January 3, 2018

D&R Greenway Land Deal Preserves Historic Farmland In Sourlands Region

By Anne Levin

A 116-acre property in Hopewell Township dating back more than two centuries has been preserved, linking three counties and boosting the total acreage that D&R Greenway Land Trust has preserved since 1989 to 20,000 acres.

The historic Schwinn farm on Hopewell-Amwell Road is near the historic Lindbergh estate and the 700-acre Sourlands Ecosystem Preserve. The expanse includes about 20 acres open to the public, and its trails will connect to a large network of neighboring protected lands.

“It was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle,” said Jay Watson, D&R Greenway vice president. “This property offers us the potential to connect from Somerset and the corner of Hunterdon all the way through to the northeast corner of Mercer County. We’re doing a lot of work in the Sourlands. It’s a priority preservation area, so any time we get an opportunity to preserve land there, we go after it.”

Between May and September 2017, D&R Greenway put together a deal to acquire the land. The Schwinn family, which owned the property, had wanted to preserve it, but needed to sell. The connection was made to D&R just in time.

“With a September 1 deadline looming, and a development-oriented purchaser preparing to swoop in on the property, D&R Greenway rose to the challenge to get the deal done fast,” reads a press release on the transaction. “The compressed time frame demanded nimble footwork to get around obstacles to conventional preservation С most significantly the absence of public funds available on short notice.”

“In a few very short months, we were able to identify a conservation buyer and arrange the necessary bridge financing, while accomplishing all the necessary due diligence to protect the property with a conservation easement,” said Linda Mead, D&R Greenway president and CEO.

The Schwinns had made the farm a home to sheep that grazed the hillsides. The setting was the inspiration for Ruth Schwinn’s two children’s books, Henry the Lamb and Henry the Dale. “When you think about the people who came before us, their blood, sweat, and tears shed to preserve themselves, their families and their strongly held beliefs, you cannot help but believe preserving the property was the right thing to do,” she is quoted in the release. “We want to thank the people who made it happen.”

The property contains the headwaters of the Bedens Brook, in the Millstone River Watershed. Its conifer hedgerows are habitat for roosting owls, and butterflies are attracted to its fields. Its mature forest supports vulnerable raptors such as the Cooper’s hawk and migratory songbirds that depend on these breeding grounds.

The acreage is close to Highfields, the home of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and site of the 1932 kidnapping of their 20-month-old son. Police scoured the surrounding woods and fields and interviewed neighbors during their search for the child. “Harry Conover Jr. and his father, who farmed the property, reported that they had seen a car with doused headlights creeping down Featherbed Lane, while Mrs. Conover heard noises from her hen roosts that she assumed were chicken thieves,” the release reads.

Having preserved 20,000 acres over nearly 30 years is a major milestone for the D&R Greenway. “It is a spectacular landscape to preserve — the character, the agriculture, and the habitat values associated with the Sourlands are very important to us,” said Watson.

“Our 20,00th acre was not the easiest one to preserve, but it was one of our most remarkable success stories,” said Mead.