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1,000-plus acre preserve in Sourland Mountains moves closer to reality


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Photo by Lisa MacCollum
EAST AMWELL TWP. - A plan to create a 1,042-acre nature preserve in the Sourland Mountains, spanning the border of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, has taken a significant step forward.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation announced today that it has secured an option from landowner John Higgins to purchase 269 key acres in East Amwell Township, Hunterdon County. The property is a connector between 151 acres preserved earlier this year and 622 preserved acres in neighboring Hillsborough Township, Somerset County.

"This beautiful property is another piece of the puzzle to create more than 1,000 contiguous acres of preserved land for public enjoyment and wildlife habitat," said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "We're very pleased to secure the option from John Higgins, who has already preserved hundreds of acres. We're grateful to Mr. Higgins for agreeing to sell this property, and we look forward to completing the purchase in 2018."

The announcement of the purchase agreement was made at a gathering on the property to celebrate Open Space Month in June.

Open Space Month celebrates the rich variety of lands that have been permanently preserved throughout the state and highlights the importance of continuing to preserve natural areas and farmland. It also recognizes the essential role of public-private funding partnerships that can leverage state funding with county, local and private funds.

Located off Wertsville Road, the 269-acre Higgins property contains 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.

Once the purchase is completed, the land will be open to the public for passive recreational activities, including, hiking, horseback riding, birding and nature observation.

The 1,042 acres will be managed as a single preserve spanning Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

Funding Partners

Funding partners for the project will include the New Jersey Green Acres Program, Hunterdon County, East Amwell Township, Raritan Headwaters Association and Hunterdon Land Trust.

"The option to purchase 250+ acres in the Sourlands region is a remarkable step in preserving some of our state's most precious resources," said Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex). "I have long been a proponent for open space preservation and will continue to advocate for the protection of our environment and natural resources. Without open space preservation, we would not have clean drinking water, sustainable natural resources and wildlife to enjoy in our state. It is our duty to protect these resources not only for ourselves but for future generations to come."

"We are so proud of this project, so proud of this acquisition," said Hunterdon County Freeholder Director John Lanza. He praised the bipartisan cooperation that made the first Higgins property preservation possible this past February and will enable the next to be completed: "We've got great partners that we've been working with all along."

"We are extremely fortunate to have such an amazing space preserved, not just for the public's enjoyment, but also for the environmental benefits," said Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). "Mr. Higgins deserves our sincere thanks for his part in helping to extend the nature preserve and so does the New Jersey Conservation Foundation for helping to make it happen."

"Now more than ever, when the national government is ignoring its duty to protect our environment, organizations like the New Jersey Conservation Foundation are imperative. The Sourlands is one of the most beautiful parts of central Jersey, and NJ Conservation's efforts to preserve additional open space should be commended," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). "The fact that such a natural, scenic and now well-maintained parcel of land exists so close to the urban and suburban areas of the region is a testament to the Garden State's celebrated diversity. The steadfast dedication of the NJ Conservation to acquire this tract of land is a merit to their local stewardship, and their hard work will be enjoyed for generations to come."

"The Green Acres Program was happy to provide funding to New Jersey Conservation Foundation and East Amwell Township for this significant acquisition in the Sourland Mountains," said Renée Jones, project manager for New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres Program. "It is yet another example of how public-private partnerships can preserve critical natural resources for wildlife habitats and public recreational uses for future generations."

"Through the efforts of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and with the cooperation of John Higgins, we are able to preserve this beautiful open space while maintaining the quality of our natural environment. Residents will be able to enjoy over 1,000 acres of land while protecting the natural environment and a valuable resource of drinking water for many New Jerseyans," said Charles Van Horn, mayor of East Amwell Township.

Somerset County Freeholder Patricia Walsh said she is delighted to be part of creating a preserve that spans the Somerset-Hunterdon border. "We share so many of the same visions, the same ideas - one of them being the preservation of these unique environmental areas that make Hunterdon and Somerset counties the wonderful places that we all love, where we want to live, work and play," she said.

"Somerset County shares the vision of all of the partners: to preserve the unique environmental, scenic and cultural characteristics of the Sourland Region," said Somerset County Freeholder and Open Space Advisory Committee Liaison Mark Caliguire. "The preservation of this property that we celebrate today solidifies Somerset County's longstanding goal of connecting its open space to preserved lands in Hunterdon County. Through the efforts of so many organizations, the connection has now been made and the Sourland Mountain Preserve can continue to grow as a multi-county, regional preserve."

"This project helps secure the future of the Sourlands region by protecting forests, farm fields, and wetlands," said Bill Kibler, policy director for Raritan Headwaters Association. "The project partners are helping preserve our rural communities, supporting local agriculture, and protecting our clean water."

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.

For more information about the Sourland Mountains, visit the Sourland Conservancy website at To learn more about Open Space Month, go to the New Jersey Keep It Green website at

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 or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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