Funding for nine Morris County open space projects—including Morristown's Early Street Community Garden—were approved by the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Wednesday.
Freeholders approved shifting $4.4 million from the county's Preservation Trust Fund to help preserve 84 acres of open space in eight towns. The largest grant award, $2,075,000, will go to the Harding Land Trust for preservation of 43.5 acres in Harding and Morris townships known as "Frelinghuysen Fields 2."
A grant of $1,575,000 was awarded to Morristown to acquire nearly an acre of land occupied by Grow it Green Morristown's Early Street Community Garden. For several years, the non-profit organization has maintained the garden on land once slated for development.
The money approved by freeholders will in part be used to expand the number of garden beds, provide a public park area along the sidewalk and establish a publicly-accessible walking path through the garden.
Once the property is purchased by the town, it will then be leased to Grow it Green Morristown.
While optimistic, Carolle Huber, one of Grow it Green Morristown's founding partners, said the freeholder decision to support the project was not a slam dunk.
"This is a huge sum of money for a small piece of property," she said. "The county's recognizing that an acre in Morristown is going to be much more expensive than an acre in Long Valley. There is importance in open space in an urban area. It's huge that we got this."
"I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Morris County Freeholders for recognizing the fact that funding this small property will have a huge impact on the Morristown community, an urban community in Morris County that has very little open space left," said Myra Bowie McCready, another Grow it Green founder. "I would also like to thank the team at the Trust for Public Land. Kathy Hakke has been wonderful in bringing this project for the Town of Morristown and GIGM to fruition. And a special thanks goes to the owner of the property, Tim Jones, for hanging in there with us for the past three years and to all the gardeners and supporters that realized that something very special was happening on this little piece of property."
Haake, project manager for Trust for Public Land—the national land preservation organization handling purchase of the property—thanked county freeholders for recognizing the importance of the project.
"An urban garden is a great way to get people you don't typically see out on the land," she said. "It's definitely a community builder. This type of urban area benefits from this. We really appreciate the support of the Morris County Freeholders."
Closing on the land is not expected for several months, Haake said, as some additional funding is still needed. However, she said that money would be in-hand by the time the land officially is handed over to Morristown.
The Frelinghuysen Fields property, southeast of Harter Road and James Street on the Harding and Morris Township border, consists of wooded wetlands surrounded by crop and pastureland, and will be used for passive recreation.
Other preservation projects were in Denville, Chatham Township, Mountain Lakes, Washington Township and Pequannock. A complete list of the 2012 approved projects can be found on the Morris County Preservation Trust website.