Key Lands Along NJ Coast Preserved

Ocean County, NJ, 1/31/1999: With over a mile of shorefront, the last major “emerald” in a coastal “necklace” of natural lands along Barnegat Bay’s western shore has been preserved. At the mouth of the Forked River, the 375-acre tract in Lacey Township is the last piece in a puzzle linking 1,000 protected acres.

Known as Forked River Annex, the property was purchased on Thursday, January 28th from AT&T by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, and turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for addition to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The $1.72 million purchase involved a complex funding package assembled by TPL. Contributions came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, New Jersey Green Acres monies, and a grant to TPL from the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation.

“In the space of four months TPL has preserved the three largest remaining tracts on Barnegat Bay as public open space. Forked River is the last of the really big nuggets needed to complete the necklace.” said TPL Project Manager John Klevins. “It’s a strategic acquisition, preserving as it does over a mile of shore in the heart of a thousand acres of contiguous open land.”

AT&T had been approached by a developer with a plan to build some 250 homes on the 375-acre property. Company spokesman Ritch Blasi said the company “preferred to sell the land for conservation purposes, given our commitment to New Jersey’s wildlife. But we also had to get a reasonable return for our stockholders. Working with TPL made it possible for us to do both.”

?Eighty-three adjacent acres to the south of Forked River Annex, known as the Pugliese property, were protected by TPL in July, 1995. North of Forked River Annex is the 600-acre State Game Farm. Together these properties form over 1,000-acres of protected coastal lands.

Forked River Annex includes pine-oak forests, freshwater streams and pools enshrouded by stands of cedars, and salt marshes. The property is home to at least three state or federally endangered species: a plant known as the swamp pink, the red-shouldered hawk and the Pine Barrens treefrog. At least 14 other plant and animal species found there are listed as threatened, rare or of special concern by the state.

A wide, level trail beginning at the Jones Road cul-de-sac brings hikers into a near wilderness landscape. Walking the trail is a lesson in ecological zones, beginning with forests, continuing with lowlands and ending in salt marsh. Hiking, cross-country skiing and wildlife viewing will immediately be permitted on this exceptional trail under a special easement created by the State of New Jersey.

Large continuous natural areas are critical for maintaining stopover habitat for Atlantic Flyway birds and other species. The animals in turn attract spring and fall eco-tourists who come to Ocean County to witness the migration, benefitting the local economy. The Forked River tract lies toward the southern end of a chain of undeveloped lands stretching south to Ocean Township and north to Tilton Point. This “emerald necklace”, includes the Sloop Creek, Maple Creek and Sands Point Harbor tracts, which have also benefitted from TPL preservation efforts. There are other coastal tracts that remain among TPL’s Century Plan priorities but Forked River Annex represents the last large open property with a single owner.

In December, TPL preserved a 365-acre parcel on Good Luck Point in Berkeley Township. This coastal landmark for area boaters is now an Ocean County park. In October, TPL preserved a 214-acre parcel on Tilton Point in Dover Township, connecting five existing parks to preserve nearly 1,000 shorefront acres.

Founded in 1972, TPL uses its real estate, legal, and public financing expertise to protect and enhance open space for public use and enjoyment. With its state office in Morristown, TPL has to date preserved over one million acres of land nationwide, including almost 11,000 in New Jersey.

In 1995, TPL published the Century Plan, a regional land conservation blueprint for the Barnegat Bay watershed. TPL has protected 37 individual properties in the Bay’s watershed totaling nearly 6,000 acres. In addition to these land acquisition and planning efforts, TPL’s Barnegat Bay Initiative sponsored scientific research and mapping, and makes yearly grants to local conservation groups.