Pat Hilton has wonderful memories of growing up with her three brothers on their family's farm along the Wickecheoke Creek: collecting eggs from the chickens, raising heifers, discovering stone ruins in the woods and cooling off in their favorite swimming hole.

Future generations will be able to enjoy many of the same pleasures, thanks to the Hilton family's conservation ethic.

Thirteen years ago Pat's parents, Estella and the late Edward J. Hilton Sr., preserved 70 acres of farmland through an easement that permanently restricts it to agricultural use. Now Estella Hilton has preserved a wooded 5.2-acre parcel along the creek by selling it to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Acquisition of the landlocked property expands New Jersey Conservation Foundation's Wickecheoke Creek Preserve, an ever-growing network of protected parcels along the scenic Wickecheoke Creek. The preserve extends from the creek's confluence with the Delaware River and D&R Canal in Prallsville to its headwaters in Franklin Township, and encompasses more than 2,000 acres of preserved farmland and public open space.

The newly-acquired property bridges the gap between other preserved lands.

"It's a small property, but one that is very important to us," said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "We've been working for more than 20 years to preserve land along the Wickecheoke Creek, and it's critical to keep adding in the connecting parcels."

"This fills a hole in the doughnut, if you will," said Hilton. "It's been a pleasure to work with New Jersey Conservation Foundation on this project."

The property is bordered by the Hilton family's preserved farmland and two other preserved open space tracts, increasing public opportunities for hiking and nature observation along the Wickecheoke. The property is near the foundation's Wickecheoke Creek Preserve kiosk on Lower Creek Road in Delaware Township.

Hilton said her mother and two surviving brothers, Joseph and Michael, are happy to be able to preserve the property. "It's such a beautiful creek," she said. "I remember when we were growing up we had a swimming hole. It was a lot of fun to go down there and get refreshed."

The steeply-banked property also includes ruins of an old stone building. "I remember seeing them as a kid and wondering what they were," said Hilton, adding that the site still looks the same 40 years later.

The property was purchased for $42,092, using funding from Delaware Township and the state Green Acres program.

"We are grateful to both the Hilton Family and NJCF to their commitment to this acquisition," said Delaware Township Deputy Mayor Kristin McCarthy. "While it is a small property, it plays an important role in maintaining the fragile ecosystem of the Wickecheoke and the watershed in general."

"We are proud to have provided assistance to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in preserving this important link in their established greenway system," said Amy Cradic, DEP's Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary of preserving land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, it has protected more than 120,000 acres of open space - from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks. New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been in the forefront of land preservation policy since its inception, advocating for historic laws protecting the Pine Barrens, Highlands, farmland, water quality and every Green Acres open space initiative. For more information, go to www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE.