South Jersey Edition
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Small Conservation Organization Does Big Things for South Jersey

Southern New Jersey has an abundance of natural resources, from sprawling wetlands to picturesque farmlands. Increased land development, however, has put these natural areas at risk. Fortunately, one small nonprofit organization is working to conserve and protect the beauty and utility of South Jersey’s unique environment—and to provide opportunities for people of all ages to learn about it. 

South Jersey Land and Water Trust (SJLWT) is making a big impact on the environment in our state. They’ve organized cleanups, conducted stream testing, advocated for better environmental policies, and more. Also, of course, they preserve land and water habitats in the state. As of this year, they have preserved more than 1,500 acres of open space and 600-plus acres of farmland. 

Their motivation is preserving land and water so that life—both natural and human—can thrive. “We’re protecting our shared resources,” says Christine Nolan, the executive director of the organization. “The air we breathe, the land we get our food from, the water we drink—all of these are affected by human impact to the natural environment.” The work that SJLWT does— conserving natural areas that improve air quality, preserving the farmland where our food grows and cleaning areas where our drinking water comes from—ensures that these shared resources continue to be available to us. 

Certainly, local flora and fauna benefit from SJLWT’s work, as well. The open spaces they’ve preserved have provided habitats for countless species of plants and animals that would’ve been pushed out had builders developed those areas.

Tall Pines State Preserve, in Mantua Township, is one of SJLWT’s most well-known preserved spaces. The vast meadows and thickets of trees completely mask its past as it used to be a golf course. Yet, over the course of several years, many partners have worked to convert the area into natural space. Now the area is home to beavers, foxes and many species of birds and plants. Further, the wide, paved trails have made it a popular location with locals that use the preserve to bird watch, hike and jog. 

They also protected Oldman’s Creek Preserve, in Swedesboro. This newly restored preserve is a hidden gem in South Jersey, offering countless nature activities for visitors. The trails at this preserve weave through wooded areas, over gently rippling streams and past tranquil ponds. Signage along the trails inform visitors about the wildlife in the area. There’s access to Oldman’s Creek which people can kayak, and also enjoy a labyrinth and a fire pit. The historic house on the preserve serves as SJLWT’s headquarters. 

The SJLWT has been able to accomplish all this with a small staff via “partnerships,” says Nolan. “We partner with other nonprofits, churches, volunteer groups and with government entities.” She emphasizes that they’re open to partnerships of all kinds as “You do not have to specialize in the environment for us to organize and get something done.” At SJLWT, they understand that it takes a community of passionate individuals working together to help improve our local environment. 
 

One of their most valuable partnerships also serves as an educational program—the Eagle Scouts. Much of the restoration of Oldman’s Creek Preserve was made possible through the partnership with the Eagle Scouts. Young men in this organization built the fire pit, cleared and created some of the trails, and built birdhouses and benches for the property. The preserve also serves as a location for Eagle Scout meetings and events. 

SJLWT provides additional educational programs as well. At SJLWT, they believe it’s vital to provide educational opportunities because “it’s important for people to understand how the environment works around them and why we must protect it,” according to Nolan. They’ve put this belief into action as they seek to provide educational programming for people of all ages and experience levels.

One of their popular educational programs is their Walks in the Woods series. These guided nature walks—which are open to the public—take place in different parks and preserves around South Jersey. Michael Hogan, the program manager for the organization, leads these with passion and vigor. On the walks, Hogan teaches attendees how to identify local plants, gives bits of trivia about local wildlife and discusses how history shaped the natural environment. He’s an endless fountain of information about South Jersey’s natural and cultural history, and attendees of these walks always walk away wide-eyed with everything they’ve learned. 

SJLWT also provides educational opportunities for young people hoping for a future career in the environment. They’re partnered with the AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassadors program and provide internships for college students as well. 

More recently, SJLWT has added two new projects to their repertoire. They’re working to build rain gardens that serve as a natural filter for rain water, and have started up a Citizen Science program. This program seeks to help the public to learn more about water quality. It’s open to school groups, college students, interns or anyone else interested in learning about watershed stewardship. 

At SJLWT, they understand that it takes passion, education and community to protect our natural spaces. Also, while the work can be challenging, it’s also vital because, as Nolan says, “When we’re protecting our environment, we’re protecting a healthy way of life for all living species including us.” 

Nicole Lloyd is a Philadelphia-area freelance writer and blogger specializing in the environment, natural history, and anthropology. Subscribe to her blog at GetWonderstruck.com. For writing services visit nicolelloydwriting.com 

For more information about becoming a member and how to support the efforts of South Jersey Land & Water Trust visit SJLANDWATER.ORG or Follow them on Facebook. 

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