Wednesday, June 13, 2012

'Singing Wood' Preserved in Harding Township

I currently live in Morristown, which means I am very familiar with the large pieces of preserved land in nearby Harding Township. Eventually, I wouldn't mind moving there. We all can dream ...

‘Singing Wood’ is preserved in Harding
From New Jersey Hills

HARDING TWP. –  Most of the property dubbed “Singing Wood” is likely to stay just that.
May 23 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Harding resident, former Congressman and  conservation trailblazer Peter H. B. Frelinghuysen Jr.

Mr. Frelinghuysen called “Singing Wood” on Sand Spring Lane his home since 1948 and he stayed there until his death last year.

Through his will, Mr. Frelinghuysen bequeathed development rights on more than 90 acres to the Harding Land Trust for the purpose of open space preservation.

Harding Land Trust officials said the gift limits development on nearly two-thirds of the 150-acre Harding homestead and estimate the value of the donation to be worth $5 million.

 “Mr. Frelinghuysen made a final gift to the residents of Harding and the region by preserving some of the most valuable building areas on the property,” said Dave Shepperly, the Harding Land Trust board president.
Residents are invited to join the Harding Open Space Trust Committee for a presentation and discussion about the preservation plan for the Frelinghuysen property. It will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, at the Harding Township Municipal Building on Blue Mill Road.

“Singing Wood,” according to the Land Trust, is one of the largest remaining private farm properties in the township.

Shepperly refers to the views of the property as a “homecoming” to those traveling down James Street into the township.

“It’s when you know you are really back in Harding.”

Local residents have long speculated about the future of the property. Not until now, however, have  Frelinghuysen’s plan for Singing Wood been fully revealed.

Frelinghuysen’s support for open space and conservation issues was not merely in the  political realm. He practiced it personally. In 1999, he conveyed to the Harding Land Trust 88 acres of open fields near James Street and Wexford Lane through a combination of donations, conservation easements, and bargain sales.
Most of Singing Wood will be permanently preserved as open space due to his foresight and generosity.

“The remaining tracts that comprise Singing Wood provide beautiful sweeping views over hayfields, bordered by forests and the streams that feed the Great Swamp”, said Tina Bologna, executive director of the Harding Land Trust.  “The property’s natural features are part of a complex of habitats that play an important role in the diversity of the region.”

In 2008, the  Planning Board approved a 13-lot subdivision on Singing Wood Farm.

Lot sizes in the subdivision range from three acres to more than 30 acres in size and each takes full advantage of the extensive views from the property, according to the Harding Land Trust.

“Mr. Frelinghuysen had a vision for the property that did not include the full build-out of all 13 lots,” said Dave Shepperly, the Harding Land Trust board president.

Harding Land Trust is working with the Frelinghuysen Estate to acquire several other important parcels of the property in order to link all of the ecologically critical areas into a contiguous preserve.

“When completed, some additional residential development will still be available; however, the remaining lots will be tucked away and surrounded by preserved natural areas.” said Bologna.

“This project is one of the more significant open space projects ever undertaken in Harding Township,” said Mr. Frelinghuysen’s daughter, Adaline Frelinghuysen.

“We hope the result will serve as a legacy to our father’s lifetime of dedication to serving the public interest”. 
Mr. Frelinghuysen Jr. , the father of Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, represented Morris and Somerset counties in the United States House of Representatives from 1953 through 1974.

During his time in the House, his proudest achievement was blocking the Port Authority of New York nd New Jersey from building a fourth major airport in what is now the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
The federally protected Great Swamp is one of the most unspoiled wildlife refuges in the Northeast.

The Frelinghuysen family has a long history of giving, having donated lands which support some of Morris County’s most  cultural institutions.

Since 1963, Peter H. B. Frelinghuysen Sr.’s estate, “Twin Oaks,” has been the home of the Morris Museum, which is located on Normandy Heights Road in Morristown [Morris Township -ed.].

Today this architecturally significant Georgian-style mansion is the heart of the museum’s exhibition space. The family donated many of the surrounding acres to Morris Township for a municipal playground.
The land donations do not stop with Peter Frelinghuysen Jr.’s immediate family.

Frelinghuysen’s aunt, Matilda Frelinghuysen, is best remembered for establishing the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morris Plains [It's actually in Morris Township -ed.].  The Arboretum, with over 127 acres, was dedicated in 1971 and was bequeathed to the people of Morris County for public use.  It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  A portion of this property also became the site for the Morris County Library.

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