Menantico Preserve: Where the Delaware Valley Meets the Pine Barrens
Intact forests will protect local water supplies, wildlife and open space
In the fall of 2018, a few miles from Vineland, just outside the Pinelands Natural Reserve, sat one of the largest remaining pieces of open land in Cumberland County. The scuttlebutt around town was that a number of developers had their eyes on it, and for good reason. The place is a gem: 600 acres of intact forest along Menantico Creek, and connected to the Pinelands National Reserve. But preservationists had their eyes on the land as well–and saw other values overlooked by the developers: an area of spectacular natural riches that, if allowed to remain wild, would help protect water quality for millions.
Today that land is the Menantico Preserve, a forest permanently protected by New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its partners. In the years to come, NJ Conservation Foundation will establish trails, parking and river access to turn the preserve into a destination for hikers, dog walkers, bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.
Menantico Creek is one of the main tributaries of the federally-protected Maurice Wild and Scenic River, which flows into the Delaware Bay. The Maurice flows from agricultural headwaters into the Pinelands through mature forests, sandy floodplains and swamps. The Menantico Preserve’s forests will now continue to protect groundwater in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, which holds 17 trillion gallons of fresh water and supplies the needs of millions of South Jersey residents, farmers and businesses.
“When kept intact, unspoiled forests are the most effective method for cleaning the drinking water of the Delaware River Watershed’s 15 million residents across four states.”
Peter Howell, Executive Vice President, Open Space Institute
Tree roots are what make the forest so special: the land has never been cleared for farming, allowing the soil to remain undisturbed and rich in a diverse array of insect species. This soil richness, in turn, supports diverse fauna and flora, including as many as 10 species of oak.
The property’s forests are the breeding grounds for many migratory songbirds, including ruby-throated hummingbirds, scarlet tanagers, yellow-throated warblers and Acadian flycatchers. And it is home to at least seven endangered, threatened and special-concern animal species, including bald eagles, barred owls, Cope’s gray tree frogs and red-headed woodpeckers.
Funding for the purchase came from a public-private partnership that includes the New Jersey Green Acres Program, Cumberland County, William Penn Foundation, Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Natural Lands.
“The red-headed woodpecker is strikingly beautiful, one of the most beautiful birds on the East Coast. The Menantico Preserve has a lot of older trees, and trees that have been damaged in storms. That’s where the woodpeckers love to nest, right up there a couple feet from the top of a snapped tree.”