Nov 02 2016

Looking Back: How HLT Got Its Start


hlt-20th-anniversary-wheat-icon-only-new The Hunterdon Land Trust is celebrating its 20th anniversary thanks to the foresight of a number of concerned citizens who respected our county’s past and deeply cared about its future. They saw how developers were gobbling up our farms, fields and scenic vistas, and were determined to do something about it.

 

They sought to create a structure, an organization that would not just fight specific development projects, but would also be proactive and work toward the goal of protecting all that is special about this area and why we love to call it home.

 
Anyone flipping through their local newspaper in 1994 must have felt alarmed over the continual drumbeat of headlines: “Developer Seeks Larger Market,” “Board Delays Hearing on 66-House Plan,” County’s Housing Gain Is Largest in 4 Years.” The Thursday, Oct. 13 1994 Hunterdon County Democrat featured an article, part of a series, on how changes were threatening farms throughout the county. And, on page 1, readers learned of a meeting to discuss a proposal to rezone Sergeantsville. About 200 residents flocked to Delaware Township’s planning board meeting, which was moved to a firehouse to accommodate the crowd.

Among the attendees was Roger Harris. “Delaware Township was under a lot of pressure and a couple of things came together simultaneously that got people up in arms, myself included,” Harris said recently. “There was a huge amount of development proposed for Sergeantsville and that’s when I started to notice the big problems.”

Harris then volunteered to serve on Delaware Township’s planning board where, he says, he “very quickly learned that it’s not easy to zone your way to preservation.” Harris recalled a land trust in his native Massachusetts; he and a number of others concerned about preserving land began meeting and researching. A phone call to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped Harris connect with residents from Kingwood, Readington and East Amwell.

Among those involved early in these efforts were: Bill Rawlyk, John Mathieu, Tom McMillan, Alison Mitchell, Pam Their, Barbara Wolfe, Ruth and Lloyd Gang, Sandra Madon, Julia Allen and Howard Parker.

This group of was worried about the impact of continued development on our drinking water and air quality and that the loss of farmland, woodland, and country vistas was forever damaging our rural heritage.

They met several times, eventually forming a coalition, the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance, considering itself an alliance of smaller land trusts working together. This initial plan changed because the group incorporated as a single entity. (In 2008, “Alliance” was dropped from the name.)

The group conducted an incredible amount of research before drafting bylaws and incorporating in October 1996. Harris became the land trust’s first president, and our organization took its first step toward preserving more than 8,400 acres in Hunterdon County.

(This is the first in a series of articles over the course of the next several months celebrating Hunterdon Land Trust’s 20th anniversary and achievements in protecting the places you love.)


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