Hunterdon Land Trust recently achieved a major milestone that was more than two decades in the making: the preservation of 10,000 acres in the Hunterdon County area by the end of 2020.
The preservation of 60 acres of the Pinebrook Farm Associates property — located in Kingwood Township near Horseshoe Bend Park — pushed HLT over the 10,000-acre mark this autumn.
“Hunterdon Land Trust was highly motivated to achieve this ambitious goal regardless of the obstacles — the increased pace of development in New Jersey, the decline in available funds for preservation and the COVID-19 pandemic — that arose through the years,” said HLT Executive Director Patricia Ruby. “Accomplishing this milestone was the work of many hands from our passionate supporters, to our preservation partners, dedicated board members past and present, and our hard-working staff.”
Work to reach this goal began in the spring of 1999 with the preservation of the 36-acre Dondero farm in West Amwell. HLT, led at the time by former Executive Director Margaret Waldock, began racking up preservation victories, and decided in 2010 to set the ambitious goal of protecting 10,000 acres within the next decade. The goal was incorporated in HLT’s Strategic Plan.
John Gattuso, serving as HLT Board of Trustees president then, considered this “a reach goal” but one that was certainly achievable given the organization’s track record.
“We had wrapped up quite a few successes before and during my time,” Gattuso said. “We really wanted to push ahead and be more ambitious, but even more important is that we wanted to be strategic in our search for open space and farmland to preserve.”
That strategic approach served as a guiding principle for HLT to preserve land with critical habitat near high-quality waterways and adjacent to other preserved lands to establish contiguous green corridors. Land within the Lower Delaware River Wild & Scenic corridor — designated as such to protect the natural, cultural and historic value of the Delaware River – was particularly attractive. These include the Zega-Lockatong Preserve, the Holland Highlands, the Goeckeler Farm and the Hudson Grant Group property.
Seeing a number of large developments springing up in nearby communities prompted Robert Reid, HLT’s Farmers’ Market Manager and a Land Acquisition Committee member back in 2010, to support HLT’s goal. “We were seeing a number of beautiful properties being lost to development, and that made me want to see us set an ambitious goal,” Reid said.
“I remember when we first talked about preserving 10,000 acres; it seemed like this incredibly daunting task,” said Ronald Monaco, who succeeded Gattuso as board president. “The fact that we achieved it speaks volumes about both the steady growth of our organization and the dedication and steadfastness of our staff and board to our goal. Together with county, state and municipal open space efforts, it will ensure that our grandchildren will understand and appreciate why we love Hunterdon so much.”
Through the ensuing years, HLT steadily progressed toward its goal. Properties such as the Idell Preserve in Kingwood,, the Frenchtown Preserve in Frenchtown, the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Farm in Milford and the Quakertown Preserve in Franklin Township added to the total. This occurred, noted HLT Land Acquisition Director Jacqueline Middleton, even though finding funds to preserve land proved increasingly difficult.
But perseverance and the steady pursuit of its goal helped push HLT across the finish before 2020 ended.
The first thing Middleton did upon reaching 10,000 acres was call her predecessor, former HLT Acquisition Director Kate Buttolph. “She did so much to get us to this point, and I was fortunate enough to come on board and get us across the finish line,” Middleton said.
“I couldn’t have been more thrilled that we have reached our goal of preserving 10,000 acres of land in Hunterdon County,” said current HLT Board of Trustees President Nancy Cunningham. “The Land Trust has clearly established itself as the ‘go-to’ organization in Hunterdon County and beyond for farmland and open space preservation.  We look forward to preserving thousands of additional acres in the future.”
“We knew it was a real and ambitious challenge so that when we reached it, it would be a major accomplishment,” said Lawrence LeFevre, who has served on HLT’s board for many years and was chair of the nonprofit’s Land Acquisition Committee when the 10,000-acre goal was set.
“It was an amazing challenge from the beginning and says something remarkable about HLT’s ability to set a goal, and stick with it until it’s accomplished,” said Richard Dodds, a former HLT Board President. “It shows what a worthwhile investment HLT is.”
“Our success also proves that donors can be confident that HLT will diligently work toward its mission, and that we are a good investment for those who care about clean water, family farms and enjoying outdoor adventures,” Ruby said.