Protected Highlands Property Links to Wildcat Ridge

Nearly 63 acres of land once slated for development is instead being protected as public natural open space, The Trust for Public Land and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation announced today. With the support of the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Rockaway Township property along Lyonsville Road could serve as a future link to the adjacent Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area from other nearby conservation lands, such as Pyramid Mountain.

Known as Copper Beech for the beech trees on the property, the land is also a critical water resource in the New Jersey Highlands. The property has been a priority for protection for many years, and in 2005 the Rockaway Township Open Space Committee asked the New Jersey office of The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, to pursue a conservation solution. In 2008, as the economic downturn began to undermine real estate values, a solution emerged, with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation agreeing to manage the land.

“Morris County is a great place to live, and conservation areas such as Wildcat Ridge, Dixon’s Pond, and Pyramid Mountain play a large part in the quality of life here,” said Anthony Cucchi, TPL’s New Jersey director. “The County’s commitment to link these natural areas only strengthens the value of these areas, and the Copper Beech property will be a keystone for that effort.”

“We are very excited to work with The Trust for Public Land in preserving this property, which ties in well with other nearby lands New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped preserve during our 50-year history, such as Pyramid Mountain and Rock Pear Mountain,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “This property provides another link in a network of preserved lands, which will ultimately lead to more trails for the public to enjoy.”

Major funding for the $2.15 million purchase price came from Morris County. The Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders provided $1.95 million through a grant from the open space portion of the Morris County Preservation Trust Fund. Additionally, $200,000 came from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program.

“This is another exceptional example of our long commitment to protect our County’s natural areas, especially those with this level of environmental significance,” said Morris County Freeholder Jack Schrier, liaison to the county’s open space program. “Now these 63 acres are part of almost 19,000 acres that Morris County has helped to preserve since our program began sixteen years ago. We will continue this important program to enhance our quality of life even while reducing our tax burden on our citizens.”

“We are grateful to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation for their tireless commitment to this vision, and to Morris County Preservation Trust and New Jersey’s state Green Acres program, without which this opportunity would have been lost,” said Terrence Nolan, TPL Senior Project Manager.

“Projects such as Copper Beech are exactly what the Green Acres Program seeks to encourage: joint ventures to preserve, protect, and link regionally important natural areas,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

“Even though our Township was unable to monetarily contribute, I applaud and appreciate that in these difficult economic times, our county and The Trust for Public Land continue to recognize the paramount wisdom in preserving and protecting critical watershed property and our supply of clean water,” said Rockaway Township Mayor Louis Sceusi.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect nearly 3 million acres nationwide, including more than 24,000 acres in New Jersey. TPL depends on the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations.