Documentary Reveals Off-Road Threat to Pine Barrens

In "Pine Mud," filmmaker Jared Flesher explores how a locally popular—and illegal—pastime damages the land and jeopardizes endangered species.

Filmmaker Jared Flesher Courtesy of Director/Steve Greer Photography

[Editor’s note, October 2020: The Pine Mud premiere was postponed earlier this year due to the pandemic. Two screenings have been announced for this month: Oct. 15 in Collingswood and Oct. 17 at the Franklin Parker Preserve.]

On a warm, misty spring night, filmmaker Jared Flesher follows a low, rhythmic call to its source: a pond, home to the rare Pine Barrens tree frog. But as he arrives at the scene, he observes trash, muddied water and deep tracks around the pond—likely from off-road vehicles.

In his new documentary, Pine Mud, Flesher explores the damage and potential danger to the Pine Barrens ecosystem caused by illegal off-roading, a locally popular pastime.

“This story is about people who are not following the rules, who, for one reason or another don’t care where the designated paths are,” says Flesher, 37. These are people, he says, “who, for the fun of it, are ripping up habitats for rare species.”

The 50-minute documentary follows Jason Howell, a member of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and lifelong Pine Barrens resident, in his efforts to block vehicles from damaging the land and, in turn, jeopardizing endangered species.

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“Imagine if you live in a place that you love for natural beauty, the creatures all around you and the feeling of wilderness,” Flesher says. “And that place is being slowly but surely torn up by people in vehicles.”

The film also dives into the origin of some Pine Barrens trails and the history of its pre-European residents.

Pine Mud makes its New Jersey debut April 17 at the Environmental Film Festival in Princeton.

Through his film, Flesher hopes to educate people about the amazing wilderness that has survived in New Jersey.

“I just want people to decide, are they okay with what’s happening there? Or do they think something needs to change?”

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