent, takes on the Skyla backpapack. We carry inflatable pfd’s just in case of a fall-over in the water. We hold hands firmly, providing one another added stability in waves. One large rogue wave could easily knock us over. We are tense to put it lightly. In short order, we make it to a brush and debris-covered beach drenched, but unscathed. Tide is coming in, and we conduct our documentary work as quickly as possible while standing in the surf. A conspicuous, old wooden pole stands about 200 meters inland westward. This apparently is a ruinous vestige of past development. But it still impacts our feeling of remoteness.
At every Remote Spot we conduct our 15 minute Remote Spot Assessment (RSA). Being “remote” is about being distant from human civilization. Therefore, we record quantitative data on direct or indirect human presence/absence. We observe sights, sounds, and smells of anything of human origin, then we identify it, estimate distance, and record the compass bearing of the datum. This information helps us measure remoteness of the Remote Spot. Additional to the RSA, we also make ecological and wildlife observations. Last, and not least, we make high resolution, panoramic photo and video of the Remote Spot. Through Project Remote, we are measuring remoteness as it currently exists in the United States. This work provides a baseline of information on remoteness (i.e. roadlessness) that is useful to current and future roadless area conservation efforts.
The New Jersey Remote Spot, being within a federal conservation land, would apparently have better than average prospects for the conservation of its remoteness, were it not for rapid urbanization outside the Forsythe Refuge. Aside from human sound, which does effect ecological function and wilderness quality of otherwise wild areas, the NJ R-spot trip provides us with compelling evidence that the sight of civilization also detracts somehow–at least from wilderness quality.
Our documentary work is completed in about 30 minutes.
With water splashing around our ankles, we tripod the camera and snap a photo of the Remotest Family in New Jersey…
Skyla begs to play up on the beach for a while, but we explain as best we can why that is not an option here. She has grown quite the affinity for beaches and backpacking in her short life. We revel in our daughter’s love of the outdoors. Maybe – just maybe – getting her outside all the time has something to do with it…
Getting back to the boat is interesting–because tide has risen a few inches higher. Our bodies rock in the pounding waves. The GPS takes a sacrificial dive in the Atlantic, darn it. We make it aboard our jonboat and disembark. There are no pictures to share of this, since we value safety greater than photo ops.
While boating back to Scotts Landing, we snap another telephoto view of Atlantic City to the south. The view is ironically beautiful.
There actually is room in this world for both civilization and wildlands. The problem is that civilization continues its unchecked expansion across the formerly wild landscape with no societal committment to ever stop it and say–enough is enough. We are one American family ready to say just that. And we’ve met many more like us while Remote Spotting across America…
–The Remote Spotters