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Cider mill site protects New Jersey grasslands

New York, NY - May 13, 2011 - A last-minute bridge loan from the Open Space Institute has helped D&R Greenway Land Trust complete a more-than $2 million acquisition in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. 

The acquisition protects ecologically important habitat for threatened grassland birds and also represents the first major successful partnership for New Jersey's Green Acres Program in 2011, its 50th year.

"This year is the New Jersey Green Acres Program's 50th anniversary year and it is nice to kick off the celebration of this milestone with preservation of a property that has the high quality of the Cider Mill Preserve," said NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin. "D&R Greenway Land Trust was the first land conservancy to close a project with Green Acres nonprofit grant funding in 1991, and now they have closed on the first major preservation partnership success in our 50th year in business."

Almost entirely open grassland, the 89-acre Cider Mill site in East Amwell is surrounded by hundreds of acres of preserved open space and farmland that provide extensive grassland habitat, food, cover and nesting sites.

Grasslands were once common in New Jersey, but as farming has declined while development has increased in recent decades, they began disappearing. With their habitat vanishing, birds dependent on grasslands have become vulnerable to extirpation.

One such species, the American kestrel, has been documented breeding on the Cider Mill property. Other possible breeding species include the bobolink (a species on the state's threatened list) and Eastern meadowlark. Short-eared owls and Northern harriers (both state-endangered) are documented winter residents on the site. Other grassland birds that thrive in New Jersey grasslands include the Savannah sparrow, vesper sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, and bobwhite quail.

"During my time as the Director of Land Preservation for D&R Greenway, I learned much about the importance of this property as grassland bird habitat," said Bill Rawlyk, who joined OSI in February as its Mid-Atlantic field coordinator. "The first day I visited the site was during the winter. That day we observed five northern harriers hunting the field at once, and a kestrel perched on a pole, which told me that this property was something special.

"As part of the preserved agricultural landscape of the Amwell Valley, the Cider Mill site can be used to demonstrate the operation of a working landscape which integrates productive agriculture and conservation by using low-impact farming methods, such as late-mow hay production, which that are compatible with habitat needs and nesting cycle of grassland birds."

Funding for the Cider Mill acquisition took more than four years to assemble from a variety of sources. Due to the complexity of the transaction, the loan from OSI—the very last piece of the puzzle—turned out to be the most significant.

The state of New Jersey provided funds through three different programs, while Conservation Resources Inc. (CRI) awarded D&R Greenways a grant from a dedicated grasslands preservation fund of the Doris Duke Foundation.

Hunterdon County provided funds through their County Nonprofit Grant Program and the East Amwell Township utilized funding from its Green Acres Planning Incentive Grant.

However, the multi-sourced funds were not all available when the acquisition was to be completed, so D&R approached OSI for a short-term bridge loan that allowed the purchase to go through as scheduled.

"Land preservation in New Jersey relies heavily on the availability of public funding and often through multiple partners and jurisdictions," said Linda J. Mead, president and CEO of D&R Greenway Land Trust. "Lining up those various sources tends to be challenging, and having the OSI funding available to bridge the gaps to get projects closed was amazing. Without the OSI loan, this remarkable property may not have been preserved and the extraordinary work of our partners may have been for naught."

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