780 Acres Preserved for Ocean Co. Parkland (NJ)

Little Egg Harbor, NJ – December 13, 2004: The nonprofit Trust for Public Land and Ocean County announced today that 780 acres along the Mill Branch of the Tuckerton Creek, in Little Egg Harbor have been transferred from a private owner to Ocean County for permanent protection. Adjacent to Bass River State Forest, the county’s Freedom Fields Park, and township parklands, this property complements existing public lands, preserves open space and endangered species habitat, and helps protect the water quality of the Barnegat Bay.

“Every acre of open space is precious to both our wildlife habitat and the beauty of the Ocean County area,” said Representative Jim Saxton. “But every acre is under heavy pressure from regional development. The Ocean County Freeholders have made a wise decision in setting aside this large tract of land, and I am glad we were able to convince Congress to contribute $2 million to their efforts.”

Located between the Garden State Parkway and Route 539, the land is being purchased from an investment partnership known as the Harbor Group.

“This property has been the focus of conservation groups for many years because of it’s size, location along the Mill Branch, and rich and varied habitat, which is suitable for a wide variety of important species including the state-listed endangered timber rattlesnake, Atlantic white cedar, tree frogs, and even rumors of a barred owl” said Kathy Haake, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “We’re grateful to our Congressional delegation, Ocean County, and all of those who supported this important protection effort.”

The northern portion of the property consists of uplands, which had been considered for various development plans including a NASCAR racetrack, a dredge spoil disposal site, and, most recently, residential homes around a golf course. Strongly opposed by Save Barnegat Bay and many local residents, a proposed sewer line extension to the property was turned down even before a local referendum on the subject took place.

“This Board of Freeholders and our Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee did not want to lose the opportunity to preserve this important piece of land and chose to make this tremendous investment in the future of our county,” said Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund program. “This is our largest acquisition since getting the natural lands program underway in 1997 and its location to other natural lands and open space fits perfectly with the goals of our program.”

The Trust for Public Land worked with the landowner while $5.5 million could be raised to purchase and protect the property. These funds will come from a variety of sources. Under the leadership of Congressman Saxton and the senators, $1,978,955 in federal funding from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) was earmarked for this project in 2003.

Ocean County has advanced the full funding amount except for a $115,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, awarded to the Trust for Public Land. A portion of the county’s funds will be reimbursed with the federal CELCP monies, which go through the state. At the time they provide the CELCP reimbursement to the county, the State of New Jersey intends to contribute to the acquisition and will then take ownership of a portion of the land adjacent to their Bass River State Forest.

More than two miles of old woods roads and existing trails run through the property, which will remain in its natural state and be open to the public. Trails can be accessed from points off County Route 539 and Poor Man’s Parkway.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.9 million acres of land. With a state office in Morristown, TPL has protected more than 21,000 acres in New Jersey, including nearly 10,000 acres in the Barnegat Bay watershed. TPL’s Barnegat Bay Initiative is a long-term protection strategy for the bay, including public education, scientific research, land planning and acquisition of critical properties. TPL’s scientific framework for prioritizing sites for protection grew from The Century Plan, published in 1995 and its sequel, Beyond the Century Plan (1997).