This article originally appeared in South Jersey Times.
Officials will look to expand Elmer Community Park with new open space purchase
ELMER — Though Salem County currently leads the state in total acres of preserved farmland under the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program, local and county officials this week announced the first major “open space” acquisition in the county.
Salem County freeholders, in cooperation with officials in Elmer and Upper Pittsgrove, have reached an agreement to set aside 17 acres of land in Elmer as open space, with the goal of eventually expanding Elmer Community Park.
According to Upper Pittsgrove Mayor Jack Cimprich, his township had been looking to preserve a 117 acre piece of property known as the “Anthony Estate Farm.”
Most of the farm — roughly 100 acres — falls in Upper Pittsgrove, but 17 acres of the land is located in eastern Elmer, along Harding Highway adjacent to the borough’s baseball fields.
“We were looking at preserving the entire property as farmland,” said Cimprich. “But when (Deputy Freeholder Director) Ben Laury took me out there to walk the property, he pointed out that the Elmer parcel could be preserved as open space and used to expand Elmer Community Park — providing much-needed space for all our residents.”
As a result, the decision was made to move forward with sectioning off the 17-acres to set aside the parcel as open space, marking the first major open space project for Salem County, officials said.
Since 2002, two-cents of every tax dollar paid by Salem County taxpayers has been directed into a fund for open space and farmland preservation. Until this point, however, those funds have been used exclusively toward funding farmland preservation.
The 17-acre parcel will cost $160,000 to purchase. Fifty-percent of the cost, or $80,000, will be provided through a state grant under the New Jersey Green Acres program. An additional $40,000 will be provided through the county’s dedicated fund, and the remaining $40,000 will be funded by Elmer.
According to Elmer Councilman Steve Schalick, the borough became interested in the property nearly five years ago when it was put up for sale.
“We looked at it then, and thought it would be a good place to expand the park,” said Schalick.
Freeholder Lee Ware — liaison to county Agricultural Development Board, which oversees farmland preservation and open space programs — said obtaining the property marked a win for everyone involved.
“This is a good thing for Elmer and a good thing for the county,” said Ware. “It’s a win all around, and it fits in perfectly with everyone’s master plans.”
Laury added that an expanded park in Elmer will benefit all Salem County residents.
“This park expansion gives residents throughout the area access to a large open space for athletic fields to promote healthy activities," he said. "We are proud to work with all the interested parties in finding a way to give our neighbors a gift we can all share.”
The remaining 100-acres of the Anthony Estate are still slated to enter into farmland preservation, though that part of the process is still in the works, officials said.