More than twenty years have passed since the Tewksbury Land Trust (TLT) held its first meeting. It was 1994, Bill Clinton was in the White House, the Dow finished the year at 3,834 and suburban sprawl was consuming New Jersey farmland and open space at an unprecedented rate -- the highest in the country.
So much has changed in the world around us over the past 20 years, but the charm and quality of life in Tewksbury has endured. A group of local residents organized TLT to actively promote the preservation of the town’s existing agriculture, open space and historic character. The TLT's leadership has always emphasized the need to work with, and reach out to, local residents concerning the importance of protecting natural areas and historic features, creating linkages and greenway corridors and preserving the culture and natural heritage of Tewksbury and the surrounding area. From the start, TLT has partnered with other groups to build support for conservation efforts and to establish effective stewardship programs to care for this special place.
We are grateful. We are grateful for the support we have received from the Township of Tewksbury, the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the New Jersey's Green Acres Program. We are indeed fortunate to live in this place where government at all levels is an active funding partner in our preservation efforts.
We are grateful for all the partnerships we have been a part of over the past 20 years. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Raritan Headwaters Association, Hunterdon Land Trust, The Lamington Conservancy, The Open Space Institute, Tewksbury Trail Association, New Jersey Audubon Society, and other organizations, have played a big part in our accomplishments. As everyone in this business knows land conservation can get very complicated and we are grateful for the expertise we receive from all of our professional firms (legal, surveyor, appraisal, environmental, land acquisition, land stewardship, and accounting) as they all have contributed to our achievements, often at discounted rates.
Most of all, we are grateful for the broad community support we receive each and every year from individuals and families who live here and appreciate the importance of our mission. Over the past 20 years, with your support, we have been instrumental in preserving over 700 acres of Tewksbury’s landscape. The Lance Farm on Fox Hill Road, The Christmas Tree Farm on Saw Mill Road and the Jeffrey Property on Water Street are spectacular properties that have been preserved in perpetuity for the enjoyment of this and future generations. Our partnerships in preserving Hill and Dale Farm, Fox Hill Preserve and the Elizabethtown Reservoir have made these properties available for public enjoyment. These are just a sampling of the significant accomplishment we have attained.
Laurence S. Ross, President; Christopher J. Teasdale, Secretary; Nancy L. Held, Treasurer
Theodore G. Koven, Co-Founder
Jason Bohm, Geoffrey S. Close, Wayne J. Lisa, Jonathan N. Olsen, Hilary J. Prouty, Gregg E. Frankel, Alison M. Jones, Kenneth H. Klipstein, Sandra O. Ross, John S. Sommer
Ted Koven, co-founder of TLT, moved to Mountainville with his new bride, Stephanie, in 1962. Tewksbury Township was a close-knit, rural farming community where most everyone knew each other. There were no subdivisions back then; it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the onslaught began - first around Pottersville, then westward along the I-78 corridor to Oldwick. By the late 80s, Hunterdon County was one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.
Ted and Steph have never idly watched the changes in the community from the sidelines. They have, from the start, immersed themselves in the fabric of the place they love. Over the years Ted has been active in just about every dimension of what makes this community special. Civically, he has served as Mayor, Committeeman, Board of Health Chair, Environmental Commission Chair, Planning Board Member and Republican County Committee Representative. He is a past President of the Raritan Headwaters Association (formerly Upper Raritan Watershed Association) and has long had a passion for running and "whipping" with the Tewksbury Foot Bassets.
So it was not a surprise when, in 1991, Ted began rallying support to organize a land trust dedicated to preserving open space and farmland in Tewksbury Township. His parents had recently gifted 35 acres to the start-up Harding Land Trust and that further motivated him to champion the many benefits of land conservation in Tewksbury. It was clear to Ted that, even with the three and five acre lot zoning in place at the time, it would be necessary to proactively preserve large tracts of land - or risk losing the rural character. Ted discussed how to proceed with other conservation-minded leaders from across Hunterdon County who had begun meeting about forming a county-wide land conservancy. It was ultimately decided by Ted and the Tewksbury contingent that the best opportunity for near-term success in preserving Tewksbury land would result from forming a locally-based entity. Ted got to work learning about the necessary steps to start a non-profit land conservancy.
In 1992, Ted sought the advice of Jim Wyse, a non-profit land preservation attorney, to help establish a new land conservancy. He was set on incorporating the new organization as “The Tewksbury Land Trust” and it was Jim Wyse, on behalf of the recently organized Harding Land Trust, who successfully convinced the State that a “trust” could be something other than a bank. TLT was officially incorporated as a New Jersey Non-Profit Corporation in June, 1993, and in August, 1994, the Federal Government recognized it as a non-profit organization under IRS code section 501(c)(3).
Early supporters met officially in the spring of 1994 to adopt by-laws and elect officers and trustees. The inaugural group included: Kenneth H. Klipstein, President, Robert Boak, Vice-President, Michael Rothpletz, Jr., Secretary, Theodore G. Koven, Treasurer, Geoffrey Connor, Thomas Dillon, and William Marfuggi.
The first big break came when Harris and Betts Smith contacted Ted to express an interest in donating an easement on their renowned Sheep Farm on Farmersville Road. The Smith Farm was well known for the traditional Scottish Sheep Festival held there annually. The Smith Easement was an amazing gift for the new cause. Working through the details of preserving a family farm and addressing the sensitive estate planning issues that come with the territory was exactly why TLT was organized. The Smith gift provided the financial leverage and credibility to do more. Once again, Jim Wyse was incredibly helpful in providing the legal support and insight needed to perfect these deals.
In the early 1990s there was a significant groundswell of support for land conservation in response to constant development pressure felt across Hunterdon County. Ted and the rest of the Tewksbury Township Committee and volunteer municipal boards were concerned that court ordered “builders remedies” would undermine the Master Plan and that the quiet historic villages and bucolic farmland would be gobbled up by suburban sprawl and office complexes. Specific concern focused on the large lots to the south of Oldwick, the subject of litigation that had undermined the zoning in favor of high-density development to satisfy affordable housing formulas mandated by the State. The Cold Brook Preserve protected the north end of the village and many residents felt strongly that there should be a “greenbelt” around the historic village. TLT and other interested local groups collaborated with Tewksbury Township and the developer to successfully negotiate a compromise development proposal that provided significant open space buffers in the area just south of Oldwick.
Additional success has been achieved with local farmers as TLT helped guide them in protecting their farms through the farmland preservation program. Myron Hoffman, John Crimi and many others have preserved their farms with TLT's support and encouragement.
But it was not until May, 2002, that the TLT was able to close on its first major land purchase, the 50-acre Christmas Tree Farm on Saw Mill Road. As is common with many preservation projects, this one was years in the making. In 1999, former Township Committeeman Don Harjes initiated a conversation with John Johns, the 85-year-old owner of the Tree Farm. Johns bought the property in 1955 “because the land was just so pretty.” He slowly transformed the property into a tree farm and for twenty-five years sold “cut your own” trees during the holiday season. The efforts of TLT enabled the purchase of the property for the fair market appraised value of $725,000. Fifty percent of the cost was funded through a grant from the State’s Green Acres Program and the other half was funded through a credit derived from the Harris & Betts Smith Farm Easement.
Since learning the ropes through these initial transactions, the TLT Board has completed or provided funding toward over a dozen land easements and acquisition projects.
There have been huge changes over the past two decades that have altered the emphasis and mission of TLT in subtle ways. More protective zoning, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act and the downturn in the economy have contributed to dampening the pace of sprawl. These changes have permitted fewer circumstances where land needs to be “saved from the bulldozer.” We have adopted a more strategic philosophy of establishing connectors and greenways that will have the dual benefit of protecting open space and farmland while providing publicly accessible trail networks that span the Township.
TLT has matured in many ways since those early years. We are still a lean, all volunteer board but we have developed service agreements with two long time partners to provide staff support to our two primary functions, “land acquisition” and “stewardship.” Since 2004, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation has provided us with staff support of our land acquisition efforts. Beth Davisson, Tewksbury resident and New Jersey Conservation Foundation staffer, is our “go to” person for land acquisition support and she has ably performed this critical role for us. More recently, we have structured an agreement with the Hunterdon Land Trust to assist us with the many responsibilities of stewarding our conserved properties. As the number of properties owned by TLT has increased, stewardship has surely become our area of greatest need. That is why, in 2012, TLT developed a Stewardship Template and Action Plans for our preserved properties.
With good planning, solid partnerships, and ongoing volunteer support we will continue to fulfill our mission. It is truly because we are blessed with a broad base of community support that TLT is well positioned for the future.
In addition to our board members, many volunteers have joined us on weekends to eradicate invasives and establish trails under the supervision of The Hunterdon County Land Trust’s conservation expert, Tom Thorsen.
Other volunteers, such as Terry McNamara and Glenn Likus, even bringing tractors and heavy equipment to these efforts.
We appreciate the efforts of Joni Valerio for building the initial version of our web site.
We also appreciate the photography of the township archives, TLT trustees and photographer Sandy Ross.