Relax, enjoy 30 years of saving open space

In 1675, Richard Hartshorne, one of the earliest settlers in eastern Monmouth County, wrote a friend an enthusiastic letter about the natural abundance early settlers enjoyed in “New Jersie.” He was almost rapturous in describing the great variety of farm produce and fruits enjoyed by the early settlers, the abundant grasses for his livestock, the wonderful variety of wild fruits and nuts, the many game birds that graced his table, the creeks and rivers, which afforded stores of fish and shellfish, and other natural delights.

“In short, this is a rare place for any poor man,” he boasted. His tribute to the country would have been longer, he noted, but he had to quickly post it: “The vessel is going away,

Of course, as a savvy businessman, he would never miss an opportunity to promote his holdings, yet I doubt he exaggerated. Today, we can only wonder what Mr. Hartshorne would think of Monmouth County.

Certainly, he would enjoy the advantages of modern living, but I think he would be disappointed at the disappearance of the beautiful land he so loved, and vexed by our endless hustle and bustle. He appreciated the bounty the land bestowed on him, but he also reveled in its peacefulness and solitude: “Õne great happiness we enjoy, which is that we are very quiet.”

Thirty years ago, remnants of Mr. Hartshorne’s world – forests and farmlands – still existed, but they and their unhurried way of life were quickly succumbing to suburbanization.

A group of like-minded individuals came together to form the Monmouth Conservation Foundation. Our goal was simple, to help preserve as much of what was left of Monmouth’s open spaces as we could. Our approach was practical, to raise sufficient funds to help county, municipal and private organizations preserve open spaces, farms, historic locations and environmentally sensitive lands.

Looking back over our 30 years, I’m pleased to note that we helped save 6,000 acres of open spaces and farmlands involving projects ranging from one to 416 acres. As pleased as I am about our accomplishments, I wish we had worked harder to save even more land, since 50 acres are being bulldozed throughout the state every day.

To assuage our collective consciences, we’ve added a bit of our own hustle and bustle to Monmouth’s modern hectic pace. We are in the midst of an aggressive capital campaign to help save another 5,000 acres by 2010. Launched in 2004, our campaign has raised more than $3 million in cash and pledges and $3.5 million in gifts and grants.

But this month, we’re going to relax – but just a bit – to enjoy our 30th anniversary and visit some of the open spaces that so many of Monmouth County’s citizenry have worked so hard to preserve — environmental organizations, mayors and council members, county freeholders and parks commissioners, the people who run our parks and their programs, and especially the many generous citizens who have supported our foundation’s fundraisers.

So celebrate our 30th anniversary with us. Skip the mall and have a picnic with your family at a local park or one you haven’t visited yet. Leave home your cell phones, Bluetooths, iPods and other distractions. Instead, close your eyes and reach back 335 years to when the dominant sound of Mr. Hartshorne’s world was silence.

And should we meet on a peaceful trail, where the only sounds are insects buzzing and birds chirping, don’t speak. Just nod. Let’s for a moment experience the great satisfaction Mr. Hartshorne took in his now lost world of quietude.

Relax. Enjoy.

Judith Stanley Coleman


Monmouth Conservation Foundation