$4.6M plan to preserve 835-acre Highlands tract

JEFFERSON – A $4.6 million agreement between the Department of Environmental Protection and several groups will preserve an 835-acre piece of land in the North Jersey Highlands in Jefferson Township as open space.

The agreement on the land, which officials said was once eyed for residential development, will be permanently preserved through a $4.6 million agreement among the DEP, the federal government, the Trust for Public Land, Morris County, and Jefferson Township.

The newly preserved land, long known as the Baker Firestone or Baker Residential property, expands the DEP’s Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area and provides land for local parks, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.

“Preserving land in the Highlands is vital to the quality of drinking water for millions of state residents, ensures continued viable habitat for many plant and animal species, enhances recreational opportunities for our residents, and raises the quality of life in our state,” Martin said in a release. 

The property, long sought by conservation groups, had recently been bought by the Trust for Public Land as an interim conservation purchaser for $4.6 million. Title to the land is being formally conveyed to the state and Jefferson Township, which will take ownership of 647 acres and 188 acres respectively.

The preservation agreement announced today will add 647 acres to 3,007 acres of the Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area.

Located in the state-designated Highlands Preservation Area, the newly preserved tract contains environmentally sensitive wetlands, steep slopes and habitat for a number of state and federally listed species, including the bobcat, golden-winged warbler, timber rattlesnake, red-shouldered hawk, Indiana bat, Cooper’s hawk and barred owl. It also links to more than 3,000 additional acres of adjoining preserved lands.

Funding for the acquisition includes $1.9 million in federal Highlands Conservation Act funds, $1.6 million in New Jersey Green Acres State Land Acquisition funds for the 647 acres being transferred to the state, and $800,000 from the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund and $241,280 from a Green Acres Planning Incentive Grant awarded to Jefferson Township for the 188 acres to be transferred to Jefferson.

Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club expressed satisfaction at the preservation announcement. “One of the most important mountains in the Highlands is now preserved,” he said in a release.  “This is a very important acquisition, one of the gems of the Highlands.  This is in some ways long overdue.  For close to 25 years people have been working to save Mase Mountain and now it has finally been acquired.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land as parks, gardens, and natural areas.

$4.6M plan to preserve 835-acre Highlands tract