Lighthouse Camp shines as model partnership(NJ)

Waretown, NJ: The former Lighthouse Camp on the Barnegat Bay in Waretown will now serve the public as a beacon for natural resource education and enjoyment of the bay’s resources.The Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit land conservation organization, facilitated the purchase of 90 acres of land and 27 buildings for $810,000. The land was transferred to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday, August 17. Tentative plans call for the state to lease the camp as a natural resource education center.

“The Lighthouse Camp will provide direct access to the Barnegat Bay, and offers tremendous opportunities for environmental and natural resource education as an outdoor living laboratory. The on-site facilities will also enable a greater number of people to visit and benefit from these tremendous resources,” said Cindy Gilman, project manager for the Trust for Public Land.

“The Division of Fish and Wildlife is pleased to have a role in preserving one of the last remaining pieces of undeveloped land on Barnegat Bay by agreeing to take responsibility for the property,” said Division Director Bob McDowell. “We are also excited by the educational opportunities provided by the camp and its proximity to our existing environmental education center on the bay at Sedge Island.”

The property consists of coastal salt marsh, open meadows, tidal creeks, maritime forest, a fresh water stream and swamp. In the recent past, the camp was not just another summer respite for children and families, but served as a greater resource. As a camp run by The Lighthouse International, visually impaired and blind visitors enjoyed boating, swimming and fishing in the bay, had access to a classroom and crafts cabin, hiked the quarter-mile trail to the bay and passed time at the indoor pool and outdoor bowling alley. However, as campers were mainstreamed to less specialized camp facilities, attendance declined until the site was no longer needed.

“We are pleased that this environmentally sensitive land will be maintained in its natural state and preserved from development,” said Richard J. Astoreca, Senior Vice President of Finance and CFO for New York Lighthouse Camp for the Blind.

The site has potential for use as a teacher training facility, outdoor classroom, residential natural resource education center and conference center. The Division of Fish and Wildlife is currently working with Experience Barnegat Bay, a project of Youth Environmental Society, Inc. (YES), to develop a management plan for a natural resource education center at the former camp. YES has been providing ecological programming and activities for 22 years, educating toward an environmental ethic.

“We are currently working with the state to explore the possibility of leasing the buildings as a natural resource education center,” said Terry O’Leary, a management consultant for YES. “The possibilities for educating children and adults alike at such a magnificent location are limiteless and we are extremely excited by the opportunity.”

“The tentative plan to develop a lease with the Youth Environmental Society will explore ways to link the educational centers and provide complimentary educational programming at the two facilities,” said McDowell.The camp is located in Ocean County, which has been New Jersey’s fastest-growing county since 1950. The camp and an adjoining 96-acre parcel are the last two sites in central Ocean County between Route 9 and the bay that have not been developed or slated for development.

The Trust for Public Land identified the camp and the adjacent site as priorities for protection in The Century Plan: A Study of One Hundred Conservation Sites in the Barnegat Bay Watershed, and the group has been working to acquire the camp for the last eight years.

“Conserving a property that held so many buildings made the deal complex and prevented its purchase in the past,” said Gilman. “The Division of Fish and Wildlife’s willingness to enter into a long term lease with a nonprofit organization for use and maintenance of the structures provided a window of opportunity that made it possible to transfer this property from private ownership to the public.”

The purchase and transfer to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was made possible by funds from New Jersey Green Acres, the state’s Ciba-Geigy mitigation fund and private funds raised by the Trust, which were contributed by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The William Penn Foundation.

“Our Foundation is committed to supporting public private efforts to protect ecologically important land threatened by development,” said Joan Spero, President of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “We are pleased to help protect this important site as a wildlife refuge and educational facility that will educate the next generation about the need for stewardship of our natural resources.”

“This land and its facilities offer tremendous resources to the public,” said Geraldine Wang, program analyst for The William Penn Foundation. “The Foundation is pleased to have assisted the Trust for Public Land in the preservation of this important property.”

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. 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). Over the last decade, TPL has completed 40 projects in the Barnegat Bay region comprising more than 6,000 acres of the estuary. With its state office in Morristown, TPL has protected more than 12,300 acres throughout New Jersey.