Living the Jeep Life: From Wagoneer to Renegade

On New Year’s Eve, I participated in a ride with the Pine Barrens VENOM Jeep Club, a group that organizes volunteer trash cleanups in the woods as well as recreational rides and events. My Jeep was the lone stock Renegade among a herd of Wranglers, many of which were modified to handle the rough dirt roads through Wharton State Forest. Since this was my first drive with them, one of the club members named Chris kindly volunteered to ride shotgun with me. 

The club president led the way as we departed from Atsion Mansion in Shamong. We entered the woods at Hampton Road and then followed Stokes Road to where it merged with Quaker Bridge Road, driving over the metal bridge. These roads were fairly easy, and I frequently drive these myself on a regular basis. 

Alpine White 2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk with Jeeps on Pine Barrens Road
Jeeps on Pine Barrens Road (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

When we reached Penn Swamp Branch Road, we encountered more challenging terrain with downed trees and large, deep puddles. My Renegade won some admiration when it successfully navigated this area while several of the Wranglers got stuck.

I’ve been wanting to participate in one of these rides since I moved to the Pine Barrens and was happy to finally find the time. My family has a history with Jeeps.

Jeep Wagoneer

In the 1970s, my dad owned a first generation white Jeep Wagoneer with a green interior. I don’t recall the model year, but I’m certain he bought it used. Very used. I vividly remember a hole in the floor of the backseat big enough to see the road. 

Dad used it for fishing, his beloved favorite pastime, and for scenic drives on Brigantine’s North Beach. No houses exist on the almost three-mile stretch of the barrier island past north 14th Street because most of it is owned and protected by the state.

My mother wasn’t into fishing, but she loved going to the beach. One summer day, the year before she died, she had difficulty walking on the sand and needed help to settle in her beach chair for the afternoon as she had done countless times before. At the end of the day, though, she was exhausted and sadly declared that this would be her last visit to the beach. 

Jeep Renegade Deserthawk

The North Beach was still open to four-wheel drive vehicles. I had the idea to get one so I could take my mother on the beach again without her having to walk to a spot. The next summer, I purchased a 2017 Alpine White Jeep Renegade Deserthawk, the top-of-the-line model recommended especially for the deep sandy beach surfaces where I planned to drive. Sadly, my mother rode in it only once and not to the beach. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she passed away shortly after I purchased it.

Up until 2018, 4×4 owners needed a yearly permit from the city of Brigantine to access the North Beach and the South End’s jetty and cove. The 2018 fee for the permit was $175 to $200, depending on the time of year you bought it. However, in January of that year, the Department of Environmental Protection, in order to protect endangered species such as the piping plover, instituted its own permit system for the state-owned portion of the North Beach. Only holders of a limited number of Mobile Sport Fishing Permits, costing $50 to $75, depending on state residency, were now permitted. City permits continued to also be required because Brigantine still owned the access road and a short section of the beach. This angered island residents who, like my family, accessed the North Beach for decades.

With my mother gone, I didn’t have a need to drive on the beach myself but kept my new Jeep. When I moved to Waterford, my Renegade proved to be ideal for exploring the rugged terrain of Pine Barrens narrow sand roads, which do not require a permit. 

During my New Year’s Eve drive, Chris and I discussed a proposed plan to require permits for motorized vehicles in Wharton State Forest. The plan is meeting with strong opposition, including from the Jeep group I drove with that day.

We looped back to Quaker Bridge Road and finished the drive as the sun began setting. My dad’s old Wagoneer was one of the biggest Jeeps in the line. Mine is the littlest. However, equipped with a 2.4L engine and skid plates, it held its own against the Wranglers. To paraphrase Shakespeare, although it be but little, it is mighty!

Alpine White 2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk with white Wrangler on Pine Barrens Road
Renegade and Wrangler (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

“…it includes rock rails as a standard feature, protecting the rocker panels over boulder-studded terrain. And it’s Trail Rated, which on the Renegade means it’s equipped with Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel-drive system that includes a low range, as well as a new Rock mode for the Selec-Terrain system in addition to the standard Trailhawk’s Snow, Sand, Mud, and Auto selections. There’s a map graphic on the hood that is a stylized representation of Moab, Utah, and the surrounding area, along with other Deserthawk-specific styling details.”

Tony Swan – Tested: 2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk 2.4L 4×4
2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk Moab, Utah trail map black and white decal
Moab (Photo by Beach and Barrens)