New Jersey loan fund helps protect "Heart of the Pines" and other properties in its first year

New York, NY - February 20, 2004 - One year ago, the Open Space Institute launched the New Jersey Conservation Loan Fund (NJCLF) to assist the land preservation community in protecting what remains of New Jersey's rapidly disappearing natural areas. Since then, NJCLF has made five loans - a total of $3.2 million - to assist in the conservation of over 10,000 acres of land with a total appraised value of more than $25 million. One of those loans helped protect the landmark "Heart of the Pines" property in the Pinelands of New Jerseys. Two new partnerships will allow the program to enhance its assistance to the New Jersey land trust community in 2004. 

Initial funding for the loan fund came from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which invested $2.5 million to establish a low-cost bridge-financing fund. Land trusts have used NJCLF loan fund monies to purchase land and easements where public acquisition funds have been delayed, or to complete time-sensitive transactions while arranging for permanent private funding. 

“We are very excited about OSI's work, and about the impact we have been able to achieve in preserving open space,” said Robert Perry, director of environment and animal welfare programs at the Morristown-based Dodge Foundation. “The loan fund seems to be serving exactly the purpose we had envisioned, and we are heartened by the recent expansion of this collaborative effort and proposed program changes for 2004.” 

Recognizing NJCLF's promising start, the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation, which has an extensive emphasis in southern New Jersey, joined with Dodge and OSI by investing an additional $1 million. According to Andrew Johnson, program officer for the William Penn's Environment and Communities Program, “this collaboration will leverage the impact of our philanthropy and help our grantees expand the scale and accelerate the pace of their efforts to preserve regionally significant watershed lands in the Pinelands, the Barnegat Bay watershed and the Delaware River and Bay watersheds.” 

The following projects are among those for which OSI's New Jersey Conservation Loan Fund has provided interim financing since its inception in January, 2003: 

· The Delaware & Raritan Greenway's acquisition of a 58-acre easement in the Sourland Mountains to protect migratory bird habitat, provide trail corridors, and preserve open views along the ridge in East Amwell, Hunterdon County. 

· The Morris Land Conservancy's acquisition of an easement to protect 240 acres buffering the Paulinskill Wildlife Management Area in Hampton Township, Sussex County. 

· D&R Greenway borrowed bridge funds to pay off a seller-held mortgage on a 14-acre parcel in Princeton Township, Mercer County. The parcel expands the Stony Brook greenway stretching from Hopewell and the Sourlands into the Princeton community, protecting the lower Stony Brook watershed and its woodland habitat, and expanding interpretive trail networks within this developed suburban region. 

· New Jersey Conservation Foundation's (NJCF) recent acquisition in Burlington County of 9,400 acres of ecologically valuable land within the Pinelands Preservation Area. Known as “Heart of the Pines,” the project will also link and increase public access to state-owned conservation lands. 

To close the “Heart of the Pines” project, NJCF raised nearly half of the $12 million purchase price and utilized a $1.5 million loan from the NJCLF to move forward with the December closing. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure the preservation of this spectacular land,” said Michele Byers, NJCF's executive director. “The OSI loan funds have given us some essential breathing room while we pull together other funding.” 

Peter Howell, director of OSI's Conservation Loan Fund, said OSI was pleased with the program's early success but stressed the need to raise more loan capital and help support transactions in new and more effective ways. 

To achieve its goals, OSI recently contracted with the newly formed non-profit Conservation Resources Inc. (CRI), and its president, Michael Catania, to administer the loan fund. In partnership with OSI, Catania and CRI will work with regional and local conservation organizations to make innovative use of NJCLF loan funds. 

“Michael brings extraordinary expertise and knowledge from his deep involvement in land protection in New Jersey over the past 30 years,” Howell said. “We are delighted to enter into a partnership with CRI and look forward to working together to ensure the highest and best use of loan funds,” added Howell. 

“I'm delighted to join OSI and the Dodge and Penn Foundations in this effort,” said Catania. “I believe that this collaboration will allow each of the partners to make a bigger difference in preserving the natural legacy of New Jersey for future generations.”

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