In the central area of the Pine Barrens — the forest land that is still so undeveloped that it can be called wilderness — there are only 15 people per square mile. This area, which includes about 650 thousand acres is nearly as large as Yosemite National Park. It is almost identical in size with Grand Canyon National Park, and it is much large than Sequoia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or, for that matter, most of the national parks in the United States.

The people who live in the Pine Barrens are concentrated mainly in small forest towns, so the region’s uninhabited sections are quite large — 20,000 acres here, 30,000 acres there — and in one section of well over a hundred thousand acres there are only 21 people. The Pine Barrens are so close to New York that on a very clear night a bright light in the pines would be visible from the Empire State Building. A line ruled on a map from Boston to Richmond goes straight through the middle of the Pine Barrens. The halfway point between Boston and Richmond — the geographic epicenter of the developing megalopolis — is the northern part of the woods, about 20 miles from Bear Swamp Hill.

The lines come from the pages of John McPhee’s “The Pine Barrens,” the 1968 book that put a spotlight on this vital New Jersey natural resource that was facing environmental catastrophe. The Princeton-native and award-winning non-fiction journalist joins former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, the force who the launched the landmark legislation that protects the region, for a public discussion, “The Pine Barrens: The Past, the Politics, and the Future,” this Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m.

Former Governor Jim Florio, former chairman of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission; Michele Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation; and Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, also participate in this quintessential New Jersey topic, moderated by NJTV’s Michael Aron.

The free event is presented in conjunction with the Morven Museum’s current exhibition, “The Pine Barrens: A Legacy of Preservation/Photographs by Richard Speedy,” on view through Sunday, April 14.

The Pine Barrens: The Past, the Politics, and the Future, McCosh 50, Princeton University, Sunday, March 3, 2 p.m. Free.

The Pine Barrens: A Legacy of Preservation/Photographs by Richard Speedy, Morven Museum, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Wednesday through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. $5 to $6. or 609-924-8144.

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