The Great Egg Harbor River

Many a drawing I made at Great Egg Harbor,
many a pleasant day I spent along its shores...

John James Audobon

The Wild & Scenic River System

Member of South Jersey Kayaker's Association
enjoying the Great Egg Harbor River. (Link)      
In 1968, Congress passed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to help protect selected free-flowing rivers that have outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. Congress envisioned the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System as a cooperative effort relying on the actions of private individuals and groups, and on all levels of government The Ad provides communities, where rivers flow across non-federal lands, with a river protection method that is sensitive to local needs and concerns. Although most protected rivers are on federal lands, the number of those flowing through non-federal lands is increasing. In 1992, the Great Egg Harbor River became the 153rd river in the nationwide wild and scenic system, and is the only one lying in the Embayed section of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

How the river was designated

In 1985, local landowners and public officials began to focus on the future of the Great Egg Harbor River. The National Park Service heel local work-shops to explore possible ways to protect the dyer and its tributaries local governments passed resolutions endorsing a study of the dyer to determine its eligibility and suitability for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System and, in 1986, President Reagan signed the legislation authorizing this study. Five years later, the Final Study Re-port detailed the river sections eligible for the designation, and the resources in need of protection. This report, along with the persistent work of the non-profit Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association, became the cornerstone of the effort Congressman Bill Hughes introduced legislation to have the river designated a scenic and recreational river that is part of the national wild and scenic river system. In October 1992, President Bush signed the bill designating 129 miles of the Great Egg a national wild and scenic river.

The Great Egg Harbor River & Watershed

The Great Egg Harbor River begins in suburban towns and meanders for 59 miles, draining 304 square miles of pristine wetlands in the heart of New Jersey's Pinelands Reserve on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Dissolved iron and tannin, a product of fallen leaves and cedar roots, produce the river's tea-colored "cedar water" along much of its length. The freshwater and tidal wetlands serve as resting, feeding, and breeding areas for waterfowl throughout the year amid undisturbed forests and swamp areas. The watershed has been occupied since pre-historic times, lived upon traditionally by the Lenape Indians before occupations by Europeans in the early 1700s. The lands contained all the necessary materials for shipbuilding, and in the Revolutionary War its "bog iron" made cannon balls while its hidden coves sheltered privateers. Blast furnaces, sawmills, glass factories, and brick and tile works followed until the Industrial Revolution drew its people away. Today, the development of the area's prime agricultural land has contributed greatly to the cultural diversity of the area.

Who will regulate the river?

Currently, a mix of local, state, and federal government agencies have the authority to regulate the river. The designation of the river into the national system did not change those authorities Local zoning and planning laws and the state's Pinelands and Coastal Areas Facilities Review Act regulations will continue to provide the primary protection for the river and its watershed. The federal designation is a vehicle designed to stimulate, enhance, and coordinate local river protection efforts. To reach these ends agreements are being drawn with each affected community along the river to develop local river management plans.

Who develops Local River Management Plans?

Each of the 13 affected communities along the river is being asked to develop its own Local River Management Plan. The National Park Service is providing funding and technical assistance, and is funding a local professional planner to coordinate the effort and assist each community individually. Although each community's plan will vary somewhat due to the different river resources and needs in each river section, every effort will be made to standardize plans wherever possible. Collectively, the 13 individual plans will form a Comprehensive River Management Plan for the entire river.

How designation will benefit communities

Communities near a nationally recognized river benefit from the scenic, recreational, historical, and cultural qualities of their nearby river. It is general believed that the scenic and recreational designation increases property values; people want to own property near designated rivers. Residents experience heightened sense of pride, and a greater willingness to help preserve the beauty and character of the river and its watershed. But the greatest benefit will probably be experienced by future generations: the many river qualities we now experience and observe w be managed and protected for many decades I come.

Current status of the planning process

Comet Hale-Bopp over the Great Egg Harbor    
River on March 29, 1997.  Photo by Jeff Dilks    
Early in 1995, representatives of the 13 municipal ties began meeting regularly with the Park Service the Watershed Association, and the planning consul ant to finalize their river management plans. Some municipalities have expressed an interest in promoting tourism on a limited basis, while others prefer to discourage tourists from visiting their section of the river; the concern is that overuse of the river will destroy the qualities they are seeking to protect. On of the major goals of the Comprehensive Management Plan is to clarify each municipality's concerns and goals, and to recognize river use limitations, suitable access points, and tourism needs, such a restaurants, lodging, and points of interest.

    A river seems a magic thing.
    A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself-
    for it is from the soil, both from its depth and
    from its surface that a river has its beginning.
              Laura Gilpin

How can I participate?

If you live within the Great Egg Harbor River watershed you can participate by learning more about the river and its nearby tributaries. Con-tact your local government officials and ask them about your own Local River Management Plan. If you live outside the watershed and wish to visit, contact the information sources below to find out what communities. are encouraging tourism. Remember that the river is being man-aged for use by wildlife and by people; both uses are equally important.

Visitors please note

The river flows through land that is primarily privately owned, therefore river access is limited.

For more Information contact

    Atlantic County Parks
    Estell Manor Park, Rte. 50
    Mays Landing, NJ 08330

    National Park Service
    Northeast Field Area
    U.S. Custom House, Rm. 260
    Philadelphia, PA 19106

This brochure was prepared by the National Park Service, Northeast Field Area 8/95