A trio of conservation groups this week finalized the purchase of a 3-acre parcel of land containing headwaters to Mountain Brook, a step that will help preserve clean water downstream in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve.
Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), The Watershed Institute, and the Ridgeview Conservancy bought the mostly wetland parcel to help prevent excessive sediment from flowing into the brook and the protected lakes beyond. The Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve is one of Princeton’s most popular passive recreation areas.
In the fall of 2018, The Watershed Institute was alerted by several concerned members and Princeton residents about a developer’s application to build on the property, despite the parcel’s ecological importance in that section of the Princeton Ridge.
The Watershed and members of Ridgeview Conservancy acted swiftly and opposed the project before the Princeton Zoning Board.
Lincoln Hollister, Board President of Ridgeview Conservancy, said the parcel is part of larger wetlands that encompass more than 20 acres.
“It provides critical habitat and serves as an important wildlife corridor for a wide range of species, including the red-shouldered hawk, which is endangered in New Jersey,” he said. “It also supports much-needed links between preserved lands in the Ridgeview Woods, Mountain Lake, and Woodfield Preserve.”
Jim Waltman, Executive Director of the Watershed, said the quick action of the conservation groups, alert Watershed members, and Princeton residents was crucial for protecting those headwaters.
“The protection of this land and the Mountain Brook that flows from it is a testament to citizen action as well as the work of the Watershed’s staff who gathered evidence and presented compelling opposition to the proposed development on the site to help preserve the high water quality of Mountain Brook, which is a tributary to the Stony Book,” he said.
The state’s Green Acres program and the county’s Open Space tax fund also contributed to the preservation project, along with the Municipality of Princeton, D&R Greenway, Inc., and individual donors.
“When members of the Ridgeview Conservancy raised concerns about plans to develop this property, I immediately felt that FOPOS — as the steward of Mountain Lakes Preserve — should try to help protect it,” said Wendy Mager, President of FOPOS.
She said the FOPOS gave $50,000 to protect both the water resource and the town’s earlier investment in dredging Mountain Lake to remove decades of accumulated silt. FOPOS holds the conservation easements on the 75-acre preserve.
Ridgeview Conservancy, a group of residents along Ridgeview Road, generously contributed more than $100,000 to help acquire the property. Additionally, the D&R Greenway gave $15,000 and the Watershed secured the balance of funding through state and county grants.
The property will be managed by FOPOS, The Watershed Institute and the Ridgeview Conservancy, with the town constructing two parking spaces for visitors in the right-of-way of Ridgeview Road using money from the Open Space tax fund. The town’s $50,000 contribution toward the purchase price will be reimbursed by Green Acres.
“We plan to make a low-profile, low-impact trail in from Ridgeview Road to a point in the small uplands area where visitors can observe birds and wildlife, and to put a bench or two there,” Mager.
In the future, signage may be added to inform visitors about the ecological importance of the protected headwaters, and about the numerous species that use the area for habitat. Additionally, the consortium hopes to avoid soil disturbance as much as possible and to provide visitors with an uplifting and educational experience in a beautiful setting.
“This was truly a conservation project in the deepest sense of the word, and we are grateful to the public and private institutions which have collaborated to permanently conserve this important wetland property,” said Hollister of Ridgeview Conservancy.
FOPOS, Ridgeview Conservancy, and The Watershed Institute also expressed their gratitude to Liping An of Ridgeview Property, LLC, the previous owner of the property who sold the lot for conservation purposes.