EAST AMWELL, NJ– A plan to create a 1,042-acre nature preserve in the Sourland Mountains, spanning the border of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, is moving forward.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation announced today that it has secured an option from landowner John Higgins to purchase 269 key acres here. The property is a connector between 151 acres preserved earlier this year and 622 preserved acres in neighboring Hillsborough.

“This beautiful property is another piece of the puzzle to create more than 1,000 contiguous acres of preserved land for public enjoyment and wildlife habitat,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We’re very pleased to secure the option from John Higgins, who has already preserved hundreds of acres. We’re grateful to Mr. Higgins for agreeing to sell this property, and we look forward to completing the purchase in 2018.”

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The announcement of the purchase agreement was made at a gathering on the property to celebrate Open Space Month in June.

Open Space Month celebrates the rich variety of lands that have been permanently preserved throughout the state and highlights the importance of continuing to preserve natural areas and farmland. It also recognizes the essential role of public-private funding partnerships that can leverage state funding with county, local and private funds.

Located off Wertsville Road, the 269-acre Higgins property contains woodlands, farm fields, a scenic lake and several tributaries of the Neshanic River. The Neshanic flows into the Raritan River, a source of drinking water for over a million New Jerseyans.

Once the purchase is completed, the land will be open to the public for passive recreational activities, including, hiking, horseback riding, birding and nature observation.

The 1,042 acres will be managed as a single preserve spanning Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

Funding partners for the project will include the New Jersey Green Acres Program, Hunterdon County, East Amwell Township, Raritan Headwaters Association and Hunterdon Land Trust.

“The option to purchase 250-plus acres in the Sourlands region is a remarkable step in preserving some of our state’s most precious resources,” said Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex). “I have long been a proponent for open space preservation and will continue to advocate for the protection of our environment and natural resources.  Without open space preservation, we would not have clean drinking water, sustainable natural resources and wildlife to enjoy in our state.  It is our duty to protect these resources not only for ourselves but for future generations to come.”

“We are so proud of this project, so proud of this acquisition,” said Hunterdon County Freeholder Director John Lanza. He praised the bipartisan cooperation that made the first Higgins property preservation possible this past February and will enable the next to be completed: “We’ve got great partners that we’ve been working with all along.”

“Now more than ever, when the national government is ignoring its duty to protect our environment, organizations like the New Jersey Conservation Foundation are imperative,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “The fact that such a natural, scenic and now well-maintained parcel of land exists so close to the urban and suburban areas of the region is a testament to the Garden State’s celebrated diversity..”

"Through the efforts of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and with the cooperation of John Higgins, we are able to preserve this beautiful open space while maintaining the quality of our natural environment." said Charles Van Horn, mayor of East Amwell.

The Sourland Mountain region is an expansive green swath of intact forest and farmland spanning parts of Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer counties. It extends from the central part of Hillsborough southwest to the Delaware River in West Amwell and and Hopewell Township, Mercer County.