Watershed Protection

Recreation area to expand

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2015
Source: New Jersey Herald

A block of 550 acres of land was saved from the developer's bulldozers and is now destined to be added to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area following action by several conservation groups.

Led by The Trust for Public Land, the groups' purchase surrounds a high point of land, known locally as Mosiers Knob, and stretches from the banks of the Delaware River north of Shawnee-on-Delaware over the ridge and borders Shawnee Lake and a couple of other spots along Hollow Road. The land is just south of Shawnee Ski Area and straddles Mosiers Knob Road.

The formal announcement of the $4.33 million purchase by the Trust, along with The Conservation Fund, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the William Penn Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Open Space Institute, was to come this morning.

Formal transfer of the property to the National Park Service won't come for several months since there are administrative channels to follow, mainly to change the borders of the park to include the new property.

Park spokeswoman Kathleen Sandt said late last week the property is outside the formal borders of the park when it was established by Congress in 1965. However, since the amount of land will not exceed the amount of land (70,000 acres) that Congress authorized, the new purchase can be included by administrative action to change the borders.

Greg Socha, senior project manager at The Trust for Public Land, said the group is dedicated to protecting land for people to enjoy and "we are extremely pleased to have been able to help expand a highly visited natural treasure like the Delaware Water Gap. Without the unique collaboration that came together to get this done, protecting a property of this magnitude would not have been possible."

In addition to providing an area to hike, bike, hunt and experience the beauty of the river, Socha noted the acquisition also contributes to protecting the water quality of the Delaware River, which supplies drinking water for more than 15 million people.

Also of importance is that the knob and ridge line are part of the scenic views from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which travels along the Kittatinny Ridge through the park on the New Jersey side of the river.

Like other parts of the park, the property is also habitat for several rare species and, according to the Trust, the parcel has been identifies as "a highly climate-resilient landscape and will create a haven for wildlife as the climate changes."

The Open Space Institute along with the William Penn Foundation provided funds for the Mosiers Knob purchase and said the project was the first of a multi-year, $35 million preservation plan, known as the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which will stretch along the river's watershed, not just on federal or state parkland.

The first stage of the initiative will be $9 million in grants to help along nine other projects, including Lubbers Run, a highly-valued stream, which begins in Byram and empties into the Musconetcong River in Warren County.

The intent of the purchase of Mosiers Knob, had been to include it as part of the recreation area and the DRWI was contacted to help provide funding since it was a good fit and fit the initiative's goals.

"This project is an iconic example of how local, state, federal, commercial and non-profit agencies, organizations and land trusts can effectively collaborate and leverage funding to protect resources and enhance public enjoyment for future generations," said park Superintendent John J. Donahue.

He said local residents were responsible in identifying the outstanding values of the land "and motivated the developer, the township, the county, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States to take action to preserve them.

"The NPS is looking forward to becoming the caretakers of this unique parcel once the transfer is complete and is especially grateful to the grantors who helped make this possible and to TPL who saw this through to the end," he said.

The land was previously owned by Shawnee Development Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide, and would have included more than 200 townhouses and single-family units along with roads and other infrastructure.

The Trust for Public Land, using grant funds, made the purchase from Wyndham, then transferred ownership to The Conservation Fund, which will care for the property until the National Park Service can take permanent ownership.

Cindy Adams Dunn, acting secretary to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said its participation "is not only about an interest in conservation, but the beauty and outdoor recreation that it provides is also in our self-interest. It makes our citizens healthier and attracts the residents and visitors who support our communities economically."

The Open Space Institute said this first project in the Delaware River Watershed Initiative was made possible by $240,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and $350,000 from the DRWI fund.

That initiative is working to permanently protect more than 30,000 acres and implement more than 40 restoration projects.

The first round will conserve 35 miles of stream bank, 2,000 acres of stream buffer, 4,300 acres of forests and 1,000 other acres which are highly vulnerable to development.

The NPS said staff is looking at what can be done to provide appropriate access to the public when it gets permanent ownership.

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