Partnership protects 295 acres in Rockaway Township (NJ)

Rockaway Township, NJ: Faced with the challenge to protect 295 acres of land in Morris County with a $7 million price tag, the Trust for Public (TPL) Land led a partnership with Rockaway Township and formed a coalition of funding partners including the federal government, the State of New Jersey, Morris County and two private foundations, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Victoria Foundation.

The group announced today the transfer of 293.5 acres to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife for management as part of the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area and 1.5 acres to Rockaway Township, which will provide access to Wildcat Ridge from Meriden Lyonsville Road.

“Putting together partnerships like this is at the heart of what the Trust for Public Land does,” said Terrence Nolan, project manager for TPL, a national nonprofit land conservation organization that uses its real estate, legal and public finance expertise to protect land for public use and enjoyment. “Once we see a property with the tremendous natural and recreational resources that this land has to offer, we do everything possible to ensure that it is permanently protected for the public to enjoy.”

On this project, “doing everything possible” meant securing funding and bringing together contributions from nine funding sources (including both public and privately fundraised dollars), negotiating with the landowner, and coordinating the transfer to two landowners for long term management of the property.

“New Jersey has set the unprecedented goal of preserving one million additional acres of open space in the next decade. However, government cannot do it alone,” said Governor Christie Whitman. “The value of public/private partnership cannot be overstated when it involves preserving our natural resources. When looking at how we can ensure our open spaces are protected into the future, we must utilize all available resources. I applaud the Trust for Public Land for their help in improving the quality of life for New Jerseyans.”

“The Highlands area is one of New Jersey’s major natural resource areas in which Governor Whitman is focusing land preservation efforts. The open space purchase today is another landmark in our long-term goal of preserving the Highlands and its critical watershed for ourselves and all generations to come,” said State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn.

In the past decade however, the Highlands have been losing roughly 10,200 acres to development each year. In Morris County, the pressure from development is particularly acute. The 295-acre parcel is adjacent to a soon-to-be subdivision and itself had preliminary approvals for the development of 108 homes, increasing the value of the land.

The tract connects the state-owned Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area-now expanded to 3009 acres-to the Beaver Brook, headwaters for Rockaway’s municipal water supply. The property is also located under a flyway frequented by hawks, eagles and other raptors during spring and fall migrations. During the fall of 1998, more than 18,000 raptors were counted above the site, including 84 bald eagles.

In the future, the newly protected land will allow for the development of connections to the Farny Highlands Trail Network, a 37-mile trail system linking public lands in northern Morris County.

“This will be a significant addition to the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area, which already contains an extensive network of trails,” said David Epstein, Executive Director of the Morris Land Conservancy.

The bulk of the funding for the purchase ($4.5 million) was made available by New Jersey’s Green Acres Program, using Garden State Preservation Trust Funds and funds granted through the Federal Land & Water Conservation Fund and Forest Legacy Program. The New Jersey Congressional delegation, including Senators Frank Lautenburg and Robert Torricelli and Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) played an instrumental role in ensuring the availability of these federal funds.

On the local level, Rockaway Township provided $500,000 from its Open Space Trust Fund and helped secure an additional grant of $1,000,000 from Morris County’s Open Space and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund to complement a $500,000 Green Acres grant provided by the Morris Land Conservancy.

TPL also contributed $1 million toward the purchase through private fundraising. In addition to $100,000 from the organization’s Highlands Fund, TPL secured $500,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and $400,000 from the Victoria Foundation.

Both the Victoria Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation have been major contributors to land conservation in the Highlands region. The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy are co-managing an $8 million matching fund, established with a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to protect ecologically significant landscapes in New Jersey. This project is the first to use those funds, which require a four to one match, thereby creating a framework where partnerships are critical.

“This project with its many public and private partners and high conservation value is a potential model for future protection efforts across the state of New Jersey,” said Joan Spero, President of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Victoria Foundation has been committed to the protection of natural areas in the Highlands for a number of years and is pleased to be a part of the diverse partnership that has come together to acquire this tract,” said Cathy McFarland, President of the Victoria Foundation.

“In protecting this treasure of the Highlands, we were fortunate to have such skillful partners, leveraging their various resources. The Trust for Public Land’s quick action enabled this partnership to happen,” said Tim Dillingham, Director of the Highlands Coalition.

“I want to thank all of our financial partners for assisting us in preserving this precious parcel of land and protecting the quality of our drinking water. We could not have done it alone. Partnering works!” said John Inglesino, the Mayor of Rockaway Township.

Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than a million acres of land across the country, valued at more than $1.2 billion. With its state office in Morristown, NJ, TPL has protected more than 12,000 acres statewide, including 25,000 acres of watershed lands, habitat, and parkland in the Highlands. TPL recently launched its Greenprint for Growth campaign to conserve land as a way to control sprawl, protect air and water, and ensure a high quality of life in communities nationwide.

The Green Acres Program of the Department of Environmental Protection was created in 1961 to meet New Jersey’s growing recreation and conservation needs. To date over 435,913 acres of conservation and recreation lands have been, or are in the process of being preserved, including 92,758 acres in the Highlands, and hundreds of public parks have been built with Green Acres funds.