January 6, 2021

Sycamore Creek Farm Now Permanently Preserved in Hopewell

A FARM IS PRESERVED: Sycamore Creek Farm in Hopewell will remain as it is thanks to efforts of D&R Greenway and new owner Pete Cifelli, who grew up on the land and is now its steward. He is shown here as a youngster, observing a foal.

By Anne Levin

A 50-acre expanse of open space, forest, and farmland in Hopewell is now preserved for posterity. D&R Greenway Land Trust has added Sycamore Creek Farm, in a valley by Jacobs Creek, to the more than 21,000 acres of land in New Jersey the non-profit has saved since 1989.

The property includes acres of farm fields, a house dating back to 1830, barns that were renovated by former owner Toni Cifelli, a forest, and a stone wall.  Cifelli and his wife, Patti, raised their family at the farm. The couple recently moved to North Carolina, and their son, Pete, has purchased the farm from them.

Preservation funding for the property was provided by public partners including the New Jersey Green Acres program grants to D&R Greenway, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, Mercer County, and Hopewell Township. D&R Greenway contributed funds from a private donor, Gene Gladston.

D&R Greenway and partners purchased a conservation easement, enabling the land to stay in the Cifelli family and continue as a farm with permanent protection.

“When we first walked the farm April 1, 1984, we could see it as an incredible place to raise our children and keep horses,” Patti Cifelli said in a press release. “The stream valley was beautiful with its mature canopy. We envisioned some farm fields converted to horse pasture. The Johnson family [owners] emphasized that it was important that the property continue as a working farm. The farmhouse dates back to 1830, but the Johnsons had ‘only’ lived there for 70 years.”

The Cifellis named the farm after the massive sycamore trees along Jacobs Creek. They taught their children to “put in a hard day’s work upon the land, but also to understand that natural areas should be maintained with the sense of stewardship for all life that it supports,” Cifelli continued. “Early memories include their Thurman grandparents, tapping our big sugar maples to make syrup, and teaching them to monitor the bluebird nest box they had established. The farm was our major retirement investment.”

The couple realized that preserving the farm would be more desirable than selling to a developer. “Opportunities for passive recreation for most people are dwindling in central Jersey,” said Cifelli. “Preserving the farm guarantees that this beautiful place stays as it is, and will be soon enjoyed by more and more people. Preservation allows us to retire, keep our long-ago promise to the Johnsons, and still keep the farm in our family.”

Linda Mead, CEO and president of D&R Greenway, first visited the property during summer months. She was struck by the proximity to Jacobs Creek, which flows into the Delaware River. “Protecting water quality is the core of D&R Greenway’s founding mission,” she said. “The Delaware River watershed provides drinking water for 15 million people. An added benefit is that this land will provide trail linkages, and protect wildlife habitat and the area’s agricultural heritage.”

With the property now preserved, hikers will be able to walk by stands of willow and alongside mature sycamore, sumac, red maple, red cedar, black walnut, mature oak, and stately beech, according to D&R Greenway. Trails will be built to provide a link to the Jacobs Creek trail to the south.

The property contains habitat that is critical for salamanders and frogs. “Experts expect rare wood turtle and dragonfly species because of this land’s high forest quality,” reads the release. “Birds that may be observed here include New Jersey endangered and threatened species such as the barred owl, worm-eating warbler, wood thrush, veery, hooded warbler, Kentucky warbler, Canada warbler, and Cooper’s hawk.”

Danielle Dobisch, D&R Greenway’s director of land preservation, said preserving land is about building relationships. “Patti and Tony Cifelli really love their farm and wanted to do the best by it, to make sure the open land was there for the future,” she said. “Having their son, Pete, purchase the preserved farm, just made the process so much sweeter. I’m thankful to have worked with Patti and Tony to see their dream come to fruition: their farm preserved, forever.”