Monday, September 19, 2011

14 Acres Along Princeton Ridge Preserved

Courtesy Princeton Patch

Following more than two years of community effort, fundraising and litigation, 14 wooded acres on the ecologically-sensitive Princeton Ridge have been permanently preserved by a partnership of public agencies and four nonprofits - New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and Kingston Greenways Association.

The partners purchased the Ricciardi property on Bunn Drive on Aug. 25, adding to a growing greenway of forested lands along the Princeton Ridge. If not preserved, more than 45 homes could have been built on the property.

“We and our partners are very excited to preserve this property,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, in a statement “This land is a critical link in the newly-created Princeton Ridge Preserve. Its preservation brings a successful closure to years of litigation and uncertainty about the land’s future.”

The property’s mature forests provide habitat for several endangered and threatened species, including the wood turtle, eastern box turtle, Cooper’s hawk and barred owl. In addition to protecting wildlife habitat, the forests preserve local water quality and prevent flooding.

The property is a key component of the new Princeton Ridge Preserve, connecting two adjacent properties soon to be preserved: the 35-acre All Saints Church property, which is being acquired by the D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Friends of Princeton Open Space; and 17 acres of the former Lowe property, to be donated by J. Robert Hillier. These lands will link to the Herrontown Woods Preserve, Hilltop Park and Autumn Hill Reservation. Plans call for a network of interconnected walking trails.

"I look forward to walking the trails and formally connecting this tract to the surrounding preserved spaces in the Princeton Ridge Preserve,” said Mayor Chad Goerner, who credited his Township Committee colleague, Liz Lempert, for helping spearhead the preservation. “It is great to see it come to a successful conclusion."

Public agency funding partners include the state Green Acres Program, Mercer County and Princeton Township.

"We are extremely pleased that this property will continue to grow trees and harbor wildlife, rather than sprout buildings and generate stormwater runoff," said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. "Five years ago, many of us fought against a proposed 98-unit housing development on this property and we are thrilled that that battle is now just a memory." The number of potential homes was later reduced to 47.

Efforts to preserve the environmentally vulnerable Princeton Ridge began several years ago when a citizens group, Save Princeton Ridge, formed to stop proposed development on the properties on the Ridge.

The nonprofit groups came together two years ago to acquire the Ricciardi property for conservation; this week’s purchase ends litigation involving that property. Litigation on the Lowe parcel, between Save Princeton Ridge and Princeton Township, was settled earlier this year.

Goerner praised the teamwork and cooperation that made the preservation possible.

“This effort has been a true example of local and regional organizations working together for a common purpose,” he said. “I want to extend my thanks to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Stony Brook- Millstone Watershed Association, Kingston Greenways Association, Mercer County and Green Acres for contributing to this important project."

Wendy Mager, president of the Friends of Princeton Open Space, said she is grateful to all who made the preservation possible. “We recognize the Ridge as a unique environmental asset deserving special protection, and are thrilled to be involved now in protecting key lands on the eastern Ridge,” she said. “The Princeton Ridge Preserve will be a continuing priority for the Friends of Princeton Open Space, which is already working on additional projects there.”

In addition to the public agency funding, more than 100 private donors from the Princeton community contributed more than $430,000 to fill a funding gap that could have jeopardized the project. A last-minute fundraising drive brought in a very generous anonymous gift that secured the project’s success.

“At the end of the day, it is individuals who love our town and other beautiful parts of this state who make the difference in conservation,” said Mager.

The Princeton Ridge is a sensitive ecological area extending from the Millstone River and D&R Canal State Park, across the northern region of Princeton Township into Hopewell Township, where it is known locally as the Mount Rose Ridge. Since at least 1959, Princeton Township’s Master Plan has identified the Princeton Ridge as among the most important and sensitive environmental features in the community.

In addition to the endangered and threatened species, the Ridge provides migration and nesting habitat for a number of migratory birds that require large patches of unfragmented forests to live and breed.

"The Princeton Ridge Preserve results from many collaborative efforts over the past four years; our thanks to all the nonprofit and governmental bodies that made this achievement possible," said Daniel A. Harris and Jane Buttars, founders of the citizens’ groups Save Princeton Ridge and People for Princeton Ridge. "We are delighted that our efforts to educate the Princeton community in matters of sustainable land-use and to secure a revised Ordinance for the Lowe tract (adjoining the Ricciardi tract) means that 80 percent of the Lowe tract will be part of the Princeton Ridge Preserve - an open space which (combined with Herrontown Woods) establishes 208 acres of contiguous natural habitat in the midst of Mercer County: no mean accomplishment."

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