Preserving The Sourlands
At the northern edge of the portion of New Jersey served by Washington Crossing Audubon Society, the Sourland Mountains cover an area of about 60 square miles. Although they rise to a modest maximum elevation of only 568 feet above sea level, they are markedly different than the surroundings. The difference arises from geology; the Sourlands are composed of hard argillite and diabase rock that was pushed up above the surrounding soils during the Triassic and Jurassic periods.
Unlike much of central New Jersey, the Sourlands have remained largely undeveloped. There are impressive boulder fields in some areas, and plowing for crops has been impractical or impossible in much of the region. Below the surface, the hard rock has few cracks where water can percolate downward, so rainfall tends to form perched wetlands even at the top of the mountains. Wells are difficult to drill and often run dry.
As a result of the relative difficulty of developing the mountains, they have remained largely forested, although most have been periodically logged, and they now comprise the largest contiguous forest in central New Jersey. And while they may not be a hotbed of biological diversity, the fact that they were never cleared for farming has permitted many of the plant and animal species that were present hundreds of years ago to persist.
As technology marches ahead and pressure for housing in the area mounts, there is an increasing threat of development in the Sourlands, so an impressive coalition of environmental and municipal government organizations has formed to preserve the mountains. Participants include the Sourlands Regional Citizens Planning Council, the Delaware and Raritan Greenway, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, West Amwell Township, and Hopewell Township. Washington Crossing Audubon Society hasn't formally joined, but we have a strong interest in the region. WCAS conducted a biological inventory of the Somerset County Park in the Sourlands several years ago, and board member Hannah Suthers has been conducting a long-running bird banding study in the Sourlands for over twenty years (see page 2). WCAS Conservation Chair Pat Sziber (wearing her Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space hat) was one of the people who worked tirelessly and successfully to preserve Baldpate Mountain at the southwestern end of the Sourlands. WCAS has entered into discussions with West Amwell Township in an effort to plan the most effective way we can help with biological surveys in that area.
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