Maurice River and Its Tributaries
Cumberland County, NJ


Maurice River begins in Gloucester County, fifty-eight miles from its mouth at the Bay, and flows south, forming the eastern boundary between Salem and Cumberland Counties. From the dam in Millville to the Delaware Bay, the Maurice River is approximately twenty miles long. The Maurice functions as an important biological link between its unique drainage area and the Delaware Bay. Extremely high quality water is delivered to the Bay by the system, a critical factor for the regional oyster, crab, and fin-fish industries, which have been important culturally and economically in this area.

The plentiful natural resources of the Maurice and its two major tributaries, the Manumuskin and the Menantico, have been the life source of southern New Jersey communities. The marshes were cultivated for salt hay; the forests provided raw materials for the shipbuilding era of schooners and sloops; the fine sands bolstered the glassmaking industry.

The Maurice River and its tributaries, the Menantico, Manumuskin, and the Muskee, flow through five southern New Jersey municipalities, four of which are located in rural Cumberland County. As small creeks the narrow freshwater tributaries, overhung with trees, meander through Vineland and Buena Vista Township; by the time they reach Millville, Maurice River Township, and Commercial Township their size has increased, and they are navigable by motorboat. The Maurice itself widens to become Union Lake at Millville and from there it winds through south Millville and, flanked by low salt marsh, divides Commercial and Maurice River Townships on its trip to the Delaware Bay.

The Maurice River and its tributaries drain the southwest portion of the Pinelands National Reserve, which is also an International Biosphere Reserve under the United Nations Man and the Biosphere Program. One of only two pristine rivers in the 1.4 million acre Pine Barrens, the Manumuskin and her sister river, the Menantico, are virtually unspoiled treasures in a rural, little-developed area of otherwise densely populated New Jersey.

The Manumuskin drainage basin lies within the New Jersey Outer Coastal Plain, the Delaware Bay estuary system, and the Pine Barrens forest region. From its headwaters in southwestern Atlantic County, ... the Manumuskin river flows in a southerly direction for 12 miles, emptying into the Maurice River, about 7 miles from Delaware Bay. The river becomes tidal at a point three miles upstream of its confluence with the Maurice River.

The Maurice River (pronounced "Morris" some books say, others "maah-ris")

---Union Lake WMA ///// Union Lake
--------Necombtown ///// Millville
-----------------------///// Roosevelt Park
----------------------///// Clarks Mill
---------------------///// Maurice River WMA
-Millville WMA
-----Laurel Lake /////
------------------///// Port Elizabeth
-----------------///// Bricksboro
Mauricetown /////
---------------///// Dorchester
--------------///// Leesburg
Port Norris /////
-------------///// Heislerville WMA
------------///// East Point Lighthouse

Wildlife Management Areas:

Bevan Wildlife Management Area (boat access), near Laurel Lake.

Corson Fish and Wildlife Management Area, near Heislerville.

Dennis Creek WMA

Heislerville Wildlife Management Area, near Heislerville.

Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area, at the head of the Menantico River. (boat ramp)- Millville

Peaslee Wildlife Management Area, containing much of the headwaters of the Manumuskin River and Muskee Creek. Includes Cumberland Pond on Route 49. Typical Pine Barrens flora and fauna at Cumberland Pond.

The Pinelands - most of Maurice Township, eastern Vineland, and Buena Vista Township, are within the Pinelands National Preserve. The Manumuskin drainage basin, with its headwaters in Buena Vista is one of the most botanically significant areas in New Jersey, harbors 32 rare plants. The reptile and mammal diversity is unusual, and 15 of New Jersey's 25 threatened and endangered bird species breed here. However, these areas are neither marked nor readily accessible.

Turkey Point Fish & Wildlife Mgmt. Area - Commercial Township

Union Lake Fish & Wildlife Management Area -Millville


(bunch of websites including

Maurice River comes from Prince Maurice of Orange and Nassau; ship, Prince Maurice, burned by Indians.

4-6 thousand years ago -- an Indian village site existed on the Maurice near Port Elizabeth. Some of the area used by the Unami Native American Indians, a branch of the Lenape, as a seasonal food source for hundreds of years.

mid-1600s -- Dorchester founded by the Swedes; has been a shipbuilding town for over 200 years.

1698 -- Gabriel Thomas, a Friend, in a book published in London wrote of Prince Maurice River, "where the Swedes used to kill the geese in great numbers for their feathers only, leaving their carcasses behind them."

1700s -- the Prince Maurice, a Dutch ship, set ablaze and sunk by Indians below Mauricetown.

1700s -- Maurice River Township settled by Swedes. The town developed grist and sawmills along the tributaries, as well as bog iron furnaces and forges, and riverside farms (created by diking the tidal wetlands with high earthen embankments).

1720 -- around this time John Purple bought the land where Port Elizabeth stands.

1730 -- Mauricetown built; home of oyster captains.

1750 -- botanist and student of Linnaeus, Peter Kalm took a trip from Maurice River to Cape May.

1780s -- Port Elizabeth established by Elizabeth Bodly. A flourishing commercial center, it was designated the port of delivery for its region by an act of Congress in 1789, and remained the hub of the West Indies trade until Philadelphia and New York surpassed it in the early 19th century.

PORT ELIZABETH FRIEND'S CEMETERY, South Delsea Drive, just north of the Port Elizabeth bridge, and owned by the Society of Friends, is the last resting place of Elizabeth Bodly, founder of Port Elizabeth. True to the Quaker tradition of lack of ostentation, her stone bears only the initials E.B. Other prominent residents of this area buried here include Stephen Murphy, Abraham Reeves, and William Madden. A church, built prior to 1709, formerly stood here, but is now gone. The Society was active until 1854, when its members attached to the Greenwich monthly meeting. Occasional meetings were still held in the church after that time, and it was still standing in 1884, at which time the building was sold.

19th century -- glassmaking and shipbuilding became major industries, along with coastal trading and oystering.

Early 1800s -- Dorchester and Leesburg developed with shipbuilding their principal industries.

Early 1800s -- Leesburg and Heislerville established.

1830 -- Maurice River Township had the largest population of the county's eight municipalities.

1849 -- the East Point Light built. Today it is the last remaining landbased lighthouse on the Cumberland County Delaware Bay shore. Maintained by Maurice River Historical Society; frequent subject for artists. Delaware Bay. The red-roofed, brick lighthouse was commissioned in 1852 and transferred to the state of N.J. in 1956.

1865 -- the heyday of Maurice River Township over.

1900s -- Just south of the Manumuskin River flat-bottomed boats are beached on a small landing. These are used for rail bird hunting, and are poled along through the marshes in search of king, sora, and clapper rail. Teddy Roosevelt was the most famous rail bird hunter to come to this area for the purpose. Philadelphians with famous names arrived in limousines to enjoy the sport, and Thomas Eakins is reported to have visited here as well.

1957 -- a deadly disease called MXX attacked the oyster beds and reduced the harvest to practically nothing. Later, a new parasite, Dermo, moved in from southern waters.

1971 -- restoration of the lighthouse begun by the Maurice River Historical Society. Of the four lighthouses along the Bay in Cumberland County, only East Point remains.

1986 -- the Hazardous Waste Siting Commission included an area adjacent to the Manumuskin River, the 3000 acre parcel known as the Warner Tract, was one of five potential sites for a toxic waste entombment facility. The community fought it and won.

1978 -- the site was delisted in April as a result of intensive field studies which demonstrated the environmental sensitivity of that area.

1993 -- the Manumuskin, the Menantico, the Muskee, and the main river, the Maurice, were all put on the list of the federal Wild and Scenic River program. On December 1, 1993 President Bill Clinton signed the legislation approving its designation as Wild and Scenic designating 10.3 miles of the Maurice and 24.9 miles of its tributaries as wild and scenic.

1994 -- on October 26, 1994 Vice President Al Gore presided at a celebration on the banks of the Maurice to commemorate the establishment of a local management plan for the rivers as the last step in the Wild and Scenic process.

Today -- Maurice River Township's major industries are resource extraction and water-based activities. Marinas, boat builders, watermen, crabbers, oystermen, commercial and sports fisherman and recreational boaters all share the bounty of weakfish, flounder, and blues.


The Delaware Bay towns of Moore's Beach, Thompson's Beach, and East Point are excellent sites to view the globally significant shorebird migration in the spring. Over 1.5 million birds, some arriving non-stop from South America, congregate to feast on the annual horseshoe crab egg banquet laid out on the sandy beaches of the Bay. The Maurice River hosts large numbers of bald eagles; in the winter as many as 16 individuals have been counted in one day. The reptile and mammal diversity is also unusual, and 15 of New Jersey's 25 threatened and endangered bird species breed here.

The river supports New Jersey's largest stand of wild rice and 53 percent of the animal species that New Jersey has recognized as endangered, excluding marine mammals. The river is a critical link between the Pinelands National Preserve and the Delaware Estuary -- both nationally and internationally important. The Maurice River serves as the western boundary of the Pinelands. The corridor includes the cities of Vineland and Millville, the townships of Maurice River, Commercial, and Buena Vista.

The state's largest and perhaps only population of the Northern Scarlet Snake is found here [together with significant populations of the Northern Pine Snake and the Corn Snake, both on the Threatened and Endangered list].

Plant Species:

Of particular interest, the Manumuskin River basin harbors thirty-two rare plants, making it one of the most botanically significant areas in New Jersey. The sensitive joint vetch, or Aeschynomene virginica, is found here in the largest of only five stands known worldwide, and is an index of the extreme purity of the water due to lack of development within the area.

PSEG's Maurice River Township Wetlands Restoration Site is located along the Delaware Bay in Heislerville in Cumberland County, NJ. This 1,396 acres site has elevations ranging from sea level to about two feet. The dominant vegetation is salt tolerant grass, with a variety of oaks, sweet gum and sassafras trees growing at the higher elevations.

On the Manumuskin River, the lowland vegetation includes Atlantic white cedar stands and hardwood swamps. Extensive logging and subsequent replacement by hardwoods has dramatically reduced the extent of the cedar. Pitch pine occurs in transition areas. There are also some wetlands formed by excavation and impoundments, including former bogs once flooded for cranberry farming, as well as some vernal ponds. A portion of the state's largest wild rice wetlands extends into the tidal portion of the Manumuskin from the adjacent Maurice River.

Thirty-two rare plants were known to be extant in the drainage basin in 1987, making it one of the most botanically significant areas in New Jersey. One plant [the sensitive joint vetch, or Aeschynomene virginica] is found nowhere else in New Jersey [and is the largest of only five known populations world-wide], and at least five globally endangered species occur. In the summer and early fall the marshes are bright with a succession of purple pickerelweed, pink mallows, yellow tickseed, red cardinal flowers, and the lush green of arrow arum. On both sides of the river stands of sensitive joint vetch will soon be rising taller than the surrounding vegetation, covered with tiny yellow flowers and, in the fall, festooned with the typical legume-like seedpods. It is an annual, so each year the extent of this plant varies. Sometimes it is plentiful, and at other times only a few meager stands can be seen. The presence of sensitive joint vetch is due to the unusual purity of the water in the upper Manumuskin; it is one of only two pristine streams in the Pinelands National Reserve. Its purity is a result of the almost complete absence of development of any kind as well as the exceptional filtration provided by the unbroken hardwood forests that descend to the tidal marsh or the creek bank itself.

The upper Manumuskin is characterized by a freshwater plant community and fringed with red and white oaks, black walnut, swamp maples, sourgum, and other lowland trees which come up to its edge. Otter also live here, and can be seen sliding down icy riverbanks through thickly falling snow on a late winter's afternoon, as well as herding their young upstream in family groups of seven or more on a hot summer day.

The Menantico. Once farms lined the river with the aid of a system of dikes which held tidal flow so that the marshland could be drained. Barges pulled by horses once moved along the diked paths. Gradually, with the advent of commercial fertilizers, the rich marshland was no longer in demand and it was cheaper to let the dikes go. The Burchams', with its red - walled homestead built in 1860 from bricks made in kilns on site, is the last of the diked farms, and is still being worked by the same family which reclaimed it from the marshes over a century ago.

The Menantico River is primarily a freshwater river, and the tidal influence affects the level but does not have as strong an impact on the vegetation as is seen on the lower rivers. Deciduous trees grow down to its banks along most of its navigable length, and a series of freshwater lakes provides excellent fishing for the small boats which can travel that far. Deep scarlet cardinal flowers add colorful accents in late summer.

At Bricksboro the Muskee Creek joins the larger river. There are towering walls of Phragmites. Salt marsh and then tangles of deciduous bushes and trees.

Ferren, W.R., Jr. 1976. Aspects of the Intertidal Zones, Vegetation, and Flora of the Maurice River System, New Jersey. Bartonia No.44: 58-67.

Bidens bidentoides here