Posted Friday, October 18th, 2019

 More than 17,000 Acres of Open Space Preserved Since 1994

Morris County today is celebrating 25 years of the voter-approved Morris County Open Space Trust Fund, which since the first grant was awarded in 1994 has resulted in the preservation of thousands of acres of open spaces across the entire county, helping to maintain the county’s high quality of life.

Separate events were scheduled for this morning in Jefferson and this afternoon in Chatham Township to highlight the preservation program.

Morris County Celebrates 25 Years of the Open Space and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund

From left, Jefferson Township Mayor Eric Wilsusen, former Jefferson administrator Jim Leach, freeholder Steve Shaw and freeholder director Doug Cabana. Morris County celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Open Space Trust Fund in Jefferson Township at the Jim Leach trailhead which leads to Liffy Island, the fund’s first preserved property.

The Liffy Island preservation project in Jefferson received the first county open space grant, approved by the county governing board in 1994, 25 years ago in November.

The 136-acre Giralda Farms tract at the county Park Commission’s Loantaka Brook Reservation was the county’s most expensive and one of its most important preservation projects, receiving a $10 million county open space grant for this now heavily used public space.

Joining members of the current Freeholder Board at today’s events were a host of current and former county, state and local officials, plus members of the current and previous county Open Space Trust Fund Committee, and representatives of nonprofit land preservation groups.

“We are indebted to the people who had the foresight to guide the county towards this great preservation endeavor and to the public officials and the score of volunteers who made our preservation effort a great success over the past 25 years,’’ said Freeholder Director Doug Cabana. Think of what this county might look like today without that foresight,’’ he added.

“Each of you who were involved in this great preservation effort should be proud of the role you played in helping Morris County preserve our green spaces. Congratulations and thank you behalf of all Morris County residents,’’ said Freeholder Stephen Shaw, a one-time member and vice-chair of the county’s open space committee.

“The open space and parks in Morris County are critical to making Morris County a great place to live, work, play and raise a family and are critical to the economic vitality of the region,’’ Freeholder Shaw added.

Freeholder Cabana speaks at Liffy Island event

In addition to the freeholders, speakers at today’s events included Jay Thomson, a founding member and current Chairman of the Open Space Trust Fund Committee; longtime Committee member and Chair Rick Watson, Betty Cass-Schmidt and Barbara Shepard from the Morris County Park Commission, Jefferson Mayor Eric Wilsusen, Chatham Township Mayor Tayfun Selen, and Terrance Nolan of the Open Space Institute.

Special county resolutions were awarded to Thomson and Watson, as well as longtime Jefferson Township Administrator James Leach.

Morris County Celebrates 25 Years of the Open Space and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund

A recommendation by the non-profit Morris 2000 planning group convinced a freeholder board in 1992 to put a question on the ballot, asking voters if they would like to create an open space and farmland preservation trust fund, to be financed by a dedicated tax. County voters approved it by a two-to-one margin.

A special committee was formed, which in November of 1994 made its first grant recommendations to the Freeholder Board for preservation projects at Liffy Island in Jefferson, Turkey Brook Park in Mt. Olive, and Knuth Farm in Denville.

Twenty-five years later, the county and its municipal and nonprofit partners have awarded open space grants for projects in 38 of Morris County’s 39 towns, preserving 17,475 acres, which is more acreage than the size of Parsippany and almost as large as Chester Township.

Here are some facts about the county’s preservation program. since its inception:

  • 474 grants have been awarded for projects in 38 towns (none in Victory Gardens);
  • 403 projects have been completed;
  • Total preserved acreage is 17,475 acres and counting;
  • Successful projects have been awarded $289.7 million in grants;
  • The largest project was Fire Tower Ridge in Mt. Olive at 613 acres;
  • The smallest dollar award was $11,000 for the 2.5-acre Butler Raceway project;
  • The single largest grant was $10 million for Giralda Farms property in Chatham Township (plus open space dollars from the Park Commission and county MUA raised the actual total to $14 million).

For a look at detailed data about all facets of the Open Space Trust Fund, visit: https://planning.morriscountynj.gov/divisions/prestrust/

The current County Open Space Trust Fund Committee is preparing to make its 2019 grant recommendations to the Board of Freeholders in November.