Abbey Land Protected as Public Park for Morristown, NJ

MORRISTOWN, N.J. 7/1/2009: The Trust for Public Land has purchased 188 acres of land from the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, which owns and manages Delbarton School and St. Mary’s Abbey in Morris Township. The property is one of the last large, undeveloped tracts of land in Morris County, and adjoins Lewis Morris County Park and Morristown National Historical Park.

Located in the heart of Washington Valley and near General George Washington’s encampment, the land had been targeted for development for decades until The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation nonprofit, stepped in to secure an option to purchase the property last year. Conservationists, government agencies, and neighbors partnered to ensure the property would be conserved for future generations to enjoy.

The sale of this land will enable the Order to provide some financial support for its monks, while also preserving a significant portion of Abbey land for public open space. Conservation of the land will also enhance and expand the Patriot’s Path trail system. A portion of the land has been designated as the site of a future four-acre children’s park at the end of Wood Road.

“Having owned this land for more than 80 years, we have come to truly appreciate its natural beauty and importance to the community,” said Abbot Giles Hayes, O.S.B., the superior of the monastic community at Saint Mary’s Abbey. “To be able to preserve the land for future generations while also increasing our Order’s ability to serve the community is immensely gratifying.”

The Trust for Public Land raised the $13,750,000 purchase price from many funding sources from across Morris County. The Morris County Park Commission contributed $5.2 million; The Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders contributed $6 million through a grant from the Open Space portion of the Morris County Preservation Trust Fund; Morris Township contributed $1.1 million; The Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority contributed $1 million; the Great Swamp Watershed Association contributed $350,000; and The Trust for Public Land contributed $100,000 to the purchase of the land. This funding includes $5.2 million in matching grants to the funding partners from NJDEP’s Green Acres program.

“Conserving this much land in such a densely populated part of the country is an enormous accomplishment that required the steady cooperation of many different organizations,” said Dene Lee, project manager for the New Jersey Field Office of The Trust for Public Land, “We are thankful to have worked with the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey to preserve this land.”

Much of the property will remain in a natural state, but the Morris County Park Commission expects to route a segment of Patriot’s Path-a county-maintained network of trails-through the newly preserved land. The Commission plans to add the property to Lewis Morris County Park. The Township of Morris will own and manage ten acres of the site as part of their open space inventory.

“The Morris County Park Commission was pleased to have been a partner in this land preservation project,” said Dave Helmer, Executive Director of the Morris County Park Commission. “With this new acquisition, Lewis Morris County Park, the first designated park in the park system, will increase to over 2,000 acres.”

Morris County Freeholder Jack Schrier, liaison to the county’s open space program, said, “The Board of Chosen Freeholders is delighted to be able to provide the largest contribution on the project. Funding comes from an Open Space grant from the County Preservation Trust Fund. While the Trust Fund has assisted with the acquisition of over 18,200 acres of open space and farmland since 1994-with more than 2,300 additional acres pending-this particular purchase is especially rewarding and will be beneficial to all the residents of our great county.”

“Morris Township is pleased to be a partner in this land preservation project. The Township has worked for over ten years to identify a viable partnership to fund the protection of this valuable resource.” Explained Morris Township Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush, “The project is the culmination of years of hard work on the part of Morris Township, TPL, the MCPC and the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey. The creation of this public and private partnership is a major accomplishment.”

“In this part of Morris County, the acquisition of this parcel represents a valuable step in protecting water quality,” said Glenn Schweizer, Executive Director of the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority. “The MUA is happy to have expanded its participation in the preservation of the important water resources of the Washington Valley area through this exceptional multi-agency partnership.”

“This is the most important acquisition we’ve been involved with in the history of our Open Space Trust Fund, and it results from the quiet diplomacy of the Mayors and former Mayors over a decade or more,” reflected Rick Watson, Chairman of the Morris Township Open Space Advisory Committee. “Most of all, it is a tribute to the Monks of the Abbey, who consistent with their faith and mission, passed up much more lucrative offers in order to benefit the public and preserve the land.”

Sally Rubin, Executive Director of the Great Swamp Watershed Association said, “Great Swamp Watershed Association has been actively involved for many years in the effort to preserve and protect this environmentally sensitive parcel of land. We are delighted that we were able to work collaboratively with this dedicated group of individuals and entities to accomplish our common goal. Kudos to The Trust for Public Land and our other partners for this outstanding achievement.”

Morris County Preservation Trust Fund
The Morris County Preservation Trust Fund was established by the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1992, with the collection of funds commencing the following year. Under the Open Space Program, a fifteen-member committee reviews and makes recommendations to the Freeholders on applications submitted by any of the County’s 39 municipalities as well as eligible land conservancies. For more information, visit:

St. Mary’s Abbey
St. Mary’s Abbey at Delbarton is a Benedictine Abbey of the American Cassinese Congregation. The monks at St. Mary’s Abbey serve as the teachers and administrators at Delbarton School, a private college preparatory school that ranks as one of the best high schools in the United States. For more than 80 years, the monks have been responsible stewards and owners of approximately 400 acres of land in the area. The monks have been particularly fond of the land’s tranquility and the many scenic areas it provides for solitude and reflection. For more information, visit:

The Trust for Public Land
TPL conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.5 million acres of land in 46 states, including more than 23,000 acres in New Jersey. Locally, TPL recently protected 112 acres through a purchase from the Sisters of Saint John the Baptist in Mendham Township. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.

Morris County Park Commission
The Morris County Park Commission, the largest county park system in the state of New Jersey, currently protects and maintains 18,030 acres at 38 distinct sites and a year round calendar of events and activities. For more information, visit:

The Township of Morris Open Space Trust Fund
Since the institution of the Open Space Trust Fund, the Township has preserved 214 acres of parkland. Through the fund, the Township has preserved properties that now serve as refuges for wildlife, public water supply lands, new recreational facilities, and as buffers between wetlands and developed areas. For more information, visit:

The Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority
The Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority provides solid waste removal, recycling and water services for Morris County municipalities. For more information, visit:

Great Swamp Watershed Association
The Great Swamp Watershed Association is dedicated to protecting and improving water resources in the region by monitoring local streams, advocating for intelligent land use, and educating our communities about water quality and quantity and their effect on the health and natural beauty of the local environment. The Association serves as an important environmental resource for individuals, organizations and governmental entities. For more information, visit:

Green Acres
The Green Acres Program was created in 1961 to meet New Jersey’s growing recreation and conservation needs. Together with public and private partners, Green Acres has protected almost 640,000 acres of open space and provided hundreds of outdoor recreational facilities in communities around the State. Its mission is to achieve, in partnership with others, a system of interconnected open spaces, whose protection will preserve and enhance New Jersey’s natural environment and its historic, scenic, and recreational resources for public use and enjoyment.