Stafford Farm Permanently Protected (NJ)

Voorhees Township, New Jersey, 1/12/04: The 140-acre Stafford Farm in Voorhees Township, New Jersey will now serve the public as parkland while a portion continues as a working farm. The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation organization, led efforts to protect this resource and preserve it as farmland and open space. Funding for the $20.6 million purchase was made available from public and private sources, including Voorhees Township, the State Agriculture Development Committee, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program, Camden County Open Space Preservation Trust Fund, William Penn Foundation, and private donations to the Trust for Public Land. The land was purchased from the Stafford family, which had owned the farm for more than 225 years.

“We’re grateful to the family for being committed to seeing this project through and for making the permanent protection of this wonderful resource possible,” said Cindy Gilman, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “The protection of this historic landmark is important not only to Voorhees and Camden County, but to the region as a whole as a key parcel in the River to Bay Greenway.”

Many developers had made offers to purchase the property located at the busy intersection of White Horse and Evesham roads. Proposals included an all-residential development or a mixed commercial/residential development, which would have dramatically increase traffic and compromised the community’s bucolic setting.

The land was originally given to the Stafford’s after a family member served as a bodyguard for George Washington. Since then, generations of township residents have cherished the sight of the trotters training on the farm. The land is a historic gem and one of the few picturesque, scenic resources left within the rapidly developing township.

This suburban community in Camden County is less than 12 square miles, but its location less than 20 miles east of Philadelphia and midway between New York and Washington, D.C. make it desirable for development. With “build out” for the town projected for 2015, the Voorhees Master Plan (revised in 1998) emphasizes preserving open space, limits developers to fewer houses per acre, and proposes an 18-mile bikeway through the township.

“Preserving this land was one of our major goals in 2003. Accomplishing this goal prevents the possibility of suffocating residential or commercial development from ever touching this historic and environmentally sensitive parcel. It is our intention to have future generations experience land exactly as it has looked for centuries,” said Voorhees Mayor Harry Platt.

Approximately half of the property has been used for the horse farm. The property also includes a 40-acre forest that has at least 26 species of trees and serves as a resting spot for migratory birds. Both the forest and a 27-acre portion will be jointly owned by Voorhees Township and the State of New Jersey and will be available for hiking, birding, and historical education. Plans also call for the resurrection of an old stagecoach trail linking the high school and middle school.

“Preservation of the beautiful Stafford Farm is a jewel in the crown of Camden County’s aggressive open-space program,” said Camden County Freeholder Deputy Director Edward T. McDonnell, who oversees the county’s open-space initiative. “With the acquisition of this property, Camden County has preserved more than 1,000 acres over the past three years, taking us half way to our goal of 2,000 acres by the year 2010.”

“Thanks to a strong cooperative effort among the nonprofit community and all levels of government, area families and future generations will be ensured public access to this open space without the threat of future development,” said DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell. “The purchase of this property advances Governor McGreevey’s goal to provide local and area residents more open space access in the state’s densely developed communities.”

“We were pleased to partner in the preservation of this beautiful horse farm,” said Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus, who chairs the State Agriculture Development Committee. “By saving the Stafford Farm and others like it, we ensure that agriculture will continue to contribute to the quality of life in Voorhees Township and communities across the state.”

The William Penn Foundation supported the project through a grant to the Trust for Public Land. The Foundation promotes understanding of and action on important issues facing the Philadelphia region, in order to advance dynamic and diverse communities that provide meaningful opportunity, and to improve the region’s quality of life. Through its grantmaking and other efforts, the Foundation strengthens children’s future, fosters rich cultural expression, and deepens connections to nature and community.

The Trust for Public Land has been instrumental in helping Voorhees achieve its land conservation goals through the River to Bay Greenway initiative-a partnership of TPL and local communities that provides linkages to existing parks, protects additional land, and creates new parks. In 2001, TPL helped the township acquire the 49-acre Lafferty Asphalt Plant property, which has now been converted into Connolly Park and is widely used by residents.

The River to Bay Greenway is a proposed multi-use recreational greenway that spans 70 miles across southern New Jersey and links the Delaware River and the Barnegat Bay. By protecting land to create new parks, as is the case with Stafford Farm, the River to Bay Greenway enhances recreational resources for urban and suburban residents in rapidly growing Camden, Burlington and Ocean counties. To date, the Trust for Public Land has protected approximately 18,000 acres in New Jersey.