The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has added 202 acres of an old blueberry farm, woodlands and wetlands to its existing Evert Trail Preserve in the Pine Barrens, more than doubling the amount of land conserved there for public access.
The Evert Trail Preserve off Route 642 in Southampton Township, Burlington County, now totals 372 acres, and connects directly to the 37,000-acre Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in the heart of the Pinelands.
“It’s huge for us,” said Stephanie Kreiser, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s assistant director of land acquisition for South Jersey. “Doubling its size is really important in terms of migratory bird habitat. It’s a great birding spot. So to make that available for the public is really incredible.”
Kreiser said the addition, known as Blueberry Acres, was purchased for $410,000 from multiple property owners.
The deal was led by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. It was funded largely through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres program. The Open Space Institute and Nature Conservancy contributed as well.
The acquisition “is crucial to protecting water quality in the Rancocas Creek, the only Pine Barrens watershed that drains west to the Delaware River,” said a statement from the Trust for Public Land.
The trust has deeded the property to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which will manage the land.
Kreiser said the Evert Trail Preserve currently has a 1.5-mile trail that winds through a dense wetlands forest, crossed by boardwalks. Portions of the trail are often wet and muddy, and follow along Stop the Jade Run, a tributary of the Rancocas River.
That trail will be extended into the new property, or a new one will be created.
“The good thing is that there are already existing sand roads and trails on the property that the public is welcome to walk on,” Kreiser said. “We just have not yet had the chance to formalize a trail system. We will do that, but it will take a little bit of time.”
The original Evert Trail Preserve was donated in 1984. It lies in a transition area between two major geological areas, the inner and outer coastal plains, according to the foundation. The preserve’s forested wetlands contain the highest species diversity of breeding neotropical warblers, vireos and other songbirds anywhere on New Jersey’s coastal plain.
Kreiser said the deal for the new land, which has a different character because it was farmland, began in 2017.