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NJ Conservation and partners acquire 268 acres in East Amwell

Oct 30, 2020

EAST AMWELL TWP. – A decades-long effort to establish a 1,150-acre nature preserve in the Sourland Mountains, straddling the border of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, got a big boost with the preservation of 268 additional acres.

On Oct. 26, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its partners acquired the property off Wertsville Road in East Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, from landowner John Higgins for $4.15 million. The land connects 150 previously-preserved acres in East Amwell to over 600 preserved acres in neighboring Hillsborough Township, Somerset County.

“With this acquisition, the new preserve in the beautiful Sourland Mountains now totals over 1,000 contiguous acres for public enjoyment and wildlife habitat protection said Michele S. Byers, executive director. “We’re very grateful to all of our partners for making this purchase possible, and we are thrilled to make this spectacular land available to the public.”

New Jersey Conservation expects to purchase another 110 adjacent acres before the end of the year. The land will be managed as a single preserve spanning Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

The Higgins property includes woodlands, farm fields, a scenic lake and several tributaries of the Neshanic River. The Neshanic flows into the Raritan River, a source of drinking water for over a million New Jerseyans. The land is identified as a “Core Habitat Area” for wildlife by the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The newly-preserved land will be available for passive recreational activities, including, hiking, horseback riding, birding and nature observation. The property includes some existing trails, and a formal trail system is planned for the future.

Partners in Preservation

New Jersey Conservation Foundation spearheaded a partnership of public and private agencies that pooled their resources to preserve the Higgins property, including the state Office of Natural Resource Restoration, the New Jersey Green Acres Program, Hunterdon County, East Amwell Township, Hunterdon Land Trust, Raritan Headwaters Association, The Nature Conservancy, and an anonymous foundation donor.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is proud to be a partner in the acquisition of this very important parcel in the treasured Sourlands,” DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said. “In linking together existing preserved lands across Hunterdon and Somerset counties, the Higgins property will help combat current and future climate threats, remain a vital habitat for wildlife, a protected source of drinking water, and a serene place for future generations to enjoy New Jersey’s great outdoors.”

“The preservation of this property is an excellent example of the cooperative and creative efforts by all the funding partners,” said Hunterdon County Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren. “Hunterdon County is proud to be able to provide funding to such an ambitious project and congratulates all those involved on a job well done.”

“Putting together this 1,150-acre preserve was a significant undertaking and is a major step toward protecting our environmentally sensitive and important Sourlands,” said East Amwell Mayor Richard Wolfe.  “East Amwell is grateful to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation for its tremendous efforts in preserving the Higgins property.”

“Working with partners who share our vision, Hunterdon Land Trust was enthusiastic to contribute to such a significant project that connects existing preserves to enhance the value of recreational opportunities and critical ecological resources previously protected in the Sourlands,” said Patricia Ruby, executive director of the Hunterdon Land Trust.

“This project helps secure the health of the Neshanic River, an important watershed of the Raritan Basin, a source of drinking water for 1.5 million New Jerseyans,” said Bill Kibler, policy director for Raritan Headwaters Association.  “The project partners are helping preserve our rural communities, key watershed lands, and the health of vital natural resources.”

“The fields and forests of the Sourland Mountain region are not just beautiful to look at, they are critical to the survival of many threatened plants and animals, like wood turtles, bobcats and wild ginseng. The Nature Conservancy is pleased to partner with these amazing organizations to protect the high-quality habitat on this property, giving species the necessary long-term resources and space to move as they adapt to a changing climate—and providing some pretty amazing opportunities for people to get outside and enjoy nature as well,” said Barbara Brummer, The Nature Conservancy’s New Jersey State Director.

Central Jersey’s Green Swath

The Sourland Mountain region is an expansive green swath of intact forest and farmland spanning parts of Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer counties. It extends from the central part of Hillsborough Township southwest to the Delaware River in West Amwell, Hunterdon County, and Hopewell Township, Mercer County.

The Sourlands contain over 20,000 contiguous forested acres, which protect the headwaters of streams flowing to the Millstone, Raritan and Delaware Rivers and the Delaware & Raritan Canal.

The Sourlands region’s forests and wetlands provide habitat to threatened and endangered animal species including the barred owl, bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, grasshopper sparrow, savannah sparrow, upland sandpiper and wood turtle.

In addition, the Sourlands serves as a stopover for migratory birds that travel between South America and the boreal forests of Canada, and for those that travel from Central America to New Jersey to breed. The area also supports a large population of forest interior birds such as scarlet tanagers, Kentucky warblers and red-shouldered hawks.

About New Jersey Conservation Foundation

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all.  Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation has protected 125,000 acres of open space – from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks. For more information about the Foundation’s programs and preserves, go to www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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By Michele S. Byers,
Executive Director