Ocean County Adds to Forked River Mountain Tract Preservation

By Eric Englund | Sep 25, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Ocean County — The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders has accepted a 3,100-acre open space donation adjacent to the Forked River Mountain tract acquired earlier this year.

“I want to extend the deepest appreciation from the board of freeholders to The Nature Conservancy,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines, who is liaison to the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund program. “This donation is not only adjacent to the largest tract we have acquired under the county’s open space program, but it is also one of the most environmentally sensitive tracts we have purchased under our Natural Lands program. With this donation, more than 11,000 acres which straddles Lacey Township and Waretown will remain in its natural state. This type of land preservation is what this program is all about.”

In February, the county preserved nearly 8,000 acres of forest when officials closed on a  $15.4 million deal funded by the county’s open space tax. The purchase of 7,923 acres from John J. Brunetti of Old Bridge Township was the county’s largest preservation transaction deal since the program began in 1997, according to the county.

The Nature Conservancy is a charitable environmental organization headquartered in Arlington, Va. Founded in 1951, it has protected more than 119 million acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide. The nonprofit has been working to preserve land in New Jersey for about 60 years.

“This parcel mirrors the environmental qualities of the Forked River Mountain tract,” Haines said. “The property has core Pinelands habitat and provides continuity with our Natural Lands Trust Fund Forked River Mountain acquisition and Structural Management Properties.”

She said the donation also comes with a $112,613 endowment from the conservancy for property maintenance.

“This property is a perfect fit for our open space program since it is surrounded by land already preserved by Ocean County and the state,” Haines said. “We are grateful to expand our open space reach even more in this area. Our residents and visitors will always be able to enjoy this environmental gem.”

Rare and threatened wildlife and plant species include the Pine Barrens gentian and reed grass, curly grass fern, Kniesekern’s beaked rush, New Jersey rush, bog asphodel, swamp pink, northern pine snake, timber rattlesnake and Pine Barrens tree frog, according to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

“This is a great deal for Ocean County and the preservation of open space,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is critical because it makes the preserve so much larger. This is an important connector between coastal areas and the Pinelands when it comes to open space and a greenway for animals to migrate. This purchase will help protect important streams that provide habitat for threatened and endangered species. This is a big victory for open space and the protection of a critical ecosystem.”  —E.E.

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