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Fantastic New Jersey ‘firsts’

July 17th, 2014

RELEASE: July 17, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 29

Although New Jersey is not our “First State” – that honor goes to Delaware – this state we’re in has an amazing roster of “firsts”! As we celebrate 350 years, it’s a great time to look back on some of these firsts.

Perhaps the best-known firsts came from Thomas Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” who invented the first phonograph, the first incandescent light bulb and the first motion picture projector between 1877 and 1889. Thanks to Edison, the first town in the world to be lighted with overhead wires was Roselle. Our modern life is scarcely imaginable without Edison’s inventions!

The first cultivated blueberries were developed by Elizabeth White and Dr. Frederick Coville in the Burlington County Pine Barrens in 1916. Back in the early 1900s, farmers didn’t believe it was possible to cultivate consistent, marketable berries from wild bushes. White, the daughter and granddaughter of cranberry growers, thought otherwise and worked successfully with Coville to cultivate what’s now our state fruit.

New Jersey has a history of getting around! The first steam locomotive to pull a train on a track was built by John Stevens of Hoboken in 1824. The first submarine was launched in the Passaic River in Paterson in 1878 by John Holland. Deptford was the destination of America’s first balloon flight, when Jean-Pierre Blanchard took off from Philadelphia in 1793 carrying a letter of introduction from George Washington.

The country’s oldest seashore resorts opened in Cape May and Long Branch in the early 1800s. The world’s first boardwalk was built in 1870 in Atlantic City, and the first Miss America was crowned there in 1921. The Jersey shore scored another first with saltwater taffy – according to legend, it was created accidentally in the 1870s when a wave crashed over a candy stand.

New Jersey can claim four notable firsts in parks and conservation. The Morristown National Historic Park, where George Washington’s troops spent the winter of 1779-80, is America’s first. The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge includes the first federally-designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi. The New Jersey Pinelands are America’s first and only national reserve. And, finally, the Essex County Park System was the first of its kind in the nation!

Sports fans score big in Jersey! The first organized baseball game was played in Hoboken in 1846, the first intercollegiate football game featured Rutgers versus Princeton in 1869, and the first professional basketball game was played in Trenton in 1896.

Did you know that New Jersey has an official state dinosaur? It’s the Hadrosaurus, named after the town of Haddonfield. The first nearly-complete skeleton of a dinosaur was discovered there in 1858, launching the modern era of paleontology.

Don’t forget about Camden’s notable firsts! The first condensed soup in America was cooked and canned in Camden County in 1897 – by the Campbell Soup Company, of course. The first drive-in movie theater, known as the “Park-In Theaters,” opened in Camden in 1933.The drive-in is long gone, but Camden still hosts Campbell’s headquarters.

Another fact: New Jersey is the first and only state where all counties are classified as metropolitan areas. The Garden State is first in population density in the U.S., with an average of 1,030 people per square mile.

That leads to another first, one that’s not so exciting and fortunately has not yet happened. New Jersey is on track to become the first state to reach full build-out, the point where all land is either preserved or developed. It’s crucial to keep saving parks and open spaces so when the Garden State does reach build-out, most if not all of our most critical lands are preserved rather than paved.

As we celebrate our 350th, it’s important to look to the future as well as the past. How about creating a new “first” for New Jersey: A state where everyone can walk out their front door to a park or trail?

Please contact your state legislators and urge them to support a stable, long-term source of park and open space preservation funding. To find your state Senators and Assembly representatives, go to

To learn more about New Jersey’s history and 350th anniversary celebrations, go to

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


Len Soucy: Conservation Trailblazer

July 11th, 2014

RELEASE: July 11, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 28 

Emile DeVito will never forget an unusual encounter on a winter day in 1977.  When he was a college freshman, he and his father and brothers were looking for hawks in the Great Swamp when a man ambled down the road holding two metal coffee cans fastened together to form a hollow cylinder.

“He told us he had a red-shouldered hawk right there in the can,” Emile recalled. “He had just found it injured, and he put it in the can for protection.”

The man was Leonard J. Soucy Jr., and he was bringing the hawk back to the Raptor Trust, the avian rehabilitation center in Millington that he had founded.

Over the years, the chance encounter grew into a solid friendship. Emile, staff biologist at New Jersey Conservation Foundation, brought in dozens of injured raptors he found during his travels around the state. And Len sometimes asked Emile to help release birds back into the wild.

Len, who passed away on June 11 at the age of 82, never set out to become a rescuer of injured and orphaned birds. He wasn’t a trained veterinarian or ornithologist, just an ordinary guy – an engraver by trade – who fell in love with birds of prey on a 1964 trip to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania.

“Len Soucy was the most gentle and caring person you could ever meet,” said Tom Gilmore, the former president of New Jersey Audubon. “No personal sacrifice was too great for Len when it came to caring for orphaned and injured wildlife. He was there for them 24/7.”

And because of Len, thousands of New Jerseyans got their start in bird watching and nature appreciation.

Chris Soucy, Len’s son who has taken over leadership of the Raptor Trust, believes his father’s most important legacy is the people in whom he instilled a reverence for nature: the kids who showed up with baby birds in a shoebox, the people who carried in injured hawks and owls wrapped in blankets.

“He touched those people, one at a time,” said Chris. Most people who brought in birds called back later to see how “their” bird was doing.

Len’s interest in the natural world was vast, spanning from wooly mammoths to wood turtles. His enthusiasm opened the door for people and families to get interested and involved in wildlife conservation. “He would talk to anyone who listened,” said Chris. “His vehicle just happened to be birds because that’s what he knew best.”

In 1968, Len and his wife Diane bought a home on 14 acres in Millington, on the border of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. That gave the Soucys the needed space for bird facilities. Their first “resident” was an injured barn owl that had been living in their bathroom.

In 1970, Len received a state license to capture, band and release raptors. As his reputation spread, more and more birds were brought to him – and not just raptors. Additional aviaries and cages were built and volunteers were recruited to care for the birds.

By the early 1980s, the Soucys’ operation had grown so big and expensive that Len and Diane couldn’t finance it by themselves. The Raptor Trust was formally incorporated as a nonprofit. Over the years it continued to grow.

Today, the Raptor Trust includes a medical infirmary, an education building, and some 70 outdoor cages and aviaries. In an average year, it cares for 3,000 to 4,000 birds in distress. “Tens of thousands of birds have been treated here and released back into the wild,” said Chris Soucy.

To learn more about the Raptor Trust, and the Leonard J. Soucy Jr. Memorial Fund that has been established to carry on his work, go to

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


Two Jersey guys – the filmmaker and the biologist

July 7th, 2014

RELEASE: July 3, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 27

Tyler Christensen failed high school biology. He was too busy outside studying the natural world to pay attention to the classroom.

His love of the outdoors, and birds in particular, led the 21-year-old Hopewell Township resident to become a self-taught field researcher, studying neo-tropical migratory birds in Costa Rica.

Now Christensen is the subject of a new film, “Field Biologist,” by New Jersey native Jared Flesher, an independent filmmaker whose previous films include “Sourlands,” a portrait of the Sourland Mountains of central Jersey.

“I tackle environmental issues a lot, and I really started looking at the biodiversity crisis,” said Flesher. “We could lose 60 percent of the species on Earth – 60 percent of our biodiversity – by the end of the century.”

Flesher met Christensen while filming “Sourlands” and was impressed enough to make a film about him.

“It’s mainly a story about a young guy who knows what he loves and doesn’t know how he’s going to get paid, but just goes for it,” explained Flesher. “He’s a brilliant, self-educated scientist, and a really fantastic communicator about the natural world.”

Flesher spent 12 weeks in Costa Rica filming Christensen and fellow researcher Sean Graesser, who’s affiliated with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

In the film, Christensen shares his passion for biology, especially neo-tropical migrants – songbirds that travel thousands of miles between their summer breeding grounds in New Jersey and other northern states and their winter homes in Central America and South America.

“What’s exciting about field biology is that every single species has an interaction with something else,” Christensen says. “Learning those interactions is probably the most fulfilling, satisfying thing that I will do with my life.”

Christensen hopes to convince people that they have a moral obligation to help save the Earth’s biodiversity. “I think you should care for the same reason that you care about people that you’ve never met before,” he says. “Our entire being is centered around helping others, I think.”

“We’re the first species that has a choice in these things,” he adds. “We can either choose to be destructive and irresponsible, or we can choose to do good and conserve what’s around. I’m of the school of thought that we should do good and conserve what’s around. It’s a lot more interesting that way.”

Flesher is now scheduling New Jersey screenings of “Field Biologist” throughout the summer and fall. He likes to follow each screening by having Christensen – now back in New Jersey to start college – talk to the audience.

To learn more about the film or schedule a screening, visit To learn more about Christensen’s research in Costa Rica, go to

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Do your part for National Clean Beaches Week

June 27th, 2014

RELEASE: June 27, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 26

It’s no coincidence that National Clean Beaches Week, July 1-7, falls during the first big vacation week of summer, when thousands of families are putting their toes in the sand and ocean.

As visitors flock to New Jersey’s 127 miles of coastline, they’ll find safe, clean beaches – and some of the nation’s cleanest waters.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that New Jersey ranked third out of 30 coastal states in beach water quality in 2013, as measured by the amount of bacteria found in water samples. The report, “Testing the Waters,” also named seven New Jersey beaches to its list of 35 American clean water “Superstars”!

New Jersey’s sands are in great shape, thanks in part to legions of beach-loving volunteers.

Twice a year – in the spring and fall – the nonprofit Clean Ocean Action coordinates massive “Beach Sweeps” up and down the coast. Volunteers ranging from young children to senior citizens pick up thousands of pieces of litter and debris washed ashore by the sea, blown in by the wind or carelessly dropped by visitors.

In 2013, more than 325,000 pieces of litter were collected in the beach sweeps. Not surprisingly, the majority was plastics of various types.

Clean Ocean Action ‘s “Dirty Dozen” list of worst offenders includes broken bits of plastic, bottle caps and lids, cigarette filters, food and candy wrappers, plastic straws and stirrers, foam pieces, lumber, plastic shopping bags, glass pieces, glass beverage bottles and cigar tips.

This stuff is not only ugly to look at, but the plastics can be lethal to fish, birds, dolphins, turtles, whales and other creatures living in and near the sea. Plastics don’t biodegrade; they just break into smaller bits that can be mistaken for food, with tragic consequences.

Many of the items picked up in the 2013 sweeps may be attributable to Superstorm Sandy, which smashed apart hundreds of coastal homes and dispersed their contents far and wide. Broken furniture, kitchen appliances, window panes and construction materials all ended up on the beaches and in the water.

Kudos to Clean Ocean Action and the volunteers who sweep the beaches each spring and fall so the rest of us can enjoy clean sand and water all summer!

You can help our beaches and waters – and you don’t have to wait for a scheduled sweep! Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Leave only footsteps on the beach. If you carry it in, carry it back out with you.
  • Don’t use the beach as an ashtray. Never leave cigarette butts in the sand; they don’t biodegrade and are toxic to marine animals.
  • Teach your children (or other young people in your life) well.  Walk along the beach with a bucket and pick up litter. It’s a great lesson.
  • If you’re a fisherman, be sure to get rid of broken fishing line safely. Don’t leave it where it can blow away and entangle wildlife.
  • Use public restrooms to keep ocean and bay water sanitary.
  • On or off the beach, do your part to reduce stormwater runoff pollution. Pick up pet wastes and don’t over-fertilize your lawns and gardens. Pollutants washed by rain into local streams will eventually find their way to the ocean.
  • If you spot anything unusual in the water – like an oil or garbage slick, red tide, fish kill, or entangled or injured animal – report it to lifeguards, beach patrols or police.
  • Support land preservation efforts in watersheds that flow into the ocean and bays. Protected river and stream corridors mean cleaner ocean water!

To find out more about water quality at New Jersey’s beaches – and the list of Superstar beaches – check out the “Testing the Waters” report at To learn more about Clean Ocean Action ‘s beach sweeps, go to

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Act now for clean air, water, health and life

June 20th, 2014

RELEASE: June 20, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 25

“Right now, we are on track to become the first state in the union to run out of open space. I love New Jersey being first in a lot of things, but that’s not where we want to be.”  That was former Governor Christine Todd Whitman speaking at a New Jersey Conservation Foundation event a few years ago.

Former Governor James Florio agreed with Whitman, adding that it is incorrect to believe that the state must choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. “We’re not going to have one without the other,” he stated.

“Knowledge-based, post-industrial businesses tend to locate in high-quality environments,” noted Dr. James Hughes, dean of Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “To the degree that investments in open space and farmland preservation produces a higher quality environment, it’s going to make New Jersey that much more attractive for these industries of the future.”

For more than 50 years, New Jersey has led the nation in land preservation, spending millions of dollars every year to buy parks, preserve farms and wetlands and protect natural and historic landscapes and landmarks.  But today, in 2014, funds from our last bond referendum in 2009 are spent or allocated, and land preservation is coming to a halt.

With roughly two million acres of land not yet preserved or paved, this state we’re in is at a crossroads.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, more than 650,000 acres of lands valuable for water, recreation and wildlife habitat are in need of preservation. New Jersey’s agricultural industry, the historic heart of our state’s economic history, needs an additional 400,000 acres of preserved farmland to remain viable.

In tough economic times, many folks question the wisdom and value of continuing land preservation when so many vital programs and services are struggling.  But take a look at a few of the health, economic and environmental benefits of saving land and decide for yourself: 

  • One tree provides $62,000 in air pollution control benefits;
  • For every 10 percent increase in forest cover, water treatment and chemical costs decrease by 20 percent;
  • Access to parks leads to a 25 percent increase in people exercising three or more times a week;
  • A 2009 study by The Trust for Public Land found that every $1 invested in state land preservation programs returns $10 in economic value through nature’s services, such as flood control and filtering air and water of pollutants.

With benefits like this, should we stop preserving land?  What will our future be like without clean water, clean air, parks, scenic vistas and healthy food from local farms?

Studies consistently show that educated and skilled employees demand a good quality of life. Not surprisingly, they want clean water, clean air, and parks and natural areas for outdoor recreation and a sense of openness.

Preserving parks, open space, farmland, historic sites, watershed lands and flood-prone properties are investments we can’t afford NOT to make if we care at all about the future of our state and its residents.

With the state out of land preservation funds, the Legislature is considering a bill that would ask voters to dedicate a portion of existing corporate business tax revenues to land preservation. The legislation must be passed by June 30 to put a question on the November ballot.

This plan is a modest, fiscally responsible proposal that will allow the Garden State to continue to be a great place to live and work. It would initially provide about $71 million annually, increasing to about $117 million annually in fiscal year 2020.

This funding is far less than we’ve been spending during the last 15 years and it will not impact the state’s budget – the bottom line – for five years.

Time is running out! Please urge your legislators to support this legislation, SCR84/ACR130, and secure our state’s quality of life for current and future generations. To send an email to your legislators, go to and fill out the easy form.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Go local in the Garden State

June 13th, 2014

RELEASE: June 13, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 24

The Garden State is living up to its name! Following a frigid winter and cool spring, crops like spinach, lettuce, asparagus and strawberries are ready, and Jersey tomatoes, blueberries, corn and peaches are coming soon.

Now’s the perfect time to go local. “Farm to table” eating means fresher, tastier and healthier foods.  It keeps New Jersey farmers in business and supports local economies. And don’t forget all the fuel that’s saved when produce isn’t trucked for hundreds or thousands of miles!

In New Jersey, you don’t have to travel far to find farmers markets, roadside stands, community supported agriculture enterprises and pick-your-own opportunities.

What’s the difference?

Farmers markets give farmers a chance to sell produce directly to consumers. These markets are often found in central locations like parks and train station parking lots, and some are packed with dozens of farmers providing an incredible variety of foods. New Jersey has nearly 150 farmers markets, including many in densely-populated counties like Essex, Bergen, Hudson and Camden.

At roadside farm stands, farmers sell the produce they’ve grown on-site. The Garden State has more than 500 roadside stands, ranging from a single table piled with fresh-picked produce to big barns filled with fruits, veggies, flowers, dairy products, baked goods, meats, honey and other agricultural products.

Community-supported agriculture enterprises, or CSAs, rely on a cooperative agreement between farmers and customers. The customers “buy in” before the growing season, providing farmers with capital to invest in seeds and equipment. In return, they receive weekly shares of the produce during the growing season. There are about 50 CSAs, large and small, in New Jersey – including one of the nation’s largest, Honey Brook Farm in Pennington.

Picking your own produce is another great option, especially for families who want to have fun while teaching children how their food grows. Prices may also be lower for those willing to do the bending, stretching and pulling. More than 150 farms offer pick-your-own crops.

This year, the state Department of Agriculture’s “Jersey Fresh” program and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey are making it easier than ever for consumers to connect with local farms and fresh foods.

On the Jersey Fresh website – – you can search by county for farmers markets, roadside stands, CSA farms and pick-your-own farms. You can also check out New Jersey wineries, agritourism events and recipes.

Maybe this is the year to go organic! Organic foods are produced without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically modified seeds, or hormones and antibiotics in animal feed.  Organic farming methods are also kinder on the soil … and on the bees and other pollinators that make farming possible.

Check out the Northeast Organic Farming Association – NOFA-NJ for short – for a comprehensive listing of organic farms at In addition to its annual Food & Farm Guide, NOFA-NJ has a searchable database of organic foods and agricultural products.

Eat local and support New Jersey’s farmers! And for more information about preserving farmland, open space and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

A banner year for the Great Swamp

June 6th, 2014

RELEASE: June 6, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 23

Less than 30 miles from New York City, surrounded by suburbia, lie twelve square miles of wetlands and wildlife known as the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge’s forests, grasslands and marshes are home to an amazing diversity of wildlife, including migratory waterfowl and endangered bog turtles and Indiana bats. Visitors to its dense wilderness feel truly removed from civilization … while being within a few miles of the most modern shopping malls and office parks!

The refuge is celebrating a big anniversary year – and bidding farewell to longtime manager Bill Koch, who just retired after 34 years in the Great Swamp.

“We’re calling this our 50-50-15 celebration,” said Steve Henry, acting refuge manager. “It’s the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the refuge, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and the 15th anniversary of our Friends group. We’ve got a lot in the hopper.”

On May 31, Great Swamp staff and friends celebrated Bill Koch, whose career with the national wildlife refuge system spanned 43 years.

After earning a degree in wildlife management in 1971, Bill began work at the Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, researching bird life, vegetation and public use. When that seasonal position ended, he volunteered at the Great Swamp and was subsequently hired to conduct deer research.

As his career took off, Bill moved to other national wildlife refuges in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland. When he returned to the Great Swamp in 1984, he was expecting a five-year assignment. But five quickly turned into 30 as Bill immersed himself in management programs, land acquisition and habitat restoration at the Great Swamp.

Under his watch, the Great Swamp became a national model and was chosen for a Department of Interior Achievement Award. Bill was also instrumental in building the refuge’s new visitor center.

Although Bill is officially retired, he still comes in part-time as a refuge volunteer. “I just couldn’t go cold turkey,” he joked. “There’s so much good stuff here, it’s not just a job.”

Bill’s retirement celebration coincided with one of the refuge’s big milestones: the 50th anniversary of the its dedication, marking the triumphant end of a fierce, four-and-a-half-year grassroots battle to save the Great Swamp from being paved over for a 10,000-acre international airport.

The “jetport” was the idea of the powerful Port Authority, which kept its plans under wraps. But information was leaked in late 1959 and opposition quickly mobilized. The swamp’s defenders concluded that the best strategy would be to secretly buy up as much as much land as possible and donate it as a national wildlife refuge.

Against all odds, the plan worked! On May 29, 1964, the first 2,600 acres of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge were officially dedicated at a large ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Governor Richard Hughes, Congressman Peter Frelinghuysen and other dignitaries.

Later this year, the Great Swamp will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was signed in September 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  The eastern part of Great Swamp was the nation’s first protected wilderness!

As the Great Swamp celebrates historic milestones, it’s also looking toward the future.  Recent legislation requires all national wildlife refuges to have a 15-year comprehensive conservation plan, and the Great Swamp’s is now out for public comment.

Have a say in the Great Swamp’s future! Read the conservation plan alternatives and submit your comments by June 27. A summary can be found at The website includes information on how to view the full plan.

Celebrate the Great Swamp’s “50-50-15” year with a visit to the refuge, a true New Jersey treasure!

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


Explore women’s history along Heritage Trail

May 30th, 2014

RELEASE: May 30, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 22

With New Jersey celebrating 350 years, it’s exciting to highlight the women who changed the course of history. Some of our state’s most famous include colonial era poet Annis Boudinot Stockton, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, suffrage movement leader Alice Paul and pioneering aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

More than a decade ago, New Jersey became the first state to survey places associated with notable women. The result is the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail, a collection of 94 sites that illustrate women’s contributions to the history of this state we’re in.

Many sites are buildings like museums and homes. But others are public spaces, perfect for soaking in history AND stretching your legs in the great outdoors. Here are a few:

Women’s Federation Memorial, Palisades Interstate Park, Alpine Borough. This monument is dedicated to a group of determined women who fought to preserve the magnificent rocky cliffs, waterfalls and rock pillars of the Hudson River Palisades. Quarrying in the Palisades began in the early 1800s and intensified after the Civil War. In 1894, the New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs fought for legislation to protect the Palisades. As a result, the cliffs and riverfront lands were acquired for an interstate park. The New Jersey section of the park includes more than 30 miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks, picnic areas and boat basins.

Merchiston Farm, Morris County Parks’ Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center, Chester Township. Martha Brookes Hutcheson (1871-1959) developed a love of gardening as a young girl and became one of America’s first female landscape architects. She and her husband, William Anderson Hutcheson, bought an historic farm in Chester Township and transformed it into an outstanding example of natural and classic landscape architecture. Merchiston Farm is now part of Morris County’s Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center, which includes restored gardens and trails.

Thompson Park, Middletown Township. Geraldine Livingston Morgan Thompson, a lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, had a long career of political activism in prison reform, public health and juvenile justice. She also helped establish Island Beach State Park. Her estate is now headquarters for the Monmouth County Park System, and includes miles of trails, playground and picnic facilities, and a lake for fishing, canoeing and kayaking.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Manalapan Township. One of the largest battles of the American Revolution took place in the fields and forests of Monmouth Battlefield State Park, and one of its heroines was Mary Hays McCauley, better known as “Molly Pitcher.”  Her bravery in running ammunition and tending to injured troops became legendary. The park includes miles of trails, picnic areas, a restored Revolutionary War era farmhouse and a visitor center.

Whitesbog Village, Pemberton Township.  In 1916, cultivated blueberries were first developed here by Elizabeth C. White in collaboration with scientist Dr. Frederick Coville. This historic village is an early 20th century company town, and part of Brendan Byrne State Forest. It’s an outstanding site for exploration of the Pine Barrens.

These are just a few sites along the Women’s Heritage Trail. If you’re feeling ambitious, download the full list at and hit the road!

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


New Jersey land business predates America

May 22nd, 2014

RELEASE: May 22, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 21

Once a year, America’s oldest continuously operating corporation meets in a tiny building in Burlington City, N.J. Instead of business suits, shareholders dress in Quaker costumes.

There’s not much business to conduct, because the Council of West Jersey Proprietors is from another era. Established in 1688 as a land grant corporation, the council no longer has vast lands to sell, but still owns some property and settles minor boundary issues.

With New Jersey celebrating 350years, it’s worth remembering the critical role once held by this historic corporation and its defunct twin, the East Jersey Board of Proprietors.

The two land grant corporations stem from a royal gift from a British monarch. In 1664, King Charles II granted his brother James, the Duke of York, extensive territory in the New World, including the lands that would become New Jersey.

The Duke gifted the land to two loyal friends, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, marking the official beginning of New Jersey. The state was carved in half diagonally, beginning at a point along the Atlantic Ocean in Little Egg Harbor and extending in a northwesterly direction to the Delaware River. Berkeley got the west side and Carteret got the east. 

Berkeley quickly sold his interests to a group of Quakers, including William Penn, and Carteret’s family also sold his share after his death. Berkeley and Carteret’s legal successors were investors whose main business was to sell acreage to settlers and collect annual rents; they formed the East and West Jersey boards of proprietors.

“If someone in the colony wanted to buy land, they would have to go to one of the proprietors,” explained Maxine Lurie, a retired professor of history at Seton Hall University and the author of an upcoming book on New Jersey history.

The East Jersey Board of Proprietors was established in 1682 in Perth Amboy. But it dissolved in 1998, largely because shareholders feared potential legal liability for environmental problems on land the corporation held.  Its real estate, including the rights to any remaining lands, was sold to the state for $300,000.

But the Council of West Jersey Proprietors survives and has been running for 336 years … although with a largely ceremonial role in the past century.

“Technically, if there’s a piece of land in West Jersey that nobody has ever purchased in 300-plus years, it would belong to the corporation,” said Lurie. “But it’s a default. If you do a title search and there’s no clear title that you can trace, the presumption is that the proprietors still own it.”

Given New Jersey’s status as the nation’s most densely populated state, discovering lands without title is rare and exciting. More common are thin overlaps or gaps between titled properties, and it falls to the West Jersey Proprietors to resolve these “gores.”

Perhaps the greatest modern-day contribution of the East and West Jersey Proprietors is their historical records. When the East Jersey Proprietors dissolved, their extensive collection of colonial era maps and land records went to the State Archives in Trenton.

In 2005, the West Jersey Proprietors deposited its records with the State Archives, consolidating all of New Jersey’s colonial land records under the same roof for the first time – a huge benefit for historians, genealogists and those interested in land.

While you’re celebrating our state’s 350th anniversary, raise a glass to the Proprietors, who launched these centuries of land subdivision in this state we’re in!

To learn more about our state’s history and how it’s being celebrated this year, go to  For a full Council of West Jersey Proprietors history, go to

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


A loss of wildlife and trust

May 16th, 2014

RELEASE: May 16, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 20

New Jersey’s Green Acres Program wisely expanded the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area in Cumberland County last summer with the purchase of 80 acres of forest, bringing the total preserve to 474 acres.

Wildlife management areas in this state we’re in are some of our most rugged and untamed lands, and this tract – the former Durand Glass property – was a natural for Menantico Ponds because it contains prime breeding habitat for several state threatened species, including Northern Pine Snakes.

The Durand property had languished on the market for years when Green Acres made the decision to buy and preserve it.

But the ink was barely dry when the City of Millville complained, arguing that the property is needed for economic development. The city teamed up with Cumberland County to try to overturn the Green Acres purchase.

Incredibly, instead of defending its conservation purchase and politely letting Millville know that it’s too late, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) now plans to “un-preserve” the property and sell it to the city for an industrial park.

How can that happen? Isn’t preservation permanent?

There’s a little-known process called a Green Acres “diversion” that allows preserved land to be swapped out of conservation under certain conditions. Most Green Acres diversions involve small pieces of preserved land that are needed for public purposes, like road widening, schools, hospitals or fire stations. The proposed Millville diversion would be the largest in Green Acres’ almost 60-year history – and all for a private company’s gain!

The diversion process includes replacement lands, but the Green Acres proposal for replacement lands does not pass the “smell test” and would completely undermine the public trust.

Here’s how: Not far from the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area is a 1,350-acre parcel known as the Holly Farm, which Green Acres had tried to preserve for decades. The owner repeatedly rejected the state’s offers, electing instead to sell the land to a developer.

This developer proposes to construct 950 senior homes and a golf course on the highest and driest 450 acres of Holly Farm. The remaining 900 acres, including extensive wetlands, would be required to remain in their natural state, according to the development plan and local approvals.

Hoping to ensure the preservation of the entire Holly Farm, a coalition of conservation groups, including New Jersey Conservation Foundation, went to court multiple times to defend the state’s proposal to buy the property. The conservation groups succeeded last summer, with the court allowing Green Acres to move forward with the purchase. 

But the state changed its mind and no longer wants to buy the Holly Farm land – at least not all of it. As part of the proposed Green Acres diversion, the state would buy only 900 acres. But it’s the same 900 acres that were deemed unbuildable and would be required to be protected anyway as part of the Holly Farm development.

This is a raw deal for New Jersey citizens. We would lose a valuable wildlife property, which was added to Menantico Ponds because of its quality habitat. And the state would spend taxpayer dollars to buy lands within the Holly Farm tract that are already required to be set aside for conservation.

In a third and final blow to the public trust, the developer would be required to use the Green Acres proceeds to preserve a third tract of land. The DEP says it will likely be a parcel that the state can’t justify buying with taxpayer dollars on its own, because it’s priced above fair market value.  More bad policy.

This proposal would set a catastrophic precedent for the Green Acres Program and our public lands. Any municipality could now claim the need for economic development to justify further diversions of public trust Green Acres properties for private commercial use. This would severely undermine almost 60 years of public support for Green Acres funding.

Open space protection is an extremely popular program with New Jerseyans and we cheer loudly each time a new tract of land is preserved. What will this proposal do to public confidence in this critical program?

It’s now up to an agency known as the Statehouse Commission to determine the outcome.

Please contact Governor Christie and ask him to put a halt to this horrible proposal and stop trading away our citizens’ investments in open spaces and parks.  To contact Governor Christie, go to

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225 

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