April 22, 2020

Nonprofits and the Municipality Acquire Ridgeview Road Wetlands Site

By Anne Levin

Thanks to a collaborative effort between Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), The Watershed Institute, the Ridgeview Conservancy, and the municipality of Princeton, a three-acre lot comprised mostly of wetlands will remain just that instead of being developed.

The nonprofits and the town closed on a deal recently to protect the Ridgeview Road site, which contains the headwaters of the Mountain Brook. The brook feeds into Mountain Lake in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, and beyond that, to the Stony Brook.

The property is important because it helps protect the water quality in Mountain Brook, and prevents excessive sediment from flowing into Mountain Lake. The Watershed Institute was alerted to plans to develop the property in fall of 2018 by several concerned members and Princeton residents. The Watershed staff then gathered evidence and presented opposition before the Zoning Board to a variance that had been sought to permit development.

New Jersey’s Green Acres Program and Mercer County’s Open Space Grant Program were major contributors to the preservation project. The Municipality of Princeton, in addition to contributing acquisition funds, played a key role in facilitating the purchase. The D&R Greenway Land Trust also contributed funds towards the project.

“The fact that we were ultimately able to protect this land and the Mountain Brook is a testament to citizen action and the work of our staff,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Watershed.

Wendy Mager, the president of FOPOS, said she immediately felt that, as the steward of Mountain Lakes Preserve, FOPOS should try to help protect this property.

The property had been a part of a larger parcel, the other segment of which was developed. “There were a lot of issues associated with that, and we didn’t want to see that repeated,” Mager said. “Members of the Ridgeview Conservancy are very passionate and persuasive, and I knew that the Watershed was involved. It sounded like a really good project. There just wasn’t any way that FOPOS would not be a part of it.”

Mager spoke to The Watershed Institute and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. “They saw the case for preservation as well, both to protect the water resource, which is the Watershed’s core mission, and to protect the town’s investment in dredging Mountain Lake several years ago to remove decades of accumulated silt,” Mager said. “One thing I learned from the Princeton environmental inventory is how damaging disturbance is to wetlands, and how it tends to cause a lot of siltation. It just seemed like it would really be a shame to have this property be developed now, and have the stream degraded and a lot of silt flow down — especially after the big project that was done to repair it.”

Ridgeview Conservancy raised over $100,000 towards the cost of acquiring the property. Residents on Ridgeview Road donated, and the D&R Greenway contributed $15,000, recognizing the lot’s ecological importance to this section of the Princeton Ridge.

“The lot is a vital piece of a wetland structure that extends over 20 acres,” said Lincoln Hollister, board president of Ridgeview Conservancy. “It provides critical habitat and serves as an important wildlife corridor for a wide range of species, including the red-shouldered hawk, which is endangered in New Jersey. It also supports much-needed links between preserved lands in the Ridgeview Woods, Mountain Lake, and Woodfield Preserve.”

Green Acres is contributing a total of $250,000 in matching grants towards this acquisition project which will be distributed among The Watershed Institute ($150,000), FOPOS ($50,000), and the Municipality of Princeton ($50,000).

The property will be jointly managed by FOPOS, The Watershed Institute, and the Ridgeview Conservancy, with the town creating two parking spaces for visitors along Ridgeview Road using money from the Open Space Tax Fund.

David Cohen, Princeton Council President, said: “Council generally likes to see investment of municipal funds for open space preservation going to tracts that will be available to all residents for enjoyment of our precious remaining unspoiled lands. Creating these parking spaces ensures that anyone from any part of town can safely come and experience the benefits of this acquisition.”

Plans call for a low-profile, low-impact trail on the property from Ridgeview Road to a point in the small uplands area from which people can observe birds and wildlife. A few benches may be added for contemplation and observation. “It’s a very interesting area,” said Mager. “I think people might see some very interesting things. There have been bobcat sightings in the area, and a lot of bird life. It’s part of a wildlife corridor, so there is a lot to see and enjoy.”

The goal is to avoid soil disturbance as much as possible, and to provide visitors with an uplifting and educational experience in a beautiful setting.

“This was truly a conservation project in the deepest sense of the word, and we are grateful to the public and private institutions which have collaborated to permanently conserve this important wetland property,” said Hollister.

Christopher Barr, executive director of the Conservancy, added, “Ridgeview Conservancy expresses its sincere appreciation to Liping An of Ridgeview Property, LLC, the previous owner, for allowing the consortium to purchase the property for conservation, and for his patience as we’ve pulled together the resources to make this happen.”