BEDMINSTER, NJ – The township’s agricultural and equestrian heritage just got a shot in the arm, with the permanent protection of the 172-acre Lana Lobell horse farm, a local landmark since its days as a breeder of champion harness racehorses.
On Jan. 29, Somerset County purchased the development rights for $5.87 million, ensuring that the Rattlesnake Bridge Road property–which includes a mile of frontage along the Lamington River--will remain farmland forever. The land had been approved for a subdivision of nine estate homes in 2007 but never sold.
The partnership was coordinated by New Jersey Conservation Foundation on behalf of Bedminster Township, and included Somerset County, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the State Agriculture Development Committee.
“This farm has it all. It’s got great soils, it’s a scenic landmark at the gateway to our community and it protects the Lamington River,” said Bedminster Mayor Steve Parker. “We’re very pleased to see it preserved, because once farmland is gone, it’s gone for good.”
“It’s an important conservation project, from both a local and regional perspective. The value of this easement is only enhanced by its location and high visibility to all those traveling through Bedminster Township,” said Somerset County Deputy Freeholder Director Peter Palmer, liaison to the county Agriculture Development Board. “The county has had its eye on this property for more than a decade, and we’re very pleased that this preservation opportunity came along.”
“This beautiful farm has been a top preservation priority for decades,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We are immensely grateful for all of the partners who worked together so hard to complete this project and secure the scenic beauty of this region.”
The Lana Lobell property is surrounded by nearly 4,000 acres of preserved land in Bedminster, Branchburg and Readington townships, including Somerset County-owned land on the other side of Rattlesnake Bridge Road. In addition to the county open space, the newly-preserved land abuts preserved farms directly to the north, and across the river in Readington Township.
Lana Lobell will remain in private ownership, but the agreements put in place last week – known as easements - mean it is permanently restricted to agricultural uses. The property is owned by Lobell North LLC and Lobell South LLC, and currently used as a riding stable and for growing hay.
The Lamington River is a top trout production stream, meaning its waters are exceptionally clean. It flows into the North Branch of the Raritan River, a vital part of central New Jersey’s drinking water supply.
“We at the Natural Resources Conservation Service look to preserve properties like Lobell because of the great environmental value they offer,” said State Conservationist Carrie Lindig. “The Lobell Farm is a large parcel that is 80 percent prime soils and lies adjacent to a Category 1 waterway, the Lamington River. Preserving this farm is significant for the health of the watershed and beneficial for the local residents."
“The State Agriculture Development Committee was pleased to partner in this acquisition, which will keep this valuable property in agriculture,” said Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher. “The property has held an important place in harness racing history as well and will now be forever preserved.”
Breeder of Champion Racehorses
In its heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, Lana Lobell Farm was one of the nation’s top producers of Standardbred racehorses. Its annual yearling sale attracted high-profile buyers from around the world, and horses bred there included four winners of the Hambletonian, harness racing’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby.
The four "Hambo" winners were Speedy Crown in 1971, Steve Lobell in 1976, Speedy Somoli in 1978, and Mack Lobell in 1987.
But the prestigious horse operation came to an end in 1997, when the former owner filed for bankruptcy. It appeared that Lana Lobell’s days as a farm might be numbered, as the property changed hands twice, with one owner proposing a golf club and the other proposing a residential development.
"I am pleased to learn of the community's successful efforts to conserve the Lana Lobell Farm in Bedminster Township,” said Congressman Lance, who provided invaluable assistance to the project. “The Lana Lobell Farm is beautiful property that holds a significant place in New Jersey's rich equine history. Today's announcement will help protect the high water quality of the Lamington River and preserve the rural character of the area."