Oct 03 2017

HLT Celebrates 21st Anniversary

(This is part of our continuing series “HLT’s 20 Stories for 20 Years,” where we share, through words, images and audio, information about Hunterdon Land Trust and the places we all love in the Hunterdon County area.)

Celebrating the first HLT preservation effort at the Dondero property in West Amwell.

For more than two decades, Hunterdon Land Trust has worked passionately to protect the places you love. We’ve preserved more than 8,700 acres of fields, forests and farmlands; established miles of trails where anyone can hike, horseback ride, cross-country ski or simply enjoy the sweet sounds of nature; and protected vital drinking water sources, pollinators and wildlife. We’ve safeguarded one of the county’s most iconic properties: the 40-acre historic Dvoor Farm. And we operate a nationally recognized producers’-only Farmers’ Market that connect farmers to consumers and helps boost the local economy.

And while it all officially began 21 years ago this week, on Oct. 3, 1997, efforts to form an organization to protect land and water resources in Hunterdon County started a few years earlier.

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. Upon reading the news, roughly 200 residents flocked to Delaware Township’s planning board meeting, which was moved to the 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 in an interview in 2016. “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. Michele Byers at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation encouraged the idea, and Harris was soon connecting with residents from Kingwood, Readington and East Amwell to talk about pooling their talents and energies.

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

“The Land Trust concept came maybe after a year (of fighting the proposed development in Sergeantsville) and realizing that a land trust is an important tool in preservation,” Harris noted.

For the six months prior to the incorporation, the group was meeting every two weeks leading up to Oct. 3, 1996. It took a phenomenal amount of research to get to the point where the group drafted bylaws and could incorporate.

(The organization these concerned citizens established was called the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance. The original concept was to create a coalition of smaller land trusts. However, the organization was later incorporated as a single entity, but the “Alliance” was kept in the title. Later, in 2008, the name was officially altered to Hunterdon Land Trust.)

The big day of incorporation occurred at Echo Lake Park. “It was an exciting evening,” Harris recalled. “I wouldn’t say it was a gala event but people came dressed up. We read our incorporating acts, elected the first board of directors and officers.”

Harris, who had been chairing the group’s meetings prior to incorporation, was elected HLTA’s first president.

HLTA’s first preservation would occur not long afterwards when the 36-acre West Amwell farm owned by Dr. David and Peggy Dondero was preserved. HLTA worked with D&R Greenway and the New Jersey Green Acres Program to make this preservation happen.

Our organization — and everyone past and present who has been involved with it — has played an important role in our accomplishments through the years. We thank everyone for that has been accomplished in the past 21 years, and encourage you to be a part of our efforts to protect our land, water and cultural heritage. Learn more about supporting HLT by calling us at 908-237-4582 or visiting the Get Involved section of our website.

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