June is Open Space Month, and that happens to be one of our specialties here at The Land Conservancy of New Jersey. The term “open space” refers to land that has been set aside by a town or county to remain undeveloped so that citizens have access to green spaces for walking, picnics, sports, playgrounds, and community events. It’s no surprise that voters in hundreds of municipalities and all 21 counties have enthusiastically passed resolutions to create open space trust funds that finance the purchase of land for parks, recreation, and farmland preservation.
In four decades we have preserved over 28,000 acres of land. Some of that is farmland that remains privately owned but permanently preserved, and the rest is open space that we help a municipality to purchase and transform into a space that’s right for their community. Morris County was the center of our work from 1981-2008, so it stands to reason that we’ve preserved more open space here than in any other county—a whopping 8,451 acres. Keep in mind this doesn’t even include farm preservation. In Warren County, which is more rural, we do much more work preserving farms (4,400 acres) than we do making parks (973 acres). In counties like Bergen and Essex, the 150 acres we’ve saved in each might not sound like much, but the spaces we’ve enabled towns to set aside in those densely populated areas are precious.
Occasionally we purchase the land ourselves and retain ownership if it fits into the organization’s mission and programming, like South Branch Preserve in Mt. Olive, where we maintain hiking trails, a community garden, and lease land to City Green Farm. Or West Brook Preserve, where we’re spearheading efforts to improve drinking water quality for Wanaque Reservoir by restoring the West Brook and its wetlands. Our work with Blue Acres helps out both the State and property owners while addressing the climate emergency by purchasing flood-prone homes and transforming the properties into wetland barriers to protect against future extreme weather.
All of this adds up to more than a big number. It means respite and beauty, an oasis for plants and animals, a breath of fresh air both literally and figuratively—something you, like many of us, may have come to cherish this year more than ever.