New Jersey: diverse in everything, even ecological regions

Oleksii Chekulaiev
7 min readJun 17, 2020

New Jersey is a pretty mind-blowing state to live in. A lot of people choose it because it gives access to the job market of New York City and Philadelphia, but you don’t have to live in the city. I know that many people love living in the city (at least before the pandemic), but the popularity of New Jersey, which the most densely populated state (excluding D.C.), says there are many who don’t want to live in the city, but like to have it nearby.

What makes New Jersey special is that it is very diverse and different in all kinds of ways, while at the same time being so compact, that you can drive across through all this diversity in the matter of hours.

Demographic diversity of New Jersey is probably well known even beyond the borders of United States. If you look good enough, you can meet a person from every country on Earth in New Jersey. In terms of diversity NJ stands next to gigantic California and Texas, and shares the spot with equally small and diverse Hawaii.

NJ was and still is a forefront of migration to America. The most commonly spoken language after English and Spanish here is Gujarati. You can tell. Waves of migration swashed onto New Jersey’s shore throughout the history, leaving cultural marks and authenticity behind. Italian culture left its marks in 20 century, Indian and Korean cultures are leaving their prominent marks right now.

Some time ago published a funny map of NJ demographics, which many newjersians surely laughed at, because everyone can relate to it at some degree. (Don’t take it seriously, it is just humor)

Comic New Jersey demographics map — courtesy

And here is an interactive NJ demographics map to play with.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.


What many NJ people might not know about, is that for such a small state that NJ is (47-th by territory) it has a surprisingly large amount of different eco-regions. Five to be precise, and that’s a lot. Many larger states like Maine, Iowa or Mississippi feature just 2 eco-regions. Interesting note, diverse states tend to have more eco-regions. Coincidence?

The World Eco-regions Map was put together by Resolve non-government organization, where you can see all of them and compare across the countries.

When I first saw this map and scrolled to NJ, my first thought was “I always knew!”. Because you can definitely tell that nature changes several times when you simply drive from Delaware Water Gap park to the ocean shore. Well, it’s not just you.

Map of New Jersey eco-regions:

Map of 5 New Jersey eco-regions
New Jersey has 5 eco-regions

You can notice that there’s definitely a pattern of demographics following the lines of regions, flowing from north-east to south-west. Let’s look at the regions closer, and see what each of them is like.

Region 1. Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests

You rarely experience this kind of region in NJ, in part because it falls in the area, which comic NJ map describes as ‘vast wilderness’.

Map of Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests eco-region in NJ
Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests — NJ

It is the region of Bushkill Falls and Delaware Water Gap. It spans all the way south through western Pennsylvania until Alabama, so if you noticed the resemblance between west NJ and west PA, but not east PA, now you know why.

Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests region map
Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests region map

Blue Ridge forest is the kind of forest straight from the Grimm brothers’ tales. Tall, dark, scary and magical.

Region 2. New England-Acadian forests

This region start way up north and pretty much ends here in north-western NJ and PA. Towns like Sparta, Chester, Hopatcong, Lebanon township all belong to it. It is the same eco-region you experience, when driving north to New Hampshire, Maine and parts of Vermont. Folks might often mix this region up with the next one, but they are actually two regions.

New England-Acadian forests eco-region map
New England-Acadian forests eco-region map

It is this kind of forest that is responsible for waves of awe during fall foliage.

Green Mountain, NH

Region 3. Northeast US Coastal forests

When you are thinking about Northeast megalopolis (or cluster), this is the landscape you would be imagining – northeast coastal forests is the ‘average’ region of this mega-city.

Northeast US Coastal forests eco-region map
Northeast US Coastal forests eco-region map

Majority of NJ and NYC population leaves in this eco-region. It spans all the way from Boston, through New York and Baltimore, down to Washington, and ends around Charlottesville, NC.

It consists of mixed forests intermittent with gorgeous green fields. It is the region from ‘The Typical American Farm on TV’.

Typical American farm on TV

Region 4. Atlantic coastal pine barrens

Or probably well known among NJ as ‘that area you need to cross to get to the shore’. The largest eco-region of New Jersey. Basically when thinking New Jersey, then (nature-wise) you should be imagining this region.

Atlantic coastal pine barrens eco-region map
Atlantic coastal pine barrens eco-region, New Jersey

The area of open farmlands, wineries, pick-your-owns... forests and swamps, and swaps-in-forests.

Also the area of those pines. Not straight majestic pines of the Blue Ridge forest region, but the crooked sometimes dwarfy coastal pines, that for a long time I thought were sick or something, until I learned that it’s just the way they are, and you should love them for that.

Those pines. But you learn to love them along with their imperfections

Having Temperate Conifer forest on the East Coast is pretty unique. You can see Long Island also having it, but then the only other East Coast region like this is the relatively small area around Cape Cod and Nantucket Bays in Massachusetts, and that is it. The vast majority of similar temperate conifer forests in the US grow in the mid-west states like Idaho and Wyoming, and also around Seattle. In Europe similar eco-regions are the major parts of Austria and Switzerland.

Again, let me repeat, speaking from the nature point of view, this is the real unique and the largest part of New Jersey.

5. Mid-Atlantic US coastal savannas

‘But wait, there is more!’ To finish the great diversity circle NJ needed something authentically southern. And this is it — the savanna! (Or maybe it’s the oldest functioning weekly rodeo in the USA. Yas! In New Jersey!)

Map of Mid-Atlantic US coastal savannas in NJ
Mid-Atlantic US coastal savannas — NJ

Now, there’s a difference between Mid-Atlantic and South-Eastern savannas (colored a bit different on the big map below), but both are savannas. Savanna is what you think of when you think South-East – Virginia, Carolinas, Georgia, large parts of Alabama, Florida and Mississippi are savannas. And sure enough on the East Coast they start right here, in New Jersey.

Map of Mid-Atlantic US coastal savannas and Savannas of South-East
Mid-Atlantic US coastal savannas and savannas of South-East

Well, savannas be savannas. Crooked pines become even more crooked, you got lots of shrubs, perennials. It’s either dry and sandy, or muggy and swampy. Weird bugs start flying around thinking about prickling your skin. You know, somewhat unwelcome. But also very open, warm and wild. The photo below is from Cape Cod, but you can find plains like this around the coast of the whole savanna region, accompanied by swamps.

Cape Cod, MA

All these regions are within couple of hours drive from each other. In NJ you are equally close to gentrified NYC streets as you are to the cowboys riding horses. All-in-one. Weird mix. Many like to complain about high taxes and bureaucracy, but for others this wild mix, these wild woods of New Jersey are too attractive.

Photo of Wildwoods big letters sign in Wildwoods, NJ
Wildwoods, NJ