D&R Greenway Land Trust Announces Closing of 89-acre Cider Mill Road Property
Princeton, New Jersey: D&R Greenway Land Trust announces the closing of the Cider Mill Road property, an 89-acre site in East Amwell Township. The property is noted as an important location for conservation of State-listed threatened and endangered grassland birds, including bobolink, eastern meadowlark, savannah and grasshopper sparrows; as well as raptor species including American kestrel, a NJ species of Special Concern. The Cider Mill property is a winter habitat area for endangered northern harriers and threatened Short-eared owls.
The preservation was funded by a unique partnership that included D&R Greenway Land Trust, East Amwell Township, Conservation Resources Inc., The Open Space Institute, Hunterdon County, and the State of New Jersey. The preservation price was $2,054,000.
D&R Greenway President & CEO, Linda Mead, declared, “We couldn’t have acquired this site without tremendous public and private support. It takes a community of funders to achieve the desired result.” D&R Greenway facilitated the complex transaction by securing a contract with the landowner, Bryce Thompson, and putting the funding partnership together to achieve everyone’s goals.
The State Division of Fish and Wildlife will be part owners and co-managers of the property with D&R Greenway. “The Division of Fish and Wildlife have been outstanding partners in helping to bring the State funding to the table and in providing excellent management guidance as we strive to enhance the habitat values,” Mead said. “They really went out of their way to help make this project happen and it made a difference.”
The views across the Cider Mill Road property are as sweeping as the vision it represents. Almost entirely open grassland, the 89-acre site in East Amwell slopes down from a rise as the road makes an S-shaped bend. From this prospect, surrounded by the panorama of the Amwell Valley, meadows flow in waves southward toward the horizon, lapping up against the long forested ridge of the Sourland Mountain.
The State of New Jersey provided funds through three different sources to help preserve this property of statewide importance. “This year is the Green Acres Program’s 50th anniversary year and it is nice to kick off the celebration of this milestone with preservation of a property that has the high quality of the Cider Mill Preserve.” said NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “D&R Greenway Land Trust was the first land conservancy to close a project with Green Acres nonprofit grant funding in 1991, and now they have led the first major preservation partnership closing in our 50th year in business.”
NJ Green Acres ‘Local’ grant funding and direct ‘State Land Acquisition’ Funding was used on this project as well as New Jersey’s Natural Resource Damages Fund (NRDF). The NRDF is funded by damages paid to NJDEP by polluters. These monies are used to preserve or restore lands that protect and improve groundwater recharge.
In addition to the State funds, Conservation Resources Inc. (CRI) re-granted monies drawn from a multi-year grant to CRI from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This grant to CRI, which is a non-profit conservation intermediary organization, provides funds for the Raritan Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership, a coalition of public and private conservation organizations. “CRI was delighted to provide the initial funding commitment to help launch this project, and we are thrilled to see this beautiful farm permanently preserved,” said Michael Catania, President of CRI. “We applaud D&R Greenway in overcoming the many challenges they faced, and acknowledge their success in working with other RPWHP partners.”
Hunterdon County provided funds through their County Nonprofit Grant Program to D&R Greenway for the acquisition, and East Amwell Township utilized funding from their Green Acres Planning Incentive Grant to help make this acquisition happen. "East Amwell is grateful for the many preservation partners that worked together to make this acquisition possible" said Mayor Larry Tatsch. "Preservation of this natural grassland, which will be open to the public, helps perpetuate our agricultural heritage and ensures a legacy of natural beauty for generations to come". Ms. Mead added, “The Township’s support the entire way was a critical component of this deal. They were simply remarkable.”
Putting all these pieces together in time for closing was “a bit of a miracle,” notes Ms. Mead. Still, one critical piece of the puzzle remained. Some of the funds that were pledged would not be available to be disbursed in time for the closing. So D&R Greenway turned to Open Space Institute (OSI), a nonprofit conservation organization based in New York. Through its Conservation Finance Program, OSI made a short-term “bridge” loan to D&R Greenway, which will be paid back as the grant funds are received.
Why were so many organizations so eager to participate in the purchase of the Cider Mill property? First and foremost because the site is of critical ecological importance in order to maintain and enhance habitat for threatened grassland birds. D&R Greenway was alerted to the importance of the site several years ago by neighbors and partners in Hunterdon County. D&R Greenway noted during the very first visit to the site that no less than 5 Northern Harriers hunting over the fields while a Kestrel hovered overhead. This was a clear indication of that the Cider Mill property was an exceptional site. Not only is the property planted with grasses, but it is surrounded by hundreds of acres of preserved open space and farmland that provide extensive grassland habitat. The more grassland there is in the same area, the more valuable each site is as habitat, providing more (and more diverse) food, cover and nesting sites. Large tracts of grasslands provide habitat for species that simply can’t tolerate smaller acreages.
Grasslands (also called meadows) are a unique “early successional” habitat. Grasses, along with sun-loving wildflowers, are among the first to colonize and dominate disturbed soil. Without regular disturbance such as mowing or fire, grasslands will turn into forest, as shrubs and then trees take over the site.
Historically, grasslands in New Jersey were created and maintained by fire or flood; Native Americans maintained meadows by setting fires. After European settlement and the spread of farming, grasslands in the region actually increased, as forests were cleared and fields were mowed regularly. Hayfields and pastures supplied the habitat formerly provided by native grassy meadows, albeit less robustly. But with the decline of farming and increase in development, New Jersey grasslands began disappearing. With their habitat vanishing, birds dependent on grasslands are vulnerable to extirpation.
One such species, the American kestrel, has been documented breeding on the Cider Mill property; other possible breeding species include the bobolink (a species on the state’s “threatened” list) and Eastern meadowlark. Short-eared owls and Northern harriers (both state-endangered) are documented winter residents on the site. Other grassland birds that thrive in New Jersey grasslands include Savannah sparrow, vesper sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, and bobwhite quail.
Intangible Value: Quality of Life
“It’s like a seascape,” says Jay Watson, D&R Greenway’s Vice President, describing the property. “And every day in every season it looks beautiful in a different way, with the changing light on the fields and the endless skies. I’ve rarely been on Cider Mill Road when there hasn’t been someone out walking, running, or riding a bike, “ says Mr. Watson. “It’s a recreational vortex.” And no wonder. With its endless vistas, quiet roads and abundant wildlife, the Cider Mill property draws people in to enjoy its pastoral pleasures.
For more information about the Cider Mill Preserve, please visit www.drgreenway.org.