With the help of volunteers, an area of forested land in southern New Jersey is now one step closer to being permanently protected as open space.
On Saturday, April 8, over 20 volunteers turned out to help clean up illegally dumped materials on an 86-acre tract in Vineland, NJ that will be added to the neighboring Menantico Creek Preserve. The volunteers removed enough trash to fill a 30-yard dumpster. In addition, nine tires and several gallons of paint and oil were removed and properly disposed of, along with nearly 20 tons of asphalt that had been illegally dumped.
As part of the legal negotiations to preserve the land, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection required removal of any existing trash before they could approve the use of Green Acres funds to preserve the land. That’s when The Society and New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF), with help from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, reached out to their members and the neighboring community for help.
The property was selected because of its location at the source or headwaters of Menantico Creek. Headwaters are highly important to maintain and protect because whatever happens an upstream environment will flow into and affect downstream ecosystems. In the case of the Menantico Creek, “downstream” means the federally designated Wild and Scenic Maurice River and, eventually, the Delaware Bay.
This land is even more precious, as it has never been clear cut for farming. It’s incredibly dense system of tree roots and undisturbed microbiome in the soil is perfect for filtering out pollutants, helping to recharge the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, South Jersey’s main source of drinking water, with clean fresh water. The old growth forest also serves as a home for bald eagles, barred owls, and red-headed woodpeckers.
Illegal dumping is an all-too-common problem in wooded areas. And once dumping starts, it often serves as a signal to others that the practice is acceptable. In addition to the environmental issues dumping causes, it also affects the way people can use a given area of land in the future. In the case of this tract, it was a factor in determining whether the property would be preserved for recreational uses or sold to a housing developer.
After all the hard work was done, the site received Green Acres approval for preservation. Closing on the property is set for early May. Once preserved, the property will transfer to NJCF and will be open to the public for birding, hiking, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
Huge thanks to our volunteers for helping with the cleanup, and to NJCF for partnering with us! Funding for this purchase is coming from a public-private partnership that includes the NJ Green Acres Program, Open Space Institute and Cumberland County.