Addition to Turkey Swamp Wildlife Area (NJ)

Freehold, NJ, 12/21/01 — Selling his property for conservation may pale in comparison to other events in Chaim Melcer’s life, but by putting more than 1,400 acres of land into public ownership, he has made a difference in New Jersey while fulfilling a long-time dream.

Melcer, of Jewish decent, was born in Poland in 1930. He was nine years old when Germany began its attack on Poland during World War II. At age 11, he jumped from a train that took his mother and three younger siblings to a concentration camp. He survived during the Holocaust by hiding in the woods for more than two years, eventually reuniting with his father, who also escaped from the train.

When he was 19, Melcer came to the United States with not much more than a desire for a better life. With a farming background, he invested land—viewed as a measure of success in Europe. Like many in southern New Jersey during the 1950s and ’60s, he raised chickens until that industry began to move farther south into the Carolinas. Over time, he and his partners invested in substantial properties and owned significant landholdings, which became more and more desirable for development.

Melcer acted on a second part of that European dream—to give back to the community—when and his partners in Freehold Jackson Associates and another partnership, CCT Associates, sold 1,443 acres of land to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL). The land is now part of the state’s Turkey Swamp Wildlife Management Area and the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Program. TPL, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, used its legal, technical and real estate expertise to structure a complex deal that protected the property that spans two townships and two counties. Partners in the project included TPL, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program, Monmouth County, Ocean County, Freehold Township, Jackson Township, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William Penn Foundation.

“We could have sold this land to developers for a great deal more, but some land should be preserved and I felt it was important to keep it open and available to the community,” said Melcer.

“Protecting the few remaining large tracts of land in New Jersey by necessity means building partnerships and pooling resources,” said Cindy Gilman, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “This land would not be protected if it were not for the willingness of the landowners to sell for conservation and for the agencies and private foundations that provided funding support.”

The acquisition builds on a transaction completed by TPL in March of 2001. The results of these two efforts are the permanent protection of nearly 1,800 acres of primarily forested and environmentally sensitive land. When combined with existing wildlife management lands and Monmouth County’s Turkey Swamp Park to the northeast, the area boasts more than 5,400 acres of open space.

“Preserving this land supports New Jersey’s long-term conservation goals. It is a critical link in the ‘Capitol to the Coast’ greenway initiative and protects the sensitive Barnegat Bay watershed and the region’s water supply. It also preserves valuable wildlife habitat and offers park and recreational opportunities,” said Green Acres Program Administrator Tom Wells.

The newly protected land also contains the majority of the headwaters of the South Branch of the Metedeconk River and includes a portion of the headwaters of the Toms River. Both contribute significantly to the surface and groundwater quality of Ocean and Monmouth counties. The preservation effort in an area faced with intense development pressures will help protect the region’s water supply, maintain the sensitive Barnegat Bay ecosystem, preserve valuable wildlife habitat and offer park and recreational opportunities.

Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett noted that the Metedeconk River serves as a source of drinking water for thousands of residents in northeastern Ocean County. “The protection of this property directly supports ongoing efforts between the County of Ocean and the Brick Municipal Utility Authority to protect the water supply for generations to come”

Dorothy H. Avallone, Freehold Township Mayor, echoed these sentiments. “The Township of Freehold is fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with the Green Acres Program and TPL to preserve open space and the quality of life in our community. The benefits of this acquisition can be realized immediately and will last into the future.”

Funding for the purchase of the $8,677,500 purchase was provided by the New Jersey DEP Green Acres Program (direct funds as well as local, county and nonprofit grants), the Monmouth County open space trust fund, Freehold Township open space trust fund, the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Program and 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 in New Jersey, 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 futures, 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. Working with other nonprofit and civic groups and local, state and federal agencies, TPL has made a long-term commitment to preserving and protecting New Jersey’s natural resources, including significant efforts in the Barnegat Bay region. In 1995, TPL published “The Century Plan: A Study of One Hundred Conservation Sites in the Barnegat Bay Watershed.” Since that time, the organization has completed 47 projects in the Barnegat Bay, protecting more than 9,400 acres. With a state office in Morristown, NJ, TPL has protected more than 1.3 million acres nationwide, including more than 16,500 acres in New Jersey.