Download a pdf of map of the project
Acquisition expands preserve, drinking water and historic canal in New Jersey
WARREN COUNTY, NJ — Nov 20, 2015 — Two newly-conserved tracts
of land in northeastern New Jersey’s Mount Rascal Preserve protect drinking
water for the New Jersey Highlands and preserve part of a valuable historic
landmark for the public.
The land, totaling 112-acres and located just outside
Hackettstown, New Jersey, protects the Preserve’s namesake wooded mountain
summit, “Mount Rascal,” and preserves a portion of the historic Morris Canal. The
two parcels, which brings the preserve to 353 acres, include part of the
watershed of the Bowers Brook a headwater tributary of the Musconetcong River.
Designated by the state as “exceptionally significant” for
ecology and drinking water, the Bowers Brook is a forested headwater stream targeted for protection by the Delaware River
Watershed Initiative, which seeks to ensure abundant, clean water for the
watershed’s 15 million residents.
“Forests play a critical role in filtering drinking water, in
turn helping to build healthier communities,” said Peter Howell, Executive Vice
President at the Open Space Institute (OSI), which provided funding to help the
New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) conserve the land. “The Mount Rascal
project shows the value of innovative partnerships and collaborations in
protecting water quality for the region’s 15 million residents.”
In addition to OSI, the state Green Acres Program, Warren
County, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and William Penn Foundation
partnered to complete the $1,175,000 land purchase.
The preserve, located a short distance from Routes 46 and
614, is open to the public for hiking and other passive recreation. It is
operated by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust.
“This acquisition adds
the keystone parcel, including the summit of Mt. Rascal, to the New Jersey
Natural Land Trust’s Mt. Rascal Preserve,” said Richard Boornazian, the state
Department of Environmental Protection’s Assistant Commissioner for Natural and
“Preserving unbroken forests such as this is critical for
protecting water quality and wildlife habitat in the environmentally-sensitive
Highlands region of New Jersey,” Boornazian added. “We invite visitors to enjoy
a relaxing and educational walk along the historic Morris Canal or challenge
themselves on a steep hike to the peak of Mount Rascal.”
The state purchased 66.5 wooded, steeply sloped acres at the
top of Mount Rascal on November 17, 2015, four days after Warren County purchased 45.8
adjoining acres that include the canal section and tributary stream, known as
the Bowers Brook. The county was assisted by New Jersey Conservation
Foundation, which provided funding from the William Penn Foundation and OSI
toward the purchase.
Protecting Forests and Clean Water
New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Mount Rascal Project was
supported through OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which is made
possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The project is the
third land transaction to be completed of 17 that have been approved by the
Fund, and that collectively will conserve about 14,000 acres of important
watershed lands across the 13,000-square-mile Delaware Watershed, which lies
within parts of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The New Jersey
Highlands is one of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative’s eight priority
“We’re very pleased to partner in this expansion of the Mount
Rascal Preserve,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey
Conservation Foundation. “It’s a beautiful property, and it’s great that the
public will be able to enjoy both the mountain summit and the Morris Canal
“This is a wonderful open space project because it not only
preserves important forest and headwaters, but it also provides a beautiful
place for residents to recreate. In addition, it protects a large segment of
the Morris Canal where visitors can learn more about our treasured local
history,” said Corey Tierney, Warren County Preservation Director.
Preserving a Piece of History
Momentum to protect the property began several years ago,
when—before the landowner, Independence Land Holdings, agreed to sell the property
for conservation—the township gave preliminary site plan approval for 118
age-restricted homes on the lower section.
Freeholder Rick Gardner said preserving land along the Morris
Canal is one of the county’s priorities.
“Warren County is pleased with the unique purchasing
opportunity this property presents,” said Gardner. “The property contains approximately one half
mile of the historic Morris Canal, which remains in remarkably good condition.
We will be advancing significantly the goals of the Morris Canal Greenway and
future tourism for Warren County.”
An 1860s Engineering Marvel
Before railroads, Tierney noted, this canal helped spur
commerce in rural areas like Hackettstown. Businesses sprang up all along the
canal and, in fact, there was even a brewery nearby back in the 1860s. Stretching
about 100 miles from Phillipsburg to Jersey City, the canal was considered an
engineering marvel of its time because it climbed over 900 feet in elevation
using sophisticated locks and inclined planes.
“Mules pulled long boats packed full of goods through the
water and, given that the trip took about five days, you can easily imagine the
boatmen floating along while enjoying the beer they just bought in town. So in
addition to the natural beauty of the Mount Rascal, there’s really a lot of
history here that we hope to share with visitors,” added Tierney.
Notably, the Mount Rascal Preserve even includes remains of
farming homesteads built in the 1800s by early German settlers to the area.
Old Stone Walls
According to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust website,
“Hillside farming was no doubt a hard subsistence. In the forest, visitors will
find row after row of stone walls. Farmers gathered and piled these stones by
hand and these walls remain as a testament to the difficult tasks of early
Although the original stone houses and large barns are now
gone, the site of the old stone spring house continues to bubble up clear, cool
water. The wetlands on the property are home to the state threatened wood
turtle and several rare plant species.
To learn more about the Mount Rascal Preserve, go to http://nj.gov/dep/njnlt/mountrascal.htm
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