Preserving the natural character of Millstone

Open space program flourishes under Pat Butch


Staff Writer

People who have moved to Millstone often cite its rural atmosphere as one of the reasons they chose to live there.

Pat Butch, who moved to the township for that very reason, has been working hard to keep it rural. Because of her efforts as chairwoman of the Millstone Township Open Space Farmland Preservation Commission, vice chairwoman of the Millstone Trailblazers and a member of the township’s Agriculture Advisory Council, she has been chosen as one of this year’s People Who Make A Difference.

This year was a difficult one for Butch. Her husband, John, died unexpectedly in March. The couple has two children, Jason, of Manalapan, and Kristin, who lives with her husband, Chris, and their two kids in a newly built house on Butch’s farm.

Butch moved to Millstone 17 years ago from North Brunswick in Middlesex County, which she said had become too congested with traffic. Back then, she had two horses that she boarded, but she and her husband decided to make a major change.

“We wanted a more rural setting, with open space,” she said. “Exactly what Millstone is.”

What became their Bright Meadows Farm on Prodelin Way was previously owned by a developer. Butch said the real estate market was not good in 1990 so the owner sold to her family all but a relatively small part of his approved subdivision.

Butch lives in a farmhouse that is more than 200 years old on the 80-acre farm consisting of two adjoining properties. There are 36 horses on one parcel and 30 on the other, she said. Fifteen of the horses, including lesson horses and broodmares, belong to Butch, while the rest are boarders.

In 2001, Butch put Bright Meadows Farm into the Farmland Preservation Program. The process of putting her own property into the program, she said, got her involved in the township’s open space and trail issues.

At that time, the Millstone Township Open Space Farmland Preservation Commission was short of members, so she decided to join. Although the commission helped preserve nine township farms, according to Butch, there was no money at that time to go any further.

Today, as a result of township, county and state efforts, there are 5,140 acres in some form of preservation in Millstone. The acreage preserved includes 2,445 acres of state-owned land, 1,256 county-owned acres, 465 acres that belong to the township, 817 acres in preserved farmland and trail easements, and 157 acres in camps. An additional 1,387 acres in the township are also in the process of being preserved, according to Butch.

This year alone, the 28-acre Rising Sun Farm and the 35-acre Dey Farm went into preservation. Two more properties should close within the next two months, according to Butch. Those properties are the Restine tract on Route 524 in Clarksburg, where Penny’s Petals is located, and the McFie acreage on Witches Hollow Road, which Butch said is a central piece of the county’s Rocky Brook Park in Millstone.

Butch stressed that a lot of the preservation process is done through networking with county and state agencies, as well as nonprofit land trusts such as the Monmouth Conservation Foundation (MCF) and the Delaware & Raritan (D&R) Greenway Land Trust. Butch said Rocky Brook Park is coming into fruition partly because township officials took representatives from the Monmouth County Park System on a very long walk on the land and sold them on the idea that it should be a park.

“Now they are purchasing it with no money from Millstone for parkland,” she said.

Anthony Romano, a member of the Open Space Farmland Preservation Commission, “When Pat took the lead of the open space commission, the first job she did was to reorganize the [commission] to be effective and active. She also worked very hard and closely with the Township Committee.”

He said that Butch opened up channels at the state and county levels and learned as much as possible about how open space laws work and what partnerships were available for Millstone.

“Pat, along with the Township Committee, was able to get funded moneys refunded back to the town’s open space fund,” Romano said.

“Pat works many hours on managing the program and keeping Millstone in the forefront of open space,” Romano added.

Romano also said that teamwork is a big part of Butch’s success. He said she involves council members in the preservation process as much as possible and teaches them what she has learned.

“Pat and the council burn the late-night oil at meetings to accomplish our goals,” he said. “Pat has the respect of the town, county and state people when it comes to her efforts with open space. [She] has put Millstone in a good position moving forward to preserve our town.”

Matt Shipkey, coordinator of the county Farmland Preservation Program, said that Butch “has been tireless and creative in her work to preserve farmland in Millstone.”

“She has given countless hours of her time,” he said, “and always makes herself available for matters related to farmland preservation.”

Shipkey said that Millstone is fortunate to have such a strong and selfless advocate for farmland preservation.

“I appreciate immensely the fruitful partnership she has made possible between the county Farmland [Preservation] Program and the Millstone Township agricultural community,” he said.

Recalling that she knew little about preservation prior to going through the process with her own land, Butch said she now tries hard to be an advocate for landowners and to explain to them how the preservation process works.

“Communication is so important,” she said.

Putting property into preservation is a big incentive for those who would like to stay in Millstone and don’t want to have to sell their land and move, she said.

“[Landowners] can get equity and make improvements on their land,” she said. “They can stay here and live their lives out.”

Butch’s future goals include producing recreation and open space maps for the township so people know where parks and open space are and what activities are permissible there.

“That’s a big priority,” Butch said.

While there are already trails connecting Wagner Farm Park with the Charleston Springs tract, they must be cleared and marked, she said. The Millstone Trailblazers is working on getting a $25,000 state grant to clear and mark those and other trails in the community, according to Butch.

Next year, she said, the Trailblazers hope to connect Perrineville Lake Park trails to those in the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area.

Rob Obusek, president of the Millstone Trailblazers, said that Butch works tirelessly with landowners and developers and has played a critical role in obtaining many of the trail easements that Millstone has in place today.

“Pat is one of the rare people that can take initiative, organize and inspire others,” he said. “She really believes in what she is doing and is a true steward of the land.”