Uncovering N.J.: Why on Earth are giant letters carved into this forest?

If you were to use Google Maps or Google Earth near the Greenwood Wildlife Management Area in Ocean County, you’d see strange, giant, carved-out letters averaging 800 feet wide that are scattered in this large forest of New Jersey. Many pilots who fly near the area have seen these letters and question their existence, but are they as mysterious and strange as they seem to be?

Photo courtesy of Google Earth

Who did this? Is someone trying to tell us something? Few have even speculated that this was a means to try to contact aliens, and others speculated the purpose of these giant letters is for satellite calibrations. Historic aerial pictures of the area near Greenwood Wildlife Management show that these colossal letters have been there since 1970, and the grid-like pattern started to emerge in 1972.

There is no rhyme or reason to the letters that were used, unless there was some sort of decoder. The letters consist of: “J,” “T,” “V,” “L,” “H” and “O.” It also looks like an “A” was used at one time, but that is now skewed by the grid-like design.

Aerial photos and old maps are important tools used often by historical researchers or people who are curious about the area. Sometimes, scanning old aerial photos can reveal remnants of history. People in an N.J. Pine Barren forum have come across this strange Google Maps finding and sought answers in the website. The admin of that site reached out to the Fish & Wildlife Commission to ask them to explain what they had found. The answer made sense and is not as strange or mysterious as we’re led to believe.

In 1963, major wildfires broke out across the pinelands and burned close to an estimated 190,000 acres. The worst-recorded wildfires were reported on the same day in the state of New Jersey. April 20, 1963, was named “Black Saturday,” as it devastated many homes and forests.

A project was initiated after the devastating wildfires of 1963. The letters are part of a wildlife habitat improvement monitoring project; the letter-shaped and grid-like clearings are rye strip fields. The idea was to help the Pine Barrens by creating an edge habitat. An edge habitat is where two cover types come together to create biodiversity for both plant and animal life. In this case, we have the rye strip fields and the natural woodlands of the region. Using a shape such as giant letters was a way for people to monitor the edge habitat. According to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, these field creations focus on protecting early successional species and native vegetation.

It’s been just over 50 years since this project was initiated, and the letters are still visible. They are currently managed through rotational prescribed burning. Whether the Pine Barrens needed this human intervention or not, things, like prescribed fires, have helped native species thrive.

Kathleen Butler writes about little-known local history so that others can venture out and explore these gems. She also has a YouTube channel, Rustic Ventures, as well as two published books: Abandoned Ruins on Public Lands in New Jersey and Abandoned Ruins of Eastern Pennsylvania.

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