(November 10, 2011) On Election Day fifty years ago, New Jersey voters approved the first Green Acres bond act, setting into motion a program that has produced a green legacy in the State and has become a national model for open space preservation. In recognition of this significant anniversary, the New Jersey Keep It Green Coalition released today A Legacy of Green: Celebrating 50 Years of the Green Acres Program (www.njkeepitgreen.org), which reports on the Program’s tremendous successes and unfinished work in the Garden State.
The New Jersey Keep It Green Coalition, comprised of over 140 member groups representing conservation, agriculture, historic preservation, wildlife and recreation interests, celebrated the accomplishments of Green Acres while underscoring the need to secure sustainable funding to continue the legacy of the Program.
”The Green Acres Program has benefitted every county of the State and made it a better place to live, work and raise a family,” said Tom Gilbert of The Trust for Public Land, Chairman of NJ Keep It Green. “Thanks to bipartisan support from the Christie Administration, the State Legislature and the voters who approved yet another bond measure in 2009, the program continues to be funded in the short-term, but those funds will run dry next year.”
Over the past fifty years, Green Acres has preserved more than 650,000 acres of open space and provided hundreds of parks and outdoor recreational facilities in every county, made possible in part through partnerships with other government and nonprofit entities. Green Acres has not only preserved critical lands and waters for future generations but increased access to green spaces for urban and rural residents alike.
“The Green Acres Program has a remarkable record of preserving lands and creating parks and recreational opportunities for the people of New Jersey. Governor Christie and the State Legislature need to take action to continue this, the most successful land conservation program in the nation,” said Tom Wells, Director of Government Relations of the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Echoed David Epstein, President of The Land Conservancy of New Jersey, “The Green Acres program has helped to make New Jersey a better place for every resident to live by blessing us with clean water, urban parks, wildlife habitat, public beaches, numerous hiking trails and much more. But with state open space preservation funds nearly exhausted, the best birthday present that the legislature could give to Green Acres and the residents of New Jersey is a new stable funding source to continue this popular program for the next 50 years.”
The report points out that funding dedicated to Green Acres is a wise investment that more than pays for itself through the economic, environmental, and health benefits it returns. Parks, playgrounds, and open spaces made possible by Green Acres encourage healthy lifestyles, raise property values, and support significant tourism and recreation industries in the State.
“The New Jersey Green Acres Program has been an extremely important source of funding for parks and recreation improvements across New Jersey, said Bill Foelsch of the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association. “It has an unparalleled legacy of providing playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools, beaches, trails, and outdoor recreation spaces for an increasingly outdoor-focused and fitness-oriented population. This investment is often overlooked in assessing the true costs of health care in our State. The Green Acres program has had a significant impact in keeping Garden State residents healthier and, in turn, reducing overall health care costs. Green Acres' return on investment is huge when you consider the health, resource protection, and economic benefits associated with open space preservation and access for community recreation."
Preserved land also provides environmental benefits such as clean drinking water and flood and wildlife habitat protection.
“50 years ago bald eagles, osprey and peregrine falcons were on the brink of extinction in our state. Today, thanks in large part, to protected open space, our skies are once again populated by these magnificent birds,” said Margaret O’Gorman, Executive Director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, “but, continued investment in preservation and stewardship is still a critical need to ensure that other species are not lost to extinction and rare populations in New Jersey are allowed to recover.”
Despite the accomplishments of the Green Acres Program and other state, local, and nonprofit preservation efforts, significant land and water preservation needs remain in the Highlands, the Pinelands, Barnegat Bay, the Delaware Bayshore and other important natural areas throughout the State.
“Highlands preservation has a long history and an important future, none of which could be or would have been accomplished without Green Acres or Green Acres funding,” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. “New Jersey's residents' commitment to open space preservation is remarkable, but it is because they understand the connection between it and protecting their quality of life, and their ability to access plentiful, clean water.”
Matt Blake, Delaware Bay Program Manager of the American Littoral Society agreed. “Preservation has always been a bipartisan and popular issue across New Jersey, but we still have much unfinished work to accomplish if we are going to succeed in protecting and preserving some of our last great places like the Delaware Bay, its picturesque farms, lakes, rivers, and unspoiled forests.”
New Jersey’s citizens do not have adequate access to quality parks and recreation opportunities in every community, especially in urban areas. Further, many of the lands and parks made possible by the Green Acres Program are in need of further investment to address ecological threats, such as invasive species, and to repair deteriorating facilities. The work of Green Acres is not complete.
"Today, one third of New Jersey’s land is permanently preserved as open space – a total acreage that exceeds the size of Grand Canyon National Park!" said Alison Mitchell, Policy Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "Despite this success, New Jersey has only one more year of preservation funding. Now is the time for Governor Christie and our legislative leaders to adopt a long-term, dedicated funding source for Green Acres acquisitions, as well as farmland and historic preservation."
“Safeguarding and building upon the Green Acres legacy is of utmost importance now; it is the best way to ensure important land and water protection and access to quality parks and recreation for our children and generations to come,” Kelly Mooij, Coordinator NJ Keep It Green.
To view the new report, visit www.njkeepitgreen.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.