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  • Kate Munning

New Addition to West Brook Preserve

The Land Conservancy of New Jersey recently closed on the purchase of an important tract of land in West Milford that will add 43 acres to the adjacent Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve. This property contains a pond and waterways that feed the West Brook, which in turn flows into the Wanaque Reservoir, a source of drinking water for 3.5 million NJ residents. The newly acquired land has been seriously impacted by man-made changes to the landscape over the years, and it will require serious remediation. These efforts will build on the work we’ve done so far in this area, improving the ecosystem for resident plants and animals, protecting the wetlands from further degradation, and making them more resilient to flooding and drought.

The Land Conservancy has already organized a number of cleanups on this property, but there’s a lot more work to be done, including treating a monumental invasive species problem and planting a new shoreline along the pond. This restoration project, which has been approved for federal funding by the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program, will remove the weir and an old barn. In addition, we are currently pursuing Green Acres funding for ongoing stewardship of the land. Despite decades of neglect, the property maintains a high level of biodiversity in native plants, as well as waterfowl, amphibians and terrestrial species. Ultimately, the goal is to improve the quality and lower the temperature of the water that feeds the West Brook, while also establishing a short trail and a wildlife blind for visitors to enjoy.

This land is a significant addition to the Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve, which was established in 2017 to preserve the headwaters of the West Brook and officially opened in 2020 after we finished a major restoration project redirecting the brook back into its original stream bed and reflooding the wetlands. Ultimately more water will flow into the reservoir during dry periods, erosion will be reduced, native plant species will flourish, and the brook will once again become a healthy fish habitat.

“This addition to the Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve presents a singular opportunity to lift up a property where significant natural resources remain, despite manmade alterations and years of neglect. It has tremendous potential, and The Land Conservancy looks forward to restoring the biodiversity of this land and improving the quality of the water leaving the site, before it makes its way downstream to the Wanaque Reservoir,” said Sandy Urgo, Vice President of Land Preservation.

The Land Conservancy of New Jersey is grateful to the many partners and private donors that made this purchase a reality. This could not have been accomplished without the help of the New Jersey Highlands Council and the Passaic River Coalition, which helped fund the land purchase. NRCS and US Fish and Wildlife are assisting with the restoration effort. In addition to financial assistance, these partners are truly dedicated to the vision.

The New Jersey Highlands Council was able to bring half the funding for the project via access to the federal Highlands Conservation Act grant program. “Since the Highlands Council provided funding to help create the Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve, we were very excited when TLC-NJ reached out about this acquisition of the Kugler property,” said Lisa J. Plevin, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Council. “Permanent protection of these critical natural resources benefits many New Jerseyans who get their drinking water from the Highlands Region.”

In a similar vein, the Passaic River Coalition says it is pleased to continue its partnership with the Land Conservancy of New Jersey on a second land acquisition that preserves and improves the ecological integrity of the important headwaters of the West Brook. They agree that the benefits of this natural open space for local residents is magnified by the importance of protecting waters so critical to the Wanaque Reservoir that serves millions to our urban populations in northern New Jersey. “We are ever ready to support the Land Conservancy of New Jersey’s endeavors to restore hydrology and habitats for our watershed, as we share a common mission to protect our watershed lands that improve our water quality and water availability,” says Laurie Howard, Executive Director of the Passaic River Coalition. “Environmental collaboration goes a long way to achieving definitive results for a healthy and reliable watershed.”

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