Former nursery site preserved in Upper Freehold and beyond

Township’s longtime plans for preservation pan out

Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD — The preservation of a nearly 1,900-acre nursery property situated largely in the township has been finalized.

The majority of the former Princeton Nurseries site is in Upper Freehold Township, with additional parcels in Hamilton Township in Mercer County and North Hanover Township in Burlington County.

“This was a no-brainer for Upper Freehold,” Deputy Mayor Steve Alexander said. “We are always going to jump at a great opportunity like this.”

Although the township jumped at the chance to preserve the parcel, it was no quick and easy process, according to Alexander.

“There was a lot of hard work and planning that went into this,” he said.

In efforts to prepare for what would undoubtedly pose a major expense for the township, officials in 2008 held a referendum to ask residents to approve a 2-cent tax increase that would go into the town’s farmland and open space coffers to help cover the preservation costs.

“It was at the beginning of the downturn of the economy,” he noted, adding that the referendum passed in all four districts. “That’s how much it means to our residents … [It] really showed what Upper Freehold is about, and that it was a priority to us.”

Upper Freehold contributed $1.7 million to the $28 million agreement. The whole of the township’s contribution went into the farmland preservation portion of the project, Alexander explained.

Preserving the property will help connect thousands of acres of existing county park lands and greenways along Crosswicks Creek, an area rich with Revolutionary War and early-1800s history as well as outdoor recreation opportunities. Some nursery roads will be developed into a trail system for hiking, bicycle riding and horseback riding, according to a press release from the state.

A portion of the land being preserved will become a state wildlife management area. The grasslands, mature forests and forested wetlands that exist on this 512-acre portion provide a great diversity of wildlife habitat, and visitors will be able to hunt and fish there, state officials said.

The DEP’s Green Acres Program, the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) and the township and other local funding partners closed the preservation deal with the Flemer family, who until a few years ago operated the property as Princeton Nurseries, one of the nation’s largest commercial nurseries.

“We are grateful to the Flemer family, along with the owners of Princeton Nurseries,” Alexander said, adding that Upper


Freehold residents should be thankful to them, too.

Other partners in this landmark purchase are Monmouth County, Burlington County, the Monmouth County Conservation Foundation. D&R Greenway facilitated initial discussions between the state and the Flemer family.

Three Flemer family businesses — Wm. Flemer’s Sons Inc., Crosswicks Farms Inc., and Allentown Tree Farm, known collectively as the Flemer Entities — came together to complete the agreement.

The agreement uses more than $16.5 million in state, local and nonprofit open space funding sources for the purchases of land for a 512-acre state wildlife management area, and nearly 500 acres as additions to the Monmouth and Mercer County park systems. The SADC and other partners provided another $11.4 million to purchase farmland easements on an additional 847 acres.

“This project — one of the largest joint preservation projects in the history of the Farmland Preservation and Green Acres programs — will forever ensure plentiful opportunities for agriculture to grow, and for every generation to enjoy the bounty this land has to offer,” State Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher said. “It would not have been possible without the Flemer family’s commitment to preservation, and the cooperation and support of all the preserva- tion partners.”

It will be up to a year, and possibly longer, for the wildlife management area and additions to the Crosswicks Creek Greenway to become available for use by the public, while the Flemer family works on clearing nursery stock from the land, as well as restoring it to fit with its future uses.

The goal of the DEP and the family, however, is to complete restoration and open the land for public use by spring 2013.

Another 847 acres is preserved through purchases of farmland development rights. Landowners who sell their development rights continue to own the land but agree to deed restrictions that keep the land permanently available for agriculture uses.

The expansive property is situated where Monmouth, Mercer and Burlington counties meet. The more than 1,900 acres flank Province Line Road in Upper Freehold, North Hanover and Hamilton townships, and they are adjacent to Monmouth County’s Crosswicks Creek Park and Mercer County’s Crosswicks Creek Park.

The portion of the land being preserved as a state wildlife management area and as additions to county park lands consists of grasslands, mature forests and forested wetlands Some nursery roads will be developed into a trail system for hiking, bicycle riding and horseback riding.

The farmland portion will be a major addition to the permanent agricultural land base in an area where approximately 15,000 acres of farmland are preserved.