New Jersey: diverse in everything, even ecological regions
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 NJ.com 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)
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?
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:
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’.
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.
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.
It is this kind of forest that is responsible for waves of awe during fall foliage.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.