1,000 Acres Protected in Ocean County, NJ

In a wonderful end-of-the-year gift to New Jerseyans, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced the purchase of 1,044 acres in Ocean County to protect water quality, habitat and recreational resources. The deal placed the vast majority of the land—964 acres in Lacey and Berkeley Townships—under the ownership of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Parks & Forestry as an addition to Double Trouble State Park. The remaining 100 acres are now owned by Ocean County and will serve as a buffer to the adjacent Robert J. Miller Airpark.

“Purchasing this land for conservation is a tremendous accomplishment that protects environmentally sensitive land through deal made possible by a strong public-private partnership,” said Cindy Gilman, project manager for the Trust for Public Land.

“NJDEP Green Acres Program is happy to partner with the Trust for Public Land and Ocean County to protect this environmentally sensitive parcel,” Tom Wells, Green Acres Program Administrator added. “It is a significant addition to the 5,154-acre Double Trouble State Park and links the park to the state-owned Crossley Preserve and the Greenwood Wildlife Management Area. Preserving this land helps to protect the watersheds of the Toms River and Barnegat Bay and adds to the outdoor recreational opportunities the State provides to the citizens of New Jersey.”

The property is located within the state’s Pinelands Protection Area and is home to sensitive pineland vegetation including some of the last remaining habitat of the rare and endangered Pine Barrens tree frog, the corn snake and the pine snake. The mostly wooded land extends unbroken forests that serve as breeding and nesting sites for migratory birds.

“This land is in an area that the Pinelands Commission identified in its initial comprehensive management plan more than two decades ago as environmentally sensitive and extremely threatened by development,” said Bill Harrison, assistant director of the Pinelands Commission. “This acquisition protects a significant area of land that, along with other recent acquisition efforts, has helped preserve most of western Berkley Township.”

In addition to its value for vegetation and wildlife habitat, the property contains the headwaters of the Davenport Branch, a tributary to the Toms River. In forward-thinking communities, buying land to protect water quality has become part of a broader smart growth effort. “There is an undeniable link between the health of our water supplies and the stewardship of the land in those watersheds,” said Gilman. “We have to act now if we want clean water for the future.”

The Toms River flows into the Barnegat Bay, a long-time focus area for protection by the Trust for Public Land. In 1995, TPL published “The Century Plan: A Study of One Hundred Conservation Sites in the Barnegat Bay Watershed,” a comprehensive study identifying 100 high-priority conservation and public access sites in the Barnegat Bay. The plan has become the “greenprint” for the protection of the watershed for TPL as well as other nonprofit and civic groups and local, state and federal agencies committed to a healthy bay ecosystem. To date, TPL has completed 47 projects in the Barnegat Bay, protecting more than 9,400 acres. This most recent transaction includes portions of two of the sites outlined in the Century Plan.

Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett was pleased that the County was able to partner in the acquisition. “The fate of this property has been in question for many years,” said Bartlett. “By joining TPL, the NJDEP and the Pinelands Commission, the county will ensure that the overall 1,064 acres remains preserved forever. In addition, with the direct acquisition of the 100 acre tract near the Robert J. Miller Airport, the County assumes direct control of land serving as a buffer to airfield operations.”

Funding for the $1.45 million deal was provided by a $1.05 million grant from the New Jersey DEP Green Acres Program, $200,000 from the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust and $200,000 from the Trust for Public Land using grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The William Penn Foundation.

“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. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, a major contributor to land conservation, has named the Trust for Public Land co-manager of an $8 million matching grant to protect ecologically significant landscapes throughout the state.

“New Jersey has some of our region’s most precious natural resources that we need to protect now for future generations. This project is perfectly tailored to our goals to protect natural habitat and watershed resources,” said Geraldine Wang, the William Penn Foundation’s program director for the environment and communities. Through its grantmaking and other efforts, the foundation strengthens children’s future, fosters rich cultural expression, and deepens connections to nature and community.

The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in communities and to protect natural and historic resources for future generations. With a state office in Morristown, TPL has protected more than 1.3 million acres nationwide, including more than 18,000 acres in New Jersey.