Cumberland County enjoys over thirty miles of scenic coastline along the Delaware Bay and represents New Jersey’s most rural and least developed shoreline. From the water, Cumberland County is blanketed by thousands of acres of highly productive salt marsh wilderness, a labyrinth of tidal creeks and unspoiled rivers that drain some of the states’ largest protected forestlands, preserved farms and lakes.
To fisherman, hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts, the county’s remote open spaces and quiet waterways, offer an abundance of solitude, scenery, great fishing and wildlife to enjoy. The Maurice River and its large tributary streams are part of the federally designated Maurice River National Wild and Scenic River System and represent unusually pristine Atlantic coastal rive’s with nationally and internationally important resources.
As part of the Atlantic Flyway, its clean waters and related habitats are vitally important to the migration of shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, raptors, rails and fish. A recent scientific study by the Nature Conservancy determined the Cumberland Forest, which encompasses thousands of acres of intact woodlands within the county, as one of the top four most ecologically-important yet vulnerable natural areas in New Jersey. Indeed, its rare plants and communities, rare reptiles and amphibians and an incredible array of migrating and breeding birds explain why it’s considered an epicenter for New Jersey’s threatened and endangered wildlife. The Cumberland Forest also serves as a critical greenway, connecting the Pinelands to the Delaware Estuary and Bay.
The County’s natural treasures face a variety of threats, from rapid sea level rise to poorly planned growth, which fragments and harms important natural and agricultural lands with levels of development that seriously endanger already strained ground and surface water supplies.
From our Delaware Bay Program office in downtown Millville, the Society has led numerous successful efforts to protect Cumberland’s last great places. Part of this work includes defending lands that are important to the health of coastal resources, water quality and public access for fishing and other forms of passive recreation. We’re constantly involved in outreach and advocacy with decision-makers and grassroots groups at the local level.
For example, when the City of Vineland overhauled its Master Plan in 2008, the Society convinced them to adopt a stream-corridor protection ordinance to safeguard water quality and habitat along the Maurice River and its tributaries.
In 2011, the Society partnered with Rutgers University to establish a new non-profit, the Cohansey Area Watershed Association, that is tasked with addressing water quality issues on the organization’s namesake river.
When the stakes are really high and education and outreach are not enough, the Society will organize opposition to development proposals that pose a serious threat to natural areas or resources of critical importance. For example, in 2011, we organized successful community opposition to a proposed asphalt plant adjacent to the Nature Conservancy’s Menantico Ponds Preserve.
In addition to protecting key areas from harm, the Society also works closely with a variety of land preservation partners to conserve land before it becomes threatened. Since 2005, we have assisted the state Green Acres Program by identifying important conservation lands and conducting direct landowner outreach, which has resulted in dozens of state open space acquisition projects involving thousands of acres in places like the Maurice and Cohansey River Watersheds, and the Delaware Bay.
In 2006, Green Acres invited the Society to apply to them for open space funding grants made available to non-profits. Since then, the Society has secured over $600,000 in two separate grants, which has enabled us to support local, county and federal (USFWS) open space projects throughout the Bayshore Region.