Friday, August 17th, 2012

Morris County, The Trust for Public Land, the State of New Jersey and Jefferson Township have joined forces to preserve an 835-acre tract of land, previously known as the Baker Firestone property, located in the state-designated Highlands Preservation Area.

Announcement of the purchase was made at an event on site Aug. 16 by a number of officials, including Morris County Freeholder Ann F. Grossi; The Trust for Public Land’s state director, Anthony Cucchi; Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen; New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Assistant Commissioner Rich Boornazian; and Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter.

The officials said the Baker property has been a high preservation priority for more than 20 years because of its varied wildlife habitat, important water resources and linkage to over 3,000 acres of preserved lands.

The property has been purchased by The Trust for Public Land as an interim conservation purchaser. The Trust is now in the process of conveying the land to the state and to Jefferson Township, with 647-acres going to the state as an addition to Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area.

“These 835-acres are an important addition to the Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area,” said Ann F. Grossi, Morris County Freeholder, and liaison to the county’s open space program.  “This property, along with the more than 3,000 acres already preserved in the Management Area, will provide recreation, safeguard wetland areas, preserve open space and provide habitat for endangered as well as common wildlife and plant species.”

The rest of the land, 188 acres, will be conveyed to Jefferson for municipal recreation and conservation purposes.

Funding for the $4.6 million acquisition includes $1,940,000 in federal Highlands Conservation Act funds; $1,618,720 in New Jersey Green Acres funds; $800,000 from the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund; and $241,280 from a Green Acres Planning Incentive Grant awarded to Jefferson Township.

The site contains environmentally sensitive wetland areas, steep slopes and habitat for a number of important state and federally listed species including the bobcat, golden-winged warbler, timber rattlesnake, red-shouldered hawk, Indiana bat, Cooper’s hawk and barred owl.