100 Acres on Wildcat Ridge (NJ) Protected

Morristown, NJ, 12/21/01 — The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation group today announced the purchase of a 100-acre property in Rockaway Township known as Johnson Woods. The land is now in the hands of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish, Game & Wildlife as part of the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Wildcat Ridge is in the Beaver Brook Watershed—headwaters for Rockaway’s municipal water supply. Protection of the land will help to ensure clean drinking water. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the Beaver Brook wetlands as a priority wetland under the Emergency Wetland Resources Act.

Wildcat Ridge is also known as prime feeding and nesting habitat for hawks, eagles and other raptors during spring and fall migrations. During 2001, more than 16,000 raptors were counted above the site, including seventy-five bald eagles. The management area falls within the Farny Highlands, a biologically diverse area that is home to 907 species of plants and animals, including seventy-one at-risk species. The new property addition protects wildlife habitat and will extend public access along the western boundary of the management area. The Farny Highlands is one of twelve New Jersey Critical Treasures designated by the Highlands Coalition as priority areas for conservation.

“Although there are many areas within the Highlands that deserve protection, the Highlands Coalition has mapped out areas as priorities based on their resource value and their vulnerability,” said Terrence Nolan, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “We are pleased to be working in a number of those areas – in many cases on the largest remaining parcels of open space. Johnson Woods is an excellent addition to the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area.”

>The Johnson Woods property contains an abandoned railroad bed with a trail easement owned and managed by the Morris County Park Commission. This acquisition will provide a buffer to that trail, which operates as an extension to Patriot’s Path, a countywide hiking corridor.

The Highlands region has been deemed highly critical and in need of preservation by the state. The region has been recognized in the State Development and Redevelopment Plan as the first Special Resource Area in New Jersey – an area or region with unique characteristics or resources of statewide importance which are essential to the sustained well being and function of its own region and other regions, environmental, economic, and social systems, and to the quality of life for future generations. Because of the significance of the region, the Green Acres Program has directed significant funds towards acquisitions in this region.

The Highlands have been losing roughly 10,200 acres to development each year over the past decade. The pressure from development is particularly acute in Morris County. But for the landowner’s willingness to sell the property to TPL, new homes would likely have been built on the land. The parcel had already received preliminary approvals for development.

“This tract was almost lost to development before TPL’s intervention. Future generations who will discover the near wilderness along the Greenway will forever be in the debt of the visionaries at TPL for preserving the sanctity of this section of the trail,” said Quentin C. Schlieder, Jr., Secretary-Director for the Morris County Park Commission.

The deal is the second addition to Wildcat Ridge facilitated by the Trust for Public Land. In July 2000, TPL conveyed approximately 295 acres to the state after orchestrating a complex deal involving the landowner, the state, Rockaway Township and eight different funding sources.

“The residents of Rockaway Township, Morris County and the state of New Jersey will benefit from this latest open space land purchase,” said Rockaway Township Mayor and Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino. “The Johnson tract will link existing parkland, enhancing the state of New Jersey’s Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area and provide for public access to the Morris County Parks system’s West Morris Greenway trail network.”

Funding for the $639,000 purchase was provided by a public-private partnership of the Trust for Public Land, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, a major contributor to land conservation in the Highlands region for many years, has named the Trust for Public Land co-manager of an $8 million matching grant to protect ecologically significant landscapes in New Jersey. “By providing funds for this project and others like it throughout New Jersey, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is helping leverage other public and private resources to protect our natural heritage,” said Peter Howell, the foundation’s program director for the environment.

“Partnerships like this are critical to large parcels of open space,” noted New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) Executive Director Michele S. Byers. “Johnson Woods would not be preserved today without the Trust for Public Land, the State of New Jersey, NJCF, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation working together. Each time we work in partnership to conserve an important piece of New Jersey’s natural heritage, we increase our collective buying power for more land preservation opportunities in the future.”

The Trust for Public Land has been active in the protection of the Highlands for more than a decade. To date, TPL has helped to protect more than 25,000 acres in the New York – New Jersey Highlands. A member of both the board of directors and the steering committee of the Highlands Coalition, TPL is working with this team of eighty-five local, state, regional and national citizen organizations to protect this valuable resource.

This week, TPL announced two transactions in southern New Jersey that will protect approximately 2,400 acres in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. TPL, whose state office is located in Morristown, has protected more than 16,500 acres in New Jersey and more than 1.3 million acres nationwide.