To the Editor:
In 1989, Somerset County voters approved a dedicated Open Space Trust Fund that allowed the Somerset County Park Commission and the Freeholders to initiate an aggressive plan to keep the county green through the acquisition of open space and farmland. A second public referendum in 1997 extended the reach of the Trust fund to include farmland, greenways, and the acquisition and restoration of historic sites.
The 1994 Somerset County Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Master Plan served as the foundation for the preservation of 10,500 acres with a long-term goal of doubling that amount. The 2000 Master Plan Update set a new goal of 20,500 acres involving five initiatives: expansion of existing county parks; greenways along the County's major rivers and Second Watchung ridgeline; the Sourland Mountain; the Millstone River Valley; and new County parks in northern and southern Somerset County.
This open space acquisition challenge is the result of pressures exerted by developers’ continuing mission to acquire buildable land, a situation that has fostered a land race as the County attempts to preserve and developers attempt to build.
The Somerset County park system currently consists of 24 park areas totaling 14,757 acres. There are six General Use parks offering active and passive recreation facilities; five golf courses; three Special Use parks; one Developed Natural Area park which features an environmental education center; and ten Undeveloped Natural Areas. In 2019 the County acquired 57 acres and anticipates another 25 acres before the end of the year.
In progress is the Somerset County Preservation Plan that will provide land use, funding, and partnership strategies for preservation in Somerset County. This effort will advance the implementation of the Somerset County Investment Framework and the County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that were adopted as part of the County Master Plan in April of 2014.
A map, titled Somerset County Parks Recreation, and Open Space Master Plan, available at www.somersetcountyparks.org, shows existing public parks and open space and private land currently in outdoor recreation use or permanently preserved for open space.
Individuals or companies interested in selling or donating property to the County for open space purposes may contact the Somerset County Park Commission at (908) 722-1200 or the Somerset County Park Planner at (908) 231-7509 for more information.