BEDMINSTER TWP. -- When all is quiet - which is most of the time - the neighborhood surrounding the crossroads of Spook Hollow and Holland roads looks much like it did 50 years ago. Roads are unpaved, horses and cows graze in the fields, and houses are few and far between.
Fifty years from now the area shouldn’t look very different, thanks to a long-term community effort to preserve hundreds of acres of farmland and forest that give it its rural character.
The latest property to be preserved is the 86-acre Murphy family farm on Spook Hollow Road, where horses, cows, chickens and hay are raised.
Bedminster Township just purchased the development rights to the property, with the assistance of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Upper Raritan Watershed Association (URWA), Somerset County, the state of New Jersey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the land is still privately owned, it is now permanently deed-restricted for agricultural use.
“It’s nice to be able to keep it open,” said Karen Murphy, who farms the property where her family has lived for more than 30 years. “Because of its location – it’s bordered by roads on three sides – it’s highly developable.”
Murphy’s parents, Patricia Murphy and the late Vincent Murphy, moved the family there from Scotch Plains in 1979. “My dad was at that time president of the U.S. Equestrian Team, and he decided he wanted to be closer,” explained Murphy. “He always wanted to be in the country. This farm was his love.” Vincent Murphy passed away in 2006.
“It’s a gorgeous property,” said Bedminster Mayor Robert Holtaway, praising the teamwork that got the farm preserved. Funding came from the township and county open space programs, a state farmland preservation grant obtained by URWA, and a federal Farm and Ranchlands Preservation Program grant obtained by New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
With the preservation of the Murphy farm, the protected green belt in the area is now well over 500 acres.
“It’s a little step back in time,” said Holtaway. “You get a very peaceful feeling when you’re on these back roads. You get the impression that there is some country left, even in New Jersey.”
The Murphy farm is bounded on one side by the Middle Brook and on the other sides by Spook Hollow, Holland and Fowler roads. Immediately adjacent is the 26-acre Hyde property, which was purchased by Bedminster as a public preserve in 2007. Across the road is the 72-acre Carden farm, which was preserved by the township a few years earlier. Fairview Farm on Larger Cross Road, URWA’s 170-acre wildlife preserve, is a short distance away.
URWA also holds conservation easements on 366 nearby acres on Spook Hollow, Holland and Fowler roads in Bedminster and Peapack-Gladstone Borough.
“Thanks to the Murphys’ perseverance and conservation ethic, 86 acres of farmland have been preserved in the green heart of Bedminster,” said Cindy Ehrenclou, URWA’s executive director. “Preserving the Murphy farm not only protects water quality in the Middle Brook; open land is critical to filtering rainwater and recharging the underground aquifer.”
“This is a significant contribution to environmental health, and to a community that treasures its rural landscapes,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “It seems like every day, familiar landscapes are disappearing. This is one that will remain forever.”
Founded in 1959, the Upper Raritan Watershed Association protects and preserves natural resources of the Upper Raritan watershed region. For more information, visit www.urwa.org or call 908-234-1852.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, the Foundation has protected more than 120,000 acres, or 187 square miles. For more information, visit www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).