For the first time in more than a century the general public will be able to walk freely on what was already a private estate when Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge purchased it in 1916. After her death in 1973, the property became part of the Giralda Farms Corporate Park, off limits to the public behind a fence and guarded gatehouse.
In December 2014, Chatham Township, the Morris County Park Commission, the Open Space Institute and other public, private and nonprofit entities raised $14.1 million to purchase the undeveloped portion of the former estate. The acquisition was the largest purchase in the history of Morris County’s Open Space Trust Fund which provided $10 million of the purchase price, and it preserves one of the largest remaining tracts of open space in southeastern Morris County.
The Giralda Tract will become part of the popular Loantaka Brook Reservation. To begin the celebration on National Trails Day, Morris County Park Commission will host refreshments at 9 a.m. and commence a walk/bike ride starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Kitchell Pond portion of the Reservation, located on Kitchell Road between Spring Valley Road and Woodland Avenue on the border of Morris Township and Harding Township. A map is located here (see “Pond Area”).
Participants will proceed south along the Loantaka trail and meet additional participants at the Giralda Tract in Chatham Township. At 10 a.m., there will be a short ribbon-cutting ceremony the Giralda Tract trail head. The public is invited to wander what will become a 2.3-mile network of walking and bike trails, many of them following the path of the estate’s original carriage ways.
The opening ceremony will take place at the main entrance to the new section of the park on Woodland Avenue, immediately east of the Saint Hubert’s Animal Shelter. The entrance is across Woodland Avenue from a trailhead of the existing 8-mile trail network through Morris County’s Loantaka Brook Reservation, and effectively expands that county park from 744 to 880 acres. Maps of the new Giralda tract will be provided at the event.
For more than a century public access to the property was allowed only for invited guests and, more recently, for special events such as the Giralda Music & Arts Festival. The popular outdoor concert event has been running at the site for 31 years and will continue now that the property is in public ownership.
The Giralda parkland addition features a stunning combination of meadows and hardwood wetlands and uplands, as well as lawns, winding carriage trails, majestic specimen trees and a pond. The property’s preservation as open space not only expands the Loantaka Brook Reservation trail network but provides a link between Loantaka Brook Reservation and the county’s Traction Line Recreation Trail in Convent Station, which in turn connects with the Patriots’ Path network of trails throughout Morris County.
In addition to its recreational potential as a resource for hiking, biking and cross country skiing, the Giralda Tract is within the watershed of the federally protected Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and its protection will benefit an important resting and feeding area for more than 244 species of birds.
“I want to thank all of our partners who helped turn the dream of protecting this historic property, Giralda Farms, into a reality,” Chatham Township Mayor Kevin Sullivan, said. “This is a wonderful resource for Chatham Township as well as all of southeastern Morris County, which will be forever protected and open to the public.”
"We congratulate Chatham Township and Morris County on the conservation of this remarkable property, and the creation of an extraordinary legacy," said Kim Elliman, The Open Space Institute's President and CEO. "OSI was honored to play a role in protecting the property for current and future generations."
“The purchase,” said Sally Rubin, executive director of the Great Swamp Watershed Association, “provides an important wildlife corridor and opportunity for passive recreation while helping to protect water quality in the region leading into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.”
Funding for the purchase also was provided by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The F.M. Kirby Foundation, Normandy Real Estate Partners, the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority and the Morris County Park Commission.
“The Morris County Park Commission’s role as a partner on this project reinforces the commitment to protect Loantaka Brook and provide for recreational opportunities in the region,” David Helmer, Morris County Park Commission Executive Director, said . “The Park Commission and Chatham Township have worked collaboratively on a number of significant open space preservation projects over the years and this project is another example of the importance of teamwork when it comes to protecting our environmental, cultural and recreational resources.”
Parking for the June 6 event will be along Woodland Avenue (for Giralda Tract immediate access) or at the Loantaka Brook Reservation’s existing parking lots on Loantaka Way or on Kitchell Road which connect to the Giralda Tract via the Loantaka walking trails.
Future plans for the Giralda Tract call for a parking lot at the Woodland Avenue entrance, extended walking trails, and eventually an entry kiosk, benches, and informational signs marking specimen trees and historic vistas.
Usage of the new Giralda parkland is expected to exceed 100,000 visitors a year.
Contact for information: Joe Basralian (917) 596-7807, firstname.lastname@example.org