Preservation Enhances Effort to Protect South Branch of the Raritan River
Critical lands along the South Branch of the Raritan River have been permanently preserved by a coalition of nonprofit conservation organizations, as well as local, county, and state governments.
On Aug. 21, the nonprofit organizations Hunterdon Land Trust, New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJ Conservation), and Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA), acquired four parcels of land – two in Readington Township totaling 12 acres, and two in Raritan Township totaling 4 acres – to preserve the land in its natural state for wildlife and watershed protection. The three nonprofits then transferred sole ownership to Readington Township.
These four parcels, located at the corner of River Road and Rockafellows Mill Road in Raritan and Readington townships, are adjacent to the South Branch Wildlife Management Area and help preserve a larger contiguous natural area west of Three Bridges village in Readington. Preservation of these lands will also contribute to stream restoration and the overall protection of the South Branch of the Raritan River. The acquired lands play a pivotal role in the river ecosystem, nurturing species like bald eagles, ospreys, waterfowl, wading birds, songbirds, and vital fisheries resources.
The land was purchased by the three nonprofits using funds from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Green Acres Program, matched by funds from the Hunterdon County Open Space Program. In addition, both Readington and Raritan townships contributed funds raised by their municipal open space taxes.
“This achievement marks a significant step toward future ecological improvements in the area surrounding the Rockafellows Mill Dam,” said Juergen Huelsebusch, Readington Township’s mayor and chair of its Open Space Advisory Board.
“This open space acquisition has been a highly collaborative project across many groups who are all dedicated to the preservation of critical areas, especially along waterways,” said Raritan Township Mayor Robyn Fatooh. “We are grateful for the partnership and know the communities will enjoy using the properties along the South Branch Raritan River for years to come.”
Readington and Hunterdon County’s Strategic Open Space plans each identify the South Branch of the Raritan River as a priority. Preserving these 16 acres of riparian land flanking both sides of the South Branch symbolizes a cornerstone acquisition for a green corridor along the waterway.
“The preservation of this property is a testament to the dedication and cooperation of no less than three nonprofit organizations and four government entities that work in the Hunterdon County region and to their conservation ethic that is so evident in our rural landscapes,” said Hunterdon Land Trust’s Executive Director Catherine Suttle. “This team effort protects land along one of our region’s most significant waterways, benefits our local habitat, and will mitigate flooding in the area.”
“We expect to see many positive benefits, including improved habitat for fish and wildlife and enhanced water quality, here along the South Branch thanks to this remarkable preservation effort made possible by a dedicated team of organizations,” said NJ Conservation’s Black River Project Manager Richard Dodds.
“The stars aligned for us on this project, this is a big win for the Raritan River watershed. Our heartfelt gratitude extends to all our preservation partners who played a vital role in this endeavor,” said Raritan Headwaters Association’s Associate Director Mara Tippett. “Preserving these critical watershed lands brings great benefits to the broader ecological community and directly benefits the watershed’s residents who depend on clean water.”
“Green Acres is very pleased to have worked with our nonprofit partners on this acquisition which includes a beautiful stretch of the South Branch of the Raritan River” said Martha Sullivan Sapp, Director of Green Acres. “The preservation of the river, floodplain, and freshwater wetlands will protect surface water quality and provide flood storage and future recreation opportunities for New Jersey residents and visitors.”
This preservation effort builds upon prior acquisitions in the watershed by Readington Township, Raritan Township, Hunterdon County, and NJDEP. The NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife oversees the adjacent South Branch Wildlife Management Area and the downstream Merck Tract, totaling more than 1,900 acres.