WOODLAND TWP. - The Franklin Parker Preserve in the Pine Barrens has just expanded to more than 10,000 acres, thanks to New Jersey Conservation Foundation's acquisition of an adjacent 473-acre property.
On June 24, the land preservation nonprofit purchased the Zemel property along Routes 72 and 532 for $418,142. The property was annexed to the preserve, increasing its size from 9,770 to 10,243 acres.
"This is the first major expansion of the Franklin Parker Preserve since it was established in 2003," said Michele S. Byers, executive director. "We're extremely grateful to the public-private partnership of funders that made it possible."
Preserving the property increases recreational opportunities while protecting Pine Barrens wildlife habitat and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, which provides drinking water for one million residents and millions more visitors.
The purchase was funded by the state Green Acres Program, the Victoria Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, the Open Space Institute, the Helen & William Mazer Foundation, Conservation Resources Inc., the state Pinelands Commission, and private funds raised by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, including a lead gift from Nora Hayes.
"Located in the core of the Pinelands National Reserve, the Franklin Parker Preserve is noteworthy for its former cranberry bogs that now provide ecologically important wetlands habitat," said Richard Boornazian, Department of Environmental Protection Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources. "We are proud to have played a big role in the conservation of this truly remarkable place and in helping the New Jersey Conservation Foundation reach this milestone."
The newly-acquired parcel is dominated by pitch pine uplands and contains the headwaters of Biddle's Branch and Goodwater Run, both tributaries of the Wading River. It is traversed by old sand roads that could potentially be converted to trails for hiking and biking.
"The Victoria Foundation is delighted to help preserve this property in the heart of New Jersey's Pine Barrens," said Irene Cooper-Basch, executive officer of the Victoria Foundation. "The land provides habitat for a diversity of species, and it's great that it will be protected forever as part of the Franklin Parker Preserve."
"We're proud to help preserve this ecological gem," said Nancy Wittenberg, Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission. "This property is located in the heart of the Pinelands Preservation Area and it contains habitat for dozens of rare Pinelands plants and animals. By permanently preserving this land, we can help ensure that the Pinelands and its tremendous resources are protected far into the future."
"We are delighted to continue our assistance to preserve land in this unique and special area of New Jersey," said Leonard Berkowitz, treasurer of the Mazer Foundation.
The Zemel Woodland North Project was also supported through the Open Space Institute's Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which is made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The Delaware River Watershed Protection Program seeks to ensure abundant, clean water within the 13,000 square mile drainage of the Delaware River and adjoining areas of the Kirkwood Cohansey aquifer, by conserving tracts of forest along the Delaware River Basin.
When kept intact, forests play a critical role in recharging and filtering groundwater and maintaining sensitive ecosystems.
"This is a milestone for the one million people whose tap water flows from the Kirkwood-Cohansey, and for the many who come again and again to enjoy the Pine Barrens," said Peter Howell, Open Space Institute's Executive Vice President of Capital & Research Programs. "It is gratifying to realize the decades-old vision of protecting the aquifer through conservation of this important forestland."
The Franklin Parker Preserve connects Wharton State Forest, Brendan Byrne State Forest, Bass River State Forest and Penn State Forest. It encompasses wetlands habitat and upland pine-oak forest, as well as 14 tributary streams that eventually unite in the Wading River. Water filtered through Zemel North flows into the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, a shallow treasure trove of 17 trillion gallons of freshwater that is the lifeblood of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Named for the first chairman of the Pinelands Commission, the Franklin Parker Preserve contains habitat for several New Jersey endangered and threatened species, including the bobcat, bald eagle, barred owl, Northern pine snake and Pine Barrens tree frog.
In addition, dozens of rare plant species have been discovered there, including Pine Barrens gentian, Bog asphodel, curly grass fern, yellow-fringed orchid, little ladies'-tresses orchid and pencil flower.
It has 28 miles of blazed trails, including a section of the Batona Trail, a 53-mile trail connecting many significant recreational and historic sites in the Pine Barrens.
To learn more about the Franklin Parker Preserve's trail system and a forest stewardship plan to protect its ecology and the surrounding community, go to www.njconservation.org/franklinparkerpreserve.htm.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation has protected 125,000 acres of open space - from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks. For more information about the Foundation's programs and preserves, go to www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).
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