Land Added to NJ Wildlife Sanctuary
Harding Township, New Jersey, 5/9/2002 — The Trust for Public Land (TPL) a nonprofit land conservation organization raced against the clock and succeeded in protecting an 11-acre hilltop property in Harding Township that is of great ecologic and community importance.
Three months ago, the group received word that the landowner intended to sell the property to a developer. Today, the Trust for Public Land, New Jersey Audubon Society and Harding Township announced the permanent protection of the property and its addition to Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary.
The history of this protection effort goes back to 1997, when the landowner proposed building an 800-foot driveway that would zigzag from Post House Road up the steep slope to the hilltop. The proposal drew strong opposition from community members and environmental groups that wished to protect the forested area and the habitat it provided as well as the viewshed from the adjacent wildlife sanctuary.
Penny Hinkle, director of the Harding Land Trust, community members and NJ Audubon brought the problem to the attention of the Trust for Public Land, hoping that TPL could acquire the property. In 1998, when the landowner received a minor subdivision approval from the township, TPL was granted the right of first refusal to purchase the Post House Road property if the landowner ever decided to sell.
On February 7, 2002, the Trust for Public Land was notified by the landowner of a pending sale to a developer. To exercise the right of first refusal, TPL had 30 days to agree to the terms of the existing contract. During that time, the group worked with neighbors on Post House Road, the NJ Audubon Society and Harding Township to raise the funds to purchase the $550,000 property.
“It has been rewarding to see the community in Harding Township come together to protect this very special natural resource,” said Terrence Nolan, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “Only by identifying such properties as priorities for protection and acting to ensure that they are acquired, as the neighbors on Post House Road did, will communities be assured a future that includes adequate open space and recreational resources.”
Development of the land would have degraded critical woodland bird habitat and construction of the driveway alone would have resulted in the loss of one and a half acres of mature forest, including Chestnut Oak and American Beech. The site is part of a 4,000 acre forested belt of protected lands stretching from the Audubon sanctuary, through Morristown National Historic Park to Washington Valley Park. This large forest region is home to the fiery red scarlet tanager, one of many declining forest interior breeding birds.
“The Post House Road parcel will be an invaluable addition to our Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary,” said Tom Gilmore, president of NJ Audubon Society. “This eleven acre gem completes our 20-year effort to preserve the Passaic River viewshed of uninterrupted forest at Scherman-Hoffman. NJ Audubon is now the proud steward of over 275 acres at this site that are home to Hooded Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and many other species from Noah’s Ark.”
Harding Township has been aggressively protecting open space. “We are trying to retain as much land in Harding Township as we possibly can as we face dwindling rural and open space resources,” said Harding Township Supervisor Rich Wiedmann. “With its steep slopes and important resources, development was not the best use of this land.”
Funds for the purchase of the property were provided by TPL through grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Johanette Wallerstein Institute, as well as the New Jersey Audubon Society, Harding Township, and contributions from private individuals. TPL and Harding Township will seek reimbursement of a portion of the purchase price from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has been a major contributor to land conservation in the New Jersey Highlands region for many years and named the Trust for Public Land co-manager, along with The Nature Conservancy, of an $8 million matching grant to protect ecologically significant landscapes in New Jersey.
“We were very impressed by the number of neighbors who pledged their support to protect the last piece of open space on Post House Road,” said Kelly Shelsky, who lives across the street from the newly protected property.
The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in our communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. TPL specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, conservation finance, and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. With a state office in Morristown, TPL has helped protect more than 17,300 acres in New Jersey.
The New York / New Jersey Highlands, in which this property lies, encompass nearly one million rugged acres of forests, lakes, and clear running streams stretching from eastern Pennsylvania to northwest Connecticut, form a greenbelt of farmlands and forests along the burgeoning Pennsylvania – New York – Connecticut corridor. To date, the Trust for Public Land has protected more than 25,000 acres in the New York / New Jersey Highlands.
Home to NJ Audubon’s headquarters, the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary is open to the public to enjoy and celebrate the site’s wildlife, fields and forest. The sanctuary features over three miles of trails, a staffed nature center and offers extensive programming open to the public. For more information on NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, visit www.njaudubon.org.