USGS Topographic Map Delaware Water Gap NRA
2007 Aerial Photograph Delaware Water Gap NRA
Since reading William Cronon’s classic “Changes in the Land” about 15 years ago, I have been fascinated by land-use change. In fact, that is why I went to school to become a forester. Forestry takes a scientific approach to land-use change. My forestry education taught me how humans impacted and created land-use change (for better or worse).
The science of forestry focuses on past land-use disturbance, whether it be from logging, fire, tornado, flooding, or other event, to predict what the land will look like in the future. It provides techniques to mimic these disturbance patterns and predicts subsquent plant species, habitat composition, and ecological function.
Unfortunately, much of the land-use disturbance we face in New Jersey is novel and does not fit traditional forestry models. For example, the relatively new occurrence of overabundant white-tailed deer and non-native invasive plants absolutely affect how or even whether a forest re-grows after a disturbance.
Although these two (1, 2) recent NY Times blog posts focus mostly on reinventing the built suburb using “New Urbanism” and other innovative planning concepts, they contain a thread of this novel land-use change idea; the suburb melting back into the wild.
The topographic map and 2007 aerial above show what was likely going to be a lake community subdivision in what is now the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (NRA). I assume this abandoned subdivision was acquired by the Department of Interior when they were planning for the Tocks Island Dam project and creating Delaware Water Gap NRA. Comparing historic topographic maps to current aerial photographs shows that there are likely several of these abandoned subdivisions in far northwestern New Jersey.
I am curious what half-built subdivisions would look like in the future if they were truly abandoned. It probably wouldn’t be as bleak as the comments to the NY Times blog, and certainly wouldn’t be as widespread in New Jersey as it is in other places that were hit harder by the sub-prime mortgage mess. However, it is fun thinking about post-suburban ecology. What tree species would be present? Would there be more native plants and animals or would non-native invasive plants and animals be dominant?
Anyone want to ground truth a few old subdivisions in the Delaware Water Gap?