Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), the Watershed Institute, the Ridgeview Conservancy and the Municipality of Princeton closed last week on a 3-acre lot on Ridgeview Road containing headwaters of the Mountain Brook.
The brook feeds into Mountain Lake in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, one of Princeton’s most popular passive recreation areas. The property, which is mostly wetlands, is important because it helps protect the high-water quality in Mountain Brook and prevent excessive sediment flowing into Mountain Lake, according to information provided by Wendy Mager, president of FOPOS.
New Jersey’s Green Acres Program and Mercer County’s Open Space Grant Program were major contributors to the preservation project. Princeton, in addition to contributing acquisition funds, played a key role in facilitating the purchase. The D&R Greenway Land Trust also contributed funds toward the project, according to the statement.
The Watershed Institute was alerted to plans to develop the property in fall of 2018 by several concerned members and Princeton residents. The Watershed staff then gathered evidence and presented opposition before the Zoning Board to a variance sought to permit development.
“The fact that we were ultimately able to protect this land and the Mountain Brook is a testament to citizen action and the work of our staff,” Jim Waltman, executive director of the Watershed, said in the statement. He noted that Mountain Brook is a tributary of the Stony Brook.
Mager said she felt that, as the steward of Mountain Lakes Preserve, FOPOS should try to help protect this property.
“I spoke to the Watershed Institute and the Mayor and they saw the case for preservation as well, both to protect the water resource, which is the Watershed’s core mission, and to protect the town’s investment in dredging Mountain Lake several years ago to remove decades of accumulated silt,” she said in the statement.
Ridgeview Conservancy raised more than $100,000 toward the cost of acquiring the property. Residents on Ridgeview Road donated generously, and the D&R Greenway contributed $15,000, recognizing the lot’s ecological importance to this section of the Princeton Ridge, according to the statement.
“The lot is a vital piece of a wetland structure that extends over 20 acres,” Lincoln Hollister, board president of Ridgeview Conservancy, said in the statement. “It provides critical habitat and serves as an important wildlife corridor for a wide range of species, including the red-shouldered hawk, which is endangered in New Jersey. It also supports much-needed links between preserved lands in the Ridgeview Woods, Mountain Lake and Woodfield Preserve.”
Green Acres is contributing a total of $250,000 in matching grants toward the acquisition project which will be distributed amongst The Watershed Institute ($150,000), FOPOS ($50,000) and the Municipality of Princeton ($50,000).
The property will be jointly managed by FOPOS, the Watershed Institute and the Ridgeview Conservancy, with the town creating two parking spaces for visitors along Ridgeview Road using money from the Open Space Tax fund.
“Council generally likes to see investment of municipal funds for open space preservation going to tracts that will be available to all residents for enjoyment of our precious remaining unspoiled lands. Creating these parking spaces ensures that anyone can safely come and experience the benefits of this acquisition,” said David Cohen, president of the Princeton Council.
“The non-profits plan to make a very low-profile, low-impact trail on the property from Ridgeview Road to a point in the small uplands area from which people can observe birds and wildlife, as well as place a bench or two for nature contemplation and observation,” Mager said in the statement. “We also hope to create a sign with information about the importance of protecting headwaters, and the numerous species that use this area for habitat.”
The non-profits’ goal is to avoid soil disturbance as much as possible, and to provide visitors with an uplifting and educational experience in a beautiful setting, according to the statement.
“This was truly a conservation project in the deepest sense of the word, and we are grateful to the public and private institutions which have collaborated to permanently conserve this important wetland property,” Hollister said in the statement.
Christopher Barr, executive director of the Conservancy, added, “Ridgeview Conservancy expresses its sincere appreciation to Liping An of Ridgeview Property, LLC, the previous owner, for allowing the consortium to purchase the property for conservation and for his patience as we’ve pulled together the resources to make this happen.”