This article originally appeared in Times of Trenton. Photograph by Michael Mancuso:
The land runs in large part along Crosswicks Creek and stretches across 1,900 acres in Mercer, Monmouth and Burlington counties, the Department of Environmental Protection said. It will be used for open space, farms and wildlife refuges.
“This has been a long time in the works, and this is a wonderful opportunity for the central part of New Jersey,” DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. “It’s beautiful property, surrounded by rolling countryside, and we’re going to preserve some spectacular scenery.”
The terrain covers nearly three square miles, including the largest portion in Upper Freehold and the rest in Hamilton and North Hanover. It was previously part of Princeton Nurseries, once one of the largest commercial plant nurseries in the country.
Founded by the Flemer family in 1913, the company moved to Allentown in the 1980s and its former properties were gradually developed, sold to Princeton University and other buyers or targeted for preservation.
“Future generations of farmers and nature lovers will together enjoy these beautiful lands that have meant so much to the William Flemer and John Flemer families,” the family said in a DEP news release. “We are grateful to the people of the state of New Jersey for their support of the preservation of precious open space and irreplaceable farmland in our state.”
Covering an area where the three counties meet, the purchase will help connect thousands of acres of existing county park lands and greenways along the creek, the DEP said. It includes grasslands, mature forests and forested wetland, and recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting and bicycle riding will be available throughout.
More than 1,000 acres will be preserved as open space, including a 512-acre state wildlife management area, which will be overseen by the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. An additional 847 acres will be permanently available for agricultural uses thanks to the acquisition of development rights on the land, the agency said.
“Everyone always kind of had their eye on this property for preservation, but not until (the Flemer family members) were ready did we pursue anything,” said Renee Jones, a spokeswoman for the DEP’s Green Acres program. “We had many, many, many meetings about how to divide out the property, about what the owners wanted to keep as farmland versus what they wanted as open space.”
Funding came from several sources, including Green Acres Program, the State Agriculture Development Committee and Burlington and Monmouth counties. Mercer County contributed $1.6 million, according to the law firm Drinker Biddle, whose Princeton office represented the Flemer family in the deal.