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Mount Rascal Preserve expands by 113 acres

Protects Morris Canal, important watershed lands


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Photo of Bowers Brook by Bill Rawlyk
INDEPENDENCE TWP. - The Mount Rascal Preserve outside Hackettstown now includes the wooded mountain summit for which it is named, as well as a half-mile section of the historic Morris Canal, thanks to the preservation of 113 acres that also protect water quality in the New Jersey Highlands.

The newly-preserved property, which brings the preserve to more than 400 acres and expands access and hiking opportunities, includes part of the watershed of the Bowers Brook, a headwaters tributary of the Musconetcong River.

Designated by the state as "exceptionally significant" for ecology and drinking water, the Bowers Brook is a forested stream targeted for funding by the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which seeks to ensure abundant, clean water for the watershed's 15 million residents.

The state Green Acres Program, Warren County, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Open Space Institute and William Penn Foundation partnered to purchase the land in two parcels.

On Nov. 12, Warren County purchased 46.5 acres that include the canal section and the Bowers Brook. Then, on Nov. 20, the state purchased 66.5 adjoining, steeply sloped acres at the top of Mount Rascal. The county was assisted by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which provided funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Open Space Institute toward the purchase.

The preserve is located a short distance from Routes 46 and 517 and is open to the public for hiking and other passive recreation. It is managed by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust.

'Keystone Parcel'

"This acquisition adds the keystone parcel, including the summit of Mt. Rascal, to the New Jersey Natural Land Trust's Mt. Rascal Preserve," said Richard Boornazian, the state Department of Environmental Protection's Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources.

"Preserving unbroken forests such as this is critical for protecting water quality and wildlife habitat in the environmentally-sensitive Highlands region of New Jersey," Boornazian added. "We invite visitors to enjoy a relaxing and educational walk along the historic Morris Canal or challenge themselves on a steep hike to the peak of Mt. Rascal."

Preserving a Piece of History

Freeholder Rick Gardner said preserving land along the Morris Canal is one of the county's priorities.
"Warren County is pleased with the unique purchasing opportunity this property presents," said Gardner. "The property contains approximately one half mile of the historic Morris Canal, which remains in remarkably good condition. We will be advancing significantly the goals of the Morris Canal Greenway and future tourism for Warren County."

"We're very pleased to partner in this expansion of the Mount Rascal Preserve," said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "It's a beautiful property, and it's great that the public will be able to enjoy both the mountain summit and the Morris Canal route."

Protecting Forests and Clean Water

The Mount Rascal Project was supported through the Open Space Institute's Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which is made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The project is the third land transaction to be completed of 17 that have been approved by the Fund, and that collectively will conserve about 14,000 acres of important watershed lands across the 13,000-square-mile Delaware River Watershed, which lies within parts of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Forests play a critical role in filtering drinking water, in turn helping to build healthier communities," said Peter Howell, OSI's Executive Vice President of Capital & Research Programs. "The Mount Rascal project shows the value of innovative partnerships and collaborations in protecting water quality for the region's 15 million residents."

An 1860s Engineering Marvel

"This is a wonderful open space project because it not only preserves important forest and headwaters, but it also provides a beautiful place for residents to recreate. In addition, it protects a large segment of the Morris Canal where visitors can learn more about our treasured local history," said Corey Tierney, Warren County Preservation Director.

Before railroads, Tierney noted, this canal helped spur commerce in rural areas like Hackettstown. Businesses sprang up all along the canal and, in fact, there was even a brewery nearby back in the 1860s. Stretching about 100 miles from Phillipsburg to Jersey City, the canal was considered an engineering marvel of its time because it climbed over 900 feet in elevation using sophisticated locks and inclined planes.

"Mules pulled long boats packed full of goods through the water and, given that the trip took about five days, you can easily imagine the boatmen floating along while enjoying the beer they just bought in town. So in addition to the natural beauty of the Mount Rascal Preserve, there's really a lot of history here that we hope to share with visitors," added Tierney.

Notably, the Mount Rascal Preserve includes remains of farming homesteads built in the 1800s by early German settlers to the area.

Old Stone Walls

According to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust website, "Hillside farming was no doubt a hard subsistence. In the forest, visitors will find row after row of stone walls. Farmers gathered and piled these stones by hand and these walls remain as a testament to the difficult tasks of early settlers."

Although the original stone houses and large barns are now gone, the site of the old stone spring house continues to bubble up clear, cool water. The wetlands on the property are home to the state threatened wood turtle and several rare plant species.

To learn more about the Mount Rascal Preserve, go to preserve webpage

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation's assets exceed $2.3 billion as of March 31, 2015.

The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands and sustain communities. Founded in 1974 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has been a partner in the protection of nearly 2.2 million acres in North America. A leader in environmental conservation, OSI attracts resources for strategic investments to make innovative land conservation happen. Visit OSE online at

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 1960, the Foundation has helped preserve more than 125,000 acres of open space and farmland. For more information on the foundation's programs and preserves, visit or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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