Newly preserved land is haven for birds and wildlife

Jul 23, 2020

RARITAN TWP. – Forty-eight acres along the headwaters of the Wickecheoke Creek, a haven for birds and wildlife, have been permanently preserved as public open space by a partnership of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the state Green Acres Program, Hunterdon County, Raritan Township and the New Jersey Water Supply Authority.

A former farm owned by the Etzel family since the 1930s, the land has been slowly reverting to forest and is now mostly wooded. It is bounded by Old Croton, Sam Levine and Rake roads, and is across the street from the 21-acre preserved Levine property.

The partnership purchased the land for $315,800 on July 1 from the family of the late Warren Etzel, who passed away in 2018 after owning and operating Etzel’s Store in Croton for many years.

“This beautiful property protects water quality in the Wickecheoke Creek and will be a wonderful place to walk and observe nature,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We are very grateful to our partners for making the permanent preservation of this land possible.”

The land contains wetlands and meadows, foraging habitat for great blue herons and bald eagles, and its plentiful cardinal flower plants attract ruby-throated hummingbirds. Old hunting trails crossing the property provide the framework for a future trail system for the public.

The Wickecheoke Creek flows into the Delaware & Raritan Canal, a major drinking water source for over 1 million New Jerseyans. In addition to protecting water quality, preserving the Etzel property reduces stormwater flooding downstream and protects food sources for the creek’s fish population.

The Etzel property is immediately downstream from several other New Jersey Conservation Foundation preserved properties, including the Levine, Hollenback, Davino, Orbach, Turnquist and Huey properties. All are part of the Wickecheoke Creek Preserve, a 3,800-acre patchwork of open space and farmland surrounding the Wickecheoke Creek and its tributaries.

Funding for the Etzel property acquisition came from a Green Acres grant to Raritan Township and a Hunterdon County open space fund grant to New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The New Jersey Water Supply Authority contributed to acquisition-related costs like surveys and appraisals.

“The Green Acres Program is excited to be part of this important public/private partnership to protect the headwaters of the Wickecheoke Creek in Raritan Township,” said Martha Sullivan Sapp, director of the Green Acres Program. “This collaborative acquisition demonstrates the ongoing commitment of public agencies and private land conservancies, such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, to preserve these critical watershed lands as well as provide important public access to our natural environment.”

“The Wickecheoke Creek has long been a target for preservation by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and Hunterdon County is a proud partner in furthering those efforts with the preservation of the Etzel property,” said Hunterdon County Freeholder John E. Lanza, the freeholder board’s liaison for planning and land use. “The protection of the habitat and watershed surrounding the Wickecheoke serves only to enhance Hunterdon County’s environmental health and character.”

“Raritan Township is again proud and thankful to join in partnership with Green Acres, Hunterdon County, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the New Jersey Water Supply Authority in preserving clean water and property along the Wickecheoke Creek. There is little to no money used from our taxpayers and open space fund, which allows us to preserve more,” said Mayor Jeff Kuhl.

To learn more about the Wickecheoke Creek Preserve and view trail maps, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at

About New Jersey Conservation Foundation

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since its inception in 1960, New Jersey Conservation has protected 125,000 acres of open space, farmland and parks. For more information about New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its programs and preserves, visit or call 1-888-LANDSAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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By Michele S. Byers,
Executive Director