The executives who direct the efforts of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation (MCF) believe having access to parks and open spaces has improved Monmouth County residents’ quality of life during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
The foundation, which has offices in the Lincroft section of Middletown, is Monmouth County’s only county-wide land trust. At present, the foundation’s directors are working on about a dozen open space initiatives throughout the 665-square-mile county that is home to almost 620,000 residents.
The Monmouth Conservation Foundation was founded in 1977 by Michael Huber and Judith Stanley Coleman as a nonprofit organization. The foundation works to preserve land and protect the county’s natural habitat.
During the past, 43 years, the organization has saved more than 22,500 acres of open space and farmland, according to its website.
As more farmland and open space is targeted for development for residential and commercial uses, the foundation forms partnerships by serving as a facilitator and/or partner among public and private entities.
The foundation’s objective is to preserve land by determining how a property will be best preserved and used so the public benefits.
MCF Executive Director William Kastning said the foundation has a priority list of 11 projects at the present time. He said the foundation is “trying to raise sufficient funds to match funds provided by the state, the county, a municipality or individuals.”
He said the foundation is working on projects in Howell, on farmland preservation initiatives in Colts Neck, and on three waterfront projects, including Swimming River Park in Red Bank.
The MCF is also interested in improving green space in the more urban areas of the county such as Asbury Park and Long Branch.
“In general, we have park projects, we have farmland projects … We are also saving properties that surround Naval Weapons Station Earle in Howell, Colts Neck and a few other municipalities, so we are working with the Navy on those projects,” Kastning said.
He noted that “many people think we are part of the Monmouth County Park System or the county, which of course we are not. We are an independent organization.”
MCF Deputy Executive Director Amanda Brockwell said that in addition to using funding that is provided by taxpayers, the organization “is raising private dollars from people around the county and beyond that ultimately go to fund these projects.”
In September 2019, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres program and the MCF completed the $3.8 million purchase of 190 acres of forests and forested wetlands that were added to Allaire State Park at the border of Howell and Wall Township. The parcel is referred to as the McDowell property.
“That was a project that is particularly great in terms of size, but also one of the last remaining pieces to expand Allaire State Park,” Brockwell said.
“The irony of (the pandemic) is that parks are packed now. People are craving outdoor opportunities and to be part of that important acquisition was a timely opportunity.
“For Allaire State Park to be expanded by 200 acres to allow for more areas of passive trails, essentially right before this crisis hit … is serving a lot of people right now,” she said.
Brockwell said the county’s parks and open spaces have been an unexpected silver lining during the pandemic.
“I think it is fair to say our quality of life in Monmouth County is so much better right now because of all the opportunities people have to access open spaces and trails, and really maintain their mental and physical health at a time when we desperately need it.
“What unifies all of these different (foundation) projects is that we can take an experience like what we are going through right now with this (pandemic) and reflect on a lot of priorities and what is important in our lives.
“One thing I think has come forward for a lot of people is (having) access to these lands we are protecting, and it is a important thing to support,” Brockwell said.
Kastning said he hopes residents and visitors will continue to enjoy Monmouth County’s parks and open spaces once the pandemic passes.