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1,100-acre purchase expands Franklin Parker Preserve, protects drinking water in Delaware River Watershed

WOODLAND TWP., NJ—May 4, 2016—In the third and final phase of a multi-year project to protect the New Jersey Pine Barrens, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, with the help of the Open Space Institute and other partners, has purchased 1,100 acres to expand the Franklin Parker Preserve and protect underlying drinking water resources.

The “Woodland South” property, totaling 1,101 acres, was purchased for $920,306, and consists mostly of upland pitch pine and oak forest, along with the headwaters of Biddle Branch of the Wading River. The addition increases recreation opportunities at Franklin Parker Preserve while protecting Pine Barrens wildlife habitat and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, a source of fresh water for South Jersey residents and businesses.

“Intact forests like the Franklin Parker Preserve play an invaluable role in providing drinking water for millions in the Delaware River Watershed," said Peter Howell, executive vice president of the Open Space Institute. "This project showcases the value of innovative and thoughtful collaborative partnerships in preserving water quality for healthy communities and human needs."

Land Benefits Rare Plants and Animals

The new purchase significantly enlarges the Franklin Parker Preserve to 11,379 acres, or nearly 18 square miles.

"This is the third largest land purchase in our 56-year history, and we're extremely grateful to our partners for making it possible," said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The Franklin Parker Preserve is an ecological treasure, with habitat for many endangered and threatened animals, including bobcats, bald eagles, barred owls, Northern pine snakes and Pine Barrens tree frogs.

In addition, the preserve is home to dozens of rare plant species, including Pine Barrens gentian, Bog asphodel, curly grass fern, yellow-fringed orchid, little ladies'-tresses orchid and pencil flower.

"The Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres Program is very pleased to be part of the conservation and preservation of this large, environmentally-sensitive area, which is home to many wildlife and plant species," said Richard Boornazian, Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources. "I thank our preservation partners for their contributions and dedication to this preservation."

Protecting Clean Water

The preservation project was supported with $200,000 from the Open Space Institute's Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which is made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The Delaware River Watershed Protection Program seeks to ensure abundant, clean water within the 13,000 square mile drainage of the Delaware River and throughout the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer of southern New Jersey. When kept intact, forests play a critical role in recharging and filtering groundwater and maintaining sensitive ecosystems.

Groundwater below the newly preserved property drains into the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, whose waters feed the Delaware River, among other important water bodies.

A Multi-Year Effort

The three purchases were the culmination of nearly two decades of negotiations between New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Zemel family. The land had been in Zemels’ ownership since the 1950s, when it was acquired in anticipation of a Pine Barrens development boom that never happened.

The first purchase came in June 2015, when NJ Conservation acquired the 474-acre "Woodland North" property in Woodland Township, which was added to the Franklin Parker Preserve. Partners included the Green Acres Program, Victoria Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Open Space Institute, Helen & William Mazer Foundation, state Pinelands Commission, and private funds raised by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, including a lead gift from Nora Hayes.

In the second phase this past February, the Foundation purchased 811 acres in neighboring Pemberton Township to create a new preserve. Partners included William Penn Foundation, Open Space Institute, Rancocas Conservancy, John Ben Snow Memorial Trust and the Rechnitzes.

In the third and final phase, partners on the Woodland South project included New Jersey Green Acres Program, the William Penn Foundation, the Open Space Institute and philanthropists Joan and Robert Rechnitz.

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