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Conservation IssuesIs It They Who Don't Understand, Or Is It I?
Hannah Suthers

Is It They Who Don't Understand, Or Is It I?
Hannah Suthers

It seems that as soon as sites that I have been involved with, both in the field and in public meetings, are purchased for preservation by coalitions of non-profits, State and local funds they become threatened by schemes of anthropocentric development.

First it was Baldpate Mountain on which a biological inventory sponsored by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space revealed especially high numbers of breeding birds including many whose populations are in decline. After 1100 acres were acquired in 1998 by a coalition of FOHVOS, Hopewell Township, County and State, professional recreational planners drew up such an intense plan for recreational development that not even a neotropical migrant bird requiring the smallest undisturbed territory could successfully nest. After input from environmentalists the plan was sent back to the drawing board and reduced. Details are still in negotiation and need to be watched.

Next it was the 813 acre Mercer County Park Northwest (the Pole Farm) bought by the County for preservation. It was inventoried in 1998 by the Washington Crossing Audubon biological inventory team for the Mercer County Park Commission. Immediate development fantasies by the County included a golf course, soccer fields, parking lots, public toilets. A public survey indicated overwhelmingly that people wanted the Pole Farm to remain as it was. Current ideas are for a segment of the Lawrence/Hopewell Bike Trail, ten feet wide, paved with 3-4 foot shoulders on each side, to pass through and loop back, regardless of the State threatened Bobolinks that breed there together with declining Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows and American Kestrels. A current campaign brochure for County Executive, with pictures of expansive toxic green grass and shade trees, promises to turn Mercer County Park Northwest into a public park with trails and access points.

Planners need to be reminded that there is already a network of trails, a parking circle, a pull-off site, and an old paved road that could serve as the bike path. The most recent suggested assault on wildlife habitat of the Pole Farm is the Heroes Park proposed for an area adjacent to a wooded wetland that contains a State Listed Plant of Special Concern, and a State threatened turtle. Public input is needed.

Another site is Carson Road Woods, a 184 acre tract of farm fields and woods that the Washington Crossing Audubon biological inventory team was asked to inventory in 2001-2002. A coalition of private neighbors, non-profits and Lawrence Township purchased the land, presumably for farm and wildlife preservation. Now the Lawrence-Hopewell Bike Trail, ten-foot wide, paved with 3-4 foot shoulders on each side is planned through that tract. The route is modified to where it is believed would be least disturbing to wetlands and wildlife now and in the future. The Friends of Carson Road Woods do not want the trail at all, or on the perimeter at best. Public meetings are being held.

Currently Hopewell Township is negotiating to buy the Martin tract, a 251 acre farm with pond, woodlot, and hayfields which for many years have been mowed late in August for the mushroom industry. Grass hayfields, grasslands, are a threatened habitat nationwide. A quick inventory showed 40 species of breeding birds including Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Prairie Warblers, and at the pond the declining Willow Flycatcher, Green Herons, and State threatened Great Blue Heron. At nearby woods the State threatened Barred Owl has been seen. There has been talk of a plan to recover the cost of the purchase by subdividing the farm into several farmettes that would destroy the habitat for the threatened and declining species. A consortium of environmental non-profits and citizens' groups have presented an alternative plan, which needs public support. More public meetings are promised.

Is it our public officials and professional planners who do not understand the meaning of preserving open space, or is it I? Does preserving open space mean to turn preserved land into playing fields and parks of mowed grass? Or does it mean large blocks of land managed for wildlife, with some trails for quiet walking and other passive recreation? If open space means mainly playing fields and mowed parks and parking lots, then land that is already unsuitable for wildlife, close to housing, needs to be chosen instead of making incursions into preserved prime wildlife and farm sites. We, the overwhelming majority of citizens in our garden state who voted for a tax increase for preserving open space, need to put our time, attention and attendance at meetings, as well as our tax money, into land preservation so that the resulting dialog can guide and assure what we all want so very much.



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Last revision: Friday, November 28, 2003 - 9:46:33 AM