Saving the Land
Twenty-five years ago, most Montgomery Township residents looked out their window at open fields and farmlands, even a forest. Today, such a view is becoming far more difficult to find. Montgomery Township’s rural appeal has attracted a population that more than doubled in 25 years, from 9,612 in 1990 to more than 22,000 in 2005. Hundreds of acres that were once fields and farmland have disappeared in the face of explosive tract development. Today, our township continues to grow, creating a need for more schools and services and ever-increasing taxes to pay for them.
Montgomery Friends of Open Space was formed in 2002 in an effort to preserve what remains of the Township’s farmland and natural areas. Montgomery Friends is an all-volunteer non-profit organization, made up primarily of residents of Montgomery Township and Rocky Hill. The organization’s purpose is three-fold:
- To preserve remaining open lands in Montgomery Township
- To provide and support stewardship of the land that is preserved
- To sustain active farming by increasing awareness of agricultural issues and supporting local farmers’ markets and farm stands in the Township
Preserving Open Space
Guided by the Township’s Conservation Plan, Montgomery Friends of Open Space has been awarded $1.7 million in grants to preserve farm- lands, forests, streams, and flood plains, as well as to protect water quality and maintain historic and scenic views. Montgomery Friends often works in partnership with the NJ Green Acres and Farmland Preservation Programs, Montgomery Township, Somerset County, private foundations, landowners and other land trusts. To date, the organization has participated in the preservation of 316 acres including:
The Platz Farm: Montgomery Friends’ first project was preserving 39 acres of farm fields along Dutchtown-Harlingen Road with links to the Montgomery and the Sourland Mountain Greenways. The group partnered with a larger regional land trust, D&R Greenway Land Trust, to complete the transaction.
The Dalhousie Farm: This former sheep farm along Cherry Valley Road, consisted of ap- proximately 100 acres of open fields, streams, an upland forest, a pond, and meadows. The land is owned by the Raymond family, who will con- tinue to live on the farm. Montgomery Friends, together with the Township, purchased a conser- vation easement of 34 acres allowing for a public pathway in the future. An agricultural easement on 57 acres will ensure that it remains in farm use.
The Nicolaysen Tract: Montgomery Friends and the Township collaborated on the purchase of this 95-acre property from the Nicolaysen family in 2006. Located near Linton Drive, this preserve includes a forest, a pond and fields, as well as agricultural and public easements.
Dutchtown-Harlingen Road Farm Field: Working with the Township Committee and a neighboring landowner, Montgomery Friends preserved 16.8 acres for farm use. An 8.4-acre con- servation easement provides for public pathways. This parcel formed a trail linkage to the west, and reunited the historic Hoagland Stryker house with the one remaining adjacent farm field.
The Thomas Property: Part of Cherry Valley Greenway, a 2.17-acre conservation easement provides an important connection to the existing pathway system.
The Drake Farm: This 64 acre family farm on Route 518 in Skillman, farmed by the Drake family, was preserved in 2007. Beautiful views, communi- ty supported agriculture, and public access were all achieved through a partnership with Montgomery Township, NJ DEP, the State Agricultural Devel- opment Committee, D&R Greenway Land Trust, along with the Drake and Huebner families.
The Firmenich Farm: This property was added in 2015. MFOS partnered with Montgomery Township and Somerset County to purchase an easement for a development rights to the 29.45-acre farm on Mountain View Road owned by Johan and Emily Firmenich. The farm is surrounded by preserved farmland and other preserved land, plus the family home. In addition, a two-acre lot has been designated for possible future construction of a farmhouse. MFOS contributed a grant from the State Agriculture Development Committee of almost $250,000 for half the purchase price of the easement. The farm will continue to be owned and run by the Firmenich family. Though it will not be open to the public, we hope you will drive past this newly preserved farmland and appreciate the lovely view.
The Styles Property: In 2015 the township acquired a 7.86-acre piece of land at the north end of Hollow Road, and straddling Rock Brook, Montgomery’s cleanest stream. Once occupied by two homes which are now demolished, the land has been vacant for some time and the forest has grown back. Long ago Rock Brook was used for water power and the remains of a dam can be seen in the stream as a picturesque little waterfall. Montgomery Friends of Open Space hopes to see a driveway with a few parking places for visitors and hikers, and a picnic table or park bench near the stream. A pathway may be constructed through this property and could someday become a link in a trail along the Rock Brook from the northern township boundary and extending south and east toward Skillman Park. Montgomery Friends of Open Space contributed a grant of approximately $100k from Green Acres toward the purchase of this property.