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811 acres purchased for new nature preserve in Pemberton


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Photo by Chris Jage
PEMBERTON TWP. - A new 811-acre nature preserve has been established in the central Pine Barrens south of Route 70.

On Thursday, March 3, New Jersey Conservation Foundation purchased the property for $708,439 with the help of several partners, including the New Jersey Green Acres Program, William Penn Foundation, Open Space Institute, Rancocas Conservancy, John Ben Snow Memorial Trust and philanthropists Joan and Robert Rechnitz.

It's the sixth largest land purchase in New Jersey Conservation Foundation's history.

"This is one of the largest undeveloped private properties in the Pine Barrens, and it provides unspoiled habitat for rare plants and wildlife," said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "We're incredibly grateful to the Rechnitzes and all our partners for making this possible."

Not yet named, the new preserve is surrounded by Brendan Byrne State Forest and includes pitch pine uplands, nearly two miles of the pristine Mount Misery Brook, and wetlands that served as an important fresh water resource for the earliest Pine Barrens inhabitants. Waters from the preserve drain into the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer and the Delaware River, providing drinking water for millions of residents.

The property is also a short distance from New Jersey Conservation Foundation's Franklin Parker Preserve and Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, both in Woodland Township.

Until last week's purchase, the property was owned by a family that acquired it in 1956 in anticipation of a Pine Barrens development boom that never materialized. The sellers made few changes to the property during their 60 years of ownership; as a result, the site shows little evidence of human disturbance.

The property contains known habitat for over 100 rare, threatened and endangered species, including barred owls, Pine Barrens tree frogs, red-headed woodpeckers and northern pine snakes. It is also home to a large diversity of plants, including endangered swamp pink, a variety of orchids, sphagnum moss and many carnivorous plants, including pitcher plants and sundews.

A lead gift from the Rechnitzes to New Jersey Conservation Foundation's "Campaign for Conservation" provided partial funding for the land purchase. The remainder came from a state Green Acres grant to the Rancocas Conservancy and funding from the Open Space Institute, William Penn Foundation and John Ben Snow Memorial Trust.

"Preserving this property provides outstanding opportunities for research and enables us to protect environmentally sensitive lands," said Laura Bishop, president of the Rancocas Conservancy, which contributed its $175,645 Green Acres grant. "This project is also a testament to the value of strong partnerships. It is only by working together that we can achieve great conservation successes like this."

Protecting Water Quality

The property's wetlands, fed by upwelling groundwater, were an important water and game resource for the Lenni Lenape people. Because of the wetlands' unique geology, they don't dry out even during times of drought.

Mount Misery Brook is a tributary of the Rancocas Creek, which flows to the Delaware River. A state Pinelands Commission report on the Rancocas Creek Watershed found that the brook has some of the highest quality water of any waterways in the Pine Barrens.

The purchase was supported with a $125,000 grant through the Open Space Institute's Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which is made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The Delaware River Watershed Protection Program seeks to ensure abundant, clean water within the 13,000-square-mile drainage area of the Delaware River, and adjoining areas of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, by conserving tracts of forest along the Delaware River Basin. Intact forests play a critical role in recharging and filtering groundwater and maintaining sensitive ecosystems.

"This is a model project for protecting the unspoiled forests that provide millions in the Delaware River Watershed with water for drinking and agriculture," said Peter Howell, executive vice president of the Open Space Institute. "The land's pristine forests and wetlands filter water for the Rancocas Creek watershed, and in turn the Delaware River. OSI congratulates our partner New Jersey Conservation Foundation on this latest victory in the decades-long vision of protecting and maintaining the unspoiled Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer."

"Donations to our Campaign for Conservation were instrumental in realizing this purchase," said Byers. "Individuals like Joan and Bob Rechnitz who feel strongly about land preservation made all the difference."

The Rechnitzes' long history of philanthropy includes founding a theater company in Red Bank and financing the construction of an arts building at Monmouth University, where Robert Rechnitz was a professor of English literature.

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 over 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 or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728). To donate to the Campaign for Conservation, contact Kathleen Ward at or 908-997-0723.

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