Prime tract in Jackson gains preserved status

JACKSON — A 293-acre tract in the Barnegat Bay watershed in Jackson, which lies in the Pinelands National Reserve, has been permanently preserved in a $4.5 million land preservation deal that will offer water quality and habitat protection while providing new recreation lands, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin announced.

Preservation of the Cedar Branch tract, which has been purchased from a developer, Hovbilt Inc., will help protect water quality of the Cedar Branch and Pole Brook tributaries of the Toms River, which is the source of more than 25 percent of the water running into Barnegat Bay, according to a press release.

These streams also recharge the Kirkwood Cohansey aquifer, which is a major drinking water source for central and southern New Jersey.

“The Christie administration remains steadfast in its commitment to improving water quality in the Barnegat Bay watershed, which is an ecologically and economically vital asset to the state,” Martin said.

“Land preservation is a critical component of the governor’s comprehensive restoration plan for the bay because it improves water quality by reducing the impacts of stormwater pollution on the bay.”

The acquisition brings the state’s total of preserved land in the Barnegat Bay watershed to 3,635 acres since Christie announced his comprehensive Barnegat Bay restoration plan in December 2010, according to the press release.

Partners in this land transaction include the DEP’s Green Acres Program, which directly provided $500,000; Jackson Township, $2 million; Ocean County, $1.75 million; and the Trust for Public Land, providing $250,000 through a Green Acres grant.

“We recognize the importance of maintaining this integral part of our environment,” Jackson Mayor Michael Reina said. “By understanding our commitment to the environment, we strengthen our resolve to maintain and improve the quality of life — not only for current residents, but, more importantly, for generations to come.”

Slightly more than 57 of the preserved acres will be managed by the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife as an addition to the state’s 12,700-acre Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area; another 203 acres will be turned over to Ocean County for a new preserve to be called Cedar Branch in Jackson; and 32 acres will be managed by Jackson as a local park.

The parcels that comprise the Cedar Branch project are primarily forested and are adjacent to the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. The property includes prime habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including the Cooper’s hawk, redshouldered hawk, barred owl, Pine Barrens tree frog and the northern pine snake, according to the press release.

Cedar Branch also offers passive recreational opportunities for visitors such as historic woods with a road that traverses the property, provides access to former cranberry bogs on the property that have reverted into natural ponds, and offers beautiful views.

“As the pace of real estate development picks back up in Ocean County, now is the time for us to step up our efforts to protect the unique places that make the Pinelands special,” said Anthony Cucchi, the Trust for Public Land’s state director. “We applaud the state of New Jersey, Ocean County and Jackson Township for acting when they did to conserve this property in order to protect our drinking water and the health of Barnegat Bay.”