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Watershed Moment

Conservation organizations partner in adding 85 wooded acres to the Menantico Creek Preserve, located within the Delaware River Watershed.

by Mickey Brandt
The newly acquired land, with its boundaries marked in yellow, has frontage on Panther Road. The county road 673 is Hance Bridge Road. Route 552 is Mays Landing Road.
The newly acquired land, with its boundaries marked in yellow, has frontage on Panther Road. The county road 673 is Hance Bridge Road. Route 552 is Mays Landing Road.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Menantico Creek Preserve in Vineland just grew significantly, thanks to a public-private partnership led by the Foundation, the American Littoral Society and Cumberland County. Together they teamed up to acquire 85 forested acres on Panther Road adjoining the existing preserve that will provide space for recreation, as well as protect wildlife and water quality.

Last month, the American Littoral Society purchased the 85-acre Feigenbaum property for $302,000, using funds from the New Jersey Green Acres Program, Cumberland County, and the Open Space Institute. The property was transferred to the sole ownership of NJ Conservation, which had acquired the Menantico Creek Preserve’s original 600 acres in 2018.

The vibrant branch of the Littoral Society in Millville constantly works on significant environmental projects with large impact in our region.

The Feigenbaum family expressed that they are “happy to know that the acquisition of our property will help to increase the size of the preserve.”

“Thanks to this great partnership, the Menantico Preserve now stands at 685 acres of protected open space,” said Rob Ferber, NJ Conservation’s regional manager for the Delaware Bay Watershed. “The preserve is near population centers in downtown Vineland and Millville, and we’re creating a trail system to make it a valuable resource for the community.”

The Preserve features 2.2 miles of the Menantico Creek and its tributaries—part of the federally designated Maurice Wild and Scenic River system. The Menantico Creek is one of the main tributaries of the Maurice, which flows into the Delaware Bay. The property has extraordinary plant and animal diversity.

“We think it’s fantastic and, actually, not a frequent occurrence, when you can expand a preserved area with contiguous land,” said Karla Rossini, executive director of Citizens United (CU) to Protect the Maurice River, one of our area’s leading environmental organizations.

CU, which has its main office in Millville, is dedicated to protecting the area’s watershed and enabling current and future generations to enjoy the environmental, recreational, cultural, and scenic resources along the Maurice.

The NJ Conservation Foundation’s newly acquired property has high conservation value, as it has never been clearcut for farming. Its old growth forest provides habitat for many species like bald eagles, barred owls, and red-headed woodpeckers. Its dense system of tree roots and undisturbed soil filters out pollutants, helping to recharge the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, South Jersey’s main source of clean drinking water.

“We need to protect the land to protect the water,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. “This is an exceptionally valuable place, and we are proud to have been part of the partnership that brought this all together.

“The Littoral Society continues to work in the Delaware Bayshore area because preserving open space will not only help save forests and wildlife habitat, but also improve water quality rivers in the bay and its tributaries,” he added.

CU Maurice River had worked for many years with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the stream in this area from the threat of invasive aquatic plants. As part of a national study on mercury contamination in ecosystems, it also visited multiple times to gather samples from the stream with volunteer community scientists.

“And so, when the first [Conservation Foundation] acquisition was made in 2018,” Rossini said,“we jumped at the opportunity to lend a helping hand in the preservation process by organizing a large-scale clean-up where a large team of volunteers cleared immense piles of debris, rubble, litter, and other discarded waste from various locations throughout the tract.”

The Fish and Wildlife crew removed hazardous material from old agricultural dumping grounds in the forest.

The addition of the Feigenbaum property is the second expansion of NJ Conservation’s Menantico Creek Preserve supported through the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which seeks to protect water quality in the Delaware River Basin.

“This new addition to the preserve is a win that supports ecological connectivity and water quality,” said Rossini. “CU Maurice River extends its gratitude to NJ Conservation Foundation for its continued dedication to the preservation of the outstanding resource values of the Wild and Scenic Menantico Creek.”

“Cumberland County is happy to participate in the acquisition of this land for recreational and open space purposes,” said Douglas Albrecht, director of the Cumberland County Board of County Commissioners. “It is one of the Commissioner Board’s priorities to support park development and encourage healthy activities like walking and hiking. This new amenity in Cumberland County is a great partnership with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and we thank them for investing in our county.”

Ferber of the Foundation said he is thrilled voters on both ends of the political spectrum have been willing to support this effort and others like it.

“They recognize the importance of open space and have continued to support conservation and so it’s really been a very successful program and we’re proud to be a part of it,” he said.

“The Green Acres Program was glad to participate in this important acquisition partnership,” said Martha Sullivan Sapp, director of Green Acres. “Preserving this property ensures the continued protection of wetlands and forested areas.”

“It is a beautiful piece of land,” Rossini said. “And the stream is a natural jewel.”

The Menantico Creek Preserve is near other preserved open space and farmland, including the Nature Conservancy’s Upper Manumuskin River Preserve and the state’s Peaslee Wildlife Management Area.

“NJ Conservation recognizes that the property, like the rest of New Jersey, is part of the traditional homelands of the Lenape people,” said a statement from the group. “We pay respect to the Lenape and other Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, those who lived here before, and the generations to come.”

Since 1960, the Foundation has preserved more than 140,000 acres of open space, farmland, and parks. It manages17 nature preserves, conducts public outreach and education programs, and advocates for sensible land use and climate policies that will protect the health of New Jersey communities for generations to come. n