History of the Division of Parks and Recreation
Parks, Recreation, and Conservation
Since the early 1960s, the citizens of Hunterdon County have expressed their concerns about preserving the rural and agricultural character of the County. This desire has developed, over the past four decades, into a land preservation movement throughout the County. In recent years, partnerships have formed with private, municipal, County, State, and non-profit organizations, to preserve open space by various means throughout Hunterdon County. These continued partnerships will result in providing areas for future generations in which to view nature and enjoy quiet moments along a stream or river. It will provide places where residents and visitors can fish, hunt, play golf, participate in team and individual sports, and enjoy other recreational pursuits. The diverse natural features of our Hunterdon County parklands include rocky cliffs, fields, forests, streams, rivers, marshes, and ponds. Come and visit our beautiful County and enjoy some of nature's best offerings in the State of New Jersey.
A Chronology of Administrative Evolution and Parkland Acquisition
In the early 1960s, a Citizen's Advisory Group was formed to preserved open space in the County. For nearly a decade, this group worked to pave the way for the development of a county-wide park system.
The first County parkland, the Wescott Nature Preserve, was established in 1966, through the donation of 15 acres of land in Delaware Township, by Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Wescott. An additional donation of approximately 66 acres was made by Mr. and Mrs. Wescott in 1972. Today the Wescott Nature Preserve consists of 74 acres.
In 1973, the Citizens Advisory Group evolved into the Hunterdon County Board of Recreation Commissioners. Under the guidance of the Board, approximately 4,300 acres of County parkland was purchased over a 27-year period, through donations, and using non-profit, state, and federal money.
On January 1, 2001, the Board of Recreation Commissioners was reorganized into the Hunterdon County Division of Parks and Recreation, and a group of citizen volunteers, known as the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board was appointed. Since the changeover, the park system has increased dramatically, and the new County position of Open Space Coordinator was established, to assist in land acquisition. Also during this time, the County voters approved an Open Space Tax, to provide funding for the acquisition of lands for recreation, conservation, and general open space as well as farmland preservation. In November 2004, Hunterdon County voters approved a second ballot question to continue the Open Space Tax, for the 5-year period commencing January 1, 2005 and ending December 31, 2009. Since the Open Space Tax has been collected, over 9,500 acres of land have been preserved for open space, farmland, and conservation purposes.
Presently, the Hunterdon County Park System comprises over 8,700 acres of land, in 29 areas. This land can be best described as: Unimproved Natural Areas, Improved Natural Areas, Linked/Greenway Areas, General Use Areas, and Special Use Areas. Each of these park area categories provides a different type of environment and public use. Of course, each type also has different maintenance and habitat management goals and requirements.
The County's long-term goal is to add another 10,000 acres of land (more or less) to the Park System through fee simple purchases and conservation easements. This may also include lands that are jointly purchased by Hunterdon County, the State, municipalities and nonprofit conservation organizations or owned outright by the State Department of Environmental Protection and/or the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, and managed by the Hunterdon County Division of Parks and Recreation, for a public park, recreation, and conservation purposes. This would place the County's total parkland holdings at nearly 6% of the total available land area (approximately 279,680 acres) in Hunterdon County.
Development of Recreational Facilities
The County presently has 29 individual park areas. They can be described as essentially passive park areas, some of which serve to buffer waterways, forming greenway corridors. Some contain parking areas, picnic, and camping areas, and nature study opportunities. Several are more developed and contain formal group areas and ball fields. The majority of Hunterdon County park properties are located in Raritan, Readington, Clinton and Lebanon Townships.
Many hiking, bicycle, and horseback riding trails are located in park areas such as Cold Brook Preserve, Round Mountain Section of Deer Path Park, Point Mountain Section of the Musconetcong River Reservation, portions of the South Branch River Reservation, Wescott Nature Preserve, Hoffman Park, Charlestown Reservation, and Teetertown Ravine Nature Preserve. Echo Hill Park and Teetertown Preserve host large group campsites, Teetertown also has the County's first-ever public wilderness campsites.
Picnic facilities are located at Echo Hill Park, the County Arboretum, Deer Path Park, several areas along the South Branch River Reservation, Hoffman Park, Point Mountain Section of the Musconetcong River Reservation, and Teetertown Preserve. Deer Path Park also has several large, reservable group picnic facilities.
Parking is provided at most of the above-mentioned areas. Horse trailer parking is not provided in all the areas that have horse trails, however, so a phone call to the park office is recommended.
Hunting is allowed on over 5,100 acres of the 8,700-acre Hunterdon County Park System. The County's successful Controlled Hunting Program restricts individual hunters to specific park sites, which is limited by the size of the park and surrounding public safety zones. An overall ratio of 1-hunter-to-20-acres of huntable property is maintained. Hunters return survey information at season's end, to help the County measure the effectiveness of the Controlled Hunting Program annually. Fishing, on a catch-and-release basis, is allowed in virtually all park areas. The State Fish and Wildlife Rules and Regulations regulate all hunting and fishing activities.
In terms of active recreation, the County has one golf facility, the Heron Glen Golf Course, in Raritan Township. In addition, Deer Path Park has a softball field and 2 soccer fields. Weekly free public concerts are held throughout the summer at Deer Path Park, which is presently the County's only designated general use park area. The Division of Parks and Recreation offers a diverse array of recreational, music, art, crafts, canoeing, and camp programs, in many of its park areas, as well as travel programs off-site. Educational programs for groups and individuals are also offered, which interpret natural resource and environmental topics, and significant area history. These popular programs are described on this website. The current trend in Hunterdon County is that municipalities have taken the lead in developing high-use ballfield areas, court surface facilities, and active use parks.
In August 2004, the County Fairgrounds facility in East Amwell Township became the new home of the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair. The fair also celebrated its 100th anniversary that year! A wide variety of other large-scale public recreational activities are also held on that site. Upon the acquisition and development of additional adjacent properties, the Fairgrounds serves as the nucleus of a larger general use park, known as the South County Park.
Parks and Recreation Division's Mission and Goals
As indicated above, Hunterdon County parks can best be described as providing passive recreational opportunities. The long-standing policy, especially in light of the current rate of residential and commercial development, is that the purchase of additional open space is by far the highest and best use of public funding in Hunterdon County, when compared to developing active parks and facilities. Public utilization of County properties has largely been limited to low-impact activities (as described above), which reduces the need for park maintenance, thus allowing the County to focus available public funding in the area of open space acquisition. Portable rest facilities, as opposed to permanent flush units and septic fields, are provided in several park areas. As the Park System gets closer to meeting its projected preservation goals, additional areas may be developed as "general" and special use parks. In any case, the County recognizes that public utilization of park properties and park development, in general, will be conducted in an environmentally responsible fashion. The environmental character of park sites will be preserved to the greatest extent possible. Environmentally sensitive areas, containing endangered species, the recognized habitat elements and/or breeding grounds for endangered species, as well as areas having steep slopes, rock face habitats, wetlands, floodplains, significant woodlands and / or grassland meadows, will be managed to promote habitat and biodiversity.