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14 acres along Princeton Ridge preserved as natural area


New Jersey Conservation Foundation

PRINCETON TWP. – After more than two years of community effort, fundraising and litigation, 14 wooded acres on the ecologically-sensitive Princeton Ridge have been permanently preserved by a partnership of public agencies and four nonprofits - New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and Kingston Greenways Association.


The partners purchased the Ricciardi property on Bunn Drive today, Thursday, Aug. 25, catalyzing a growing greenway of forested lands along the Princeton Ridge in northern Mercer County. The property could have been developed for up to 47 homes.


“We and our partners are very excited to preserve this property,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “This land is a critical link in the newly-created Princeton Ridge Preserve. Its preservation brings a successful closure to years of litigation and uncertainty about the land’s future.”


The property’s mature forests provide habitat for several endangered and threatened species, including the wood turtle, eastern box turtle, Cooper’s hawk and barred owl.  In addition to protecting wildlife habitat, the forests preserve local water quality and prevent flooding.


Creating a Greenway


The property is a keystone component of the new Princeton Ridge Preserve, connecting two adjacent properties soon to be preserved: the 35-acre All Saints Church property, which is being acquired by the D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Friends of Princeton Open Space; and 17 acres of the former Lowe property, to be donated by J. Robert Hillier. These lands will form a nucleus of forest linking to the Herrontown Woods Preserve, Hilltop Park and Autumn Hill Reservation. Plans call for a network of interconnected walking trails.


"I look forward to walking the trails and formally connecting this tract to the surrounding preserved spaces in the Princeton Ridge Preserve,” said Mayor Chad Goerner, who credited his Township Committee colleague, Liz Lempert, for helping spearhead the preservation. “It is great to see it come to a successful conclusion."


Public agency funding partners include the state Green Acres Program, Mercer County and Princeton Township.


"The Green Acres Program, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is pleased to be able to provide funding to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, Kingston Greenway and Princeton Township and commends the partners for protecting the ecologically significant forest and wetland habitats of the Princeton Ridge,” said Richard Boornazian, administrator of the Green Acres Program. “The preservation of this property will also continue a greenway linkage to other existing preserved lands and expand public access to these significant natural lands."


‘Battle Is Now Just a Memory’


"We are extremely pleased that this property will continue to grow trees and harbor wildlife, rather than sprout buildings and generate stormwater runoff," said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.  "Five years ago, many of us fought against a proposed 98-unit housing development on this property and we are thrilled that that battle is now just a memory." The number of potential homes was later reduced to 47.


Efforts to preserve the environmentally vulnerable Princeton Ridge began several years ago when a citizens group, Save Princeton Ridge, formed to stop proposed development on the properties on the Ridge.


The nonprofit groups came together two years ago to acquire the Ricciardi property for conservation; this week’s purchase ends litigation involving that property. Litigation on the Lowe parcel, between Save Princeton Ridge and Princeton Township, was settled earlier this year.


‘Working for a Common Purpose’


Mayor Goerner praised the teamwork and cooperation that made the preservation possible. 

“This effort has been a true example of local and regional organizations working together for a common purpose,” he said.  “I want to extend my thanks to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Stony Brook- Millstone Watershed Association, Kingston Greenways Association, Mercer County and Green Acres for contributing to this important project."


Wendy Mager, president of the Friends of Princeton Open Space, said she is grateful to all who made the preservation possible. “We recognize the Ridge as a unique environmental asset deserving special protection, and are thrilled to be involved now in protecting key lands on the eastern Ridge,” she said.  “The Princeton Ridge Preserve will be a continuing priority for the Friends of Princeton Open Space, which is already working on additional projects there.” 


Brian M. Hughes, Mercer County Executive, said, "Mercer County is pleased to be a partner in the preservation of this significant beautifully wooded area. This property is in close proximity to Mercer County's Herrontown Woods and other preserved open space, and I applaud the work of the many entities that have joined to save this critical habitat."


In addition to the public agency funding, more than 100 private donors from the Princeton community contributed more than $430,000 to fill a funding gap that could have jeopardized the project. A last-minute fundraising drive brought in a very generous anonymous gift that secured the project’s success.


 “At the end of the day, it is individuals who love our town and other beautiful parts of this state who make the difference in conservation,” noted Mager.


The Princeton Ridge is a sensitive ecological area extending from the Millstone River and D&R Canal State Park, across the northern region of Princeton Township into Hopewell Township, where it is known locally as the Mount Rose Ridge.  Since at least 1959, Princeton Township’s Master Plan has identified the Princeton Ridge as among the most important and sensitive environmental features in the community. 


In addition to the endangered and threatened species, the Ridge provides migration and nesting habitat for a number of migratory birds that require large patches of unfragmented forests to live and breed. 

Tari Pantaleo, president of Kingston Greenways Association, noted that the Princeton Ridge Preserve forms a continuous greenbelt that extends into Kingston, a village that straddles parts of Princeton Township, Franklin Township (Somerset County) and South Brunswick (Middlesex County).

“The D&R Canal State Park, Rockingham State Historic Site, and the Kingston Trap Rock Quarry are all underlain by the same diabase formation that makes up the Princeton Ridge, known here in Kingston as the Kingston/Rocky Hill Ridge,” Pantaleo said. “Kingston Greenways Association got involved with this preservation effort because two of its organizational goals are to preserve and create connections of green and work in partnership with other regional, state and national organizations in pursuit of open space preservation and awareness.  Both goals are well served by this effort.”

"The Princeton Ridge Preserve results from many collaborative efforts over the past four years; our thanks to all the nonprofit and governmental bodies that made this achievement possible," said Daniel A. Harris and Jane Buttars, founders of the citizens’ groups Save Princeton Ridge and People for Princeton Ridge. "We are delighted that our efforts to educate the Princeton community in matters of sustainable land-use and to secure a revised Ordinance for the Lowe tract (adjoining the Ricciardi tract) means that 80 percent of the Lowe tract will be part of the Princeton Ridge Preserve - an open space which (combined with Herrontown Woods) establishes 208 acres of contiguous natural habitat in the midst of Mercer County: no mean accomplishment."

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