“It takes people like us to say you don’t have to pave everything.” In 1976, lifelong New Jerseyan Jack Branagan left Bergen County and built a log cabin amid the green forests of Stillwater Township. Within months, he learned a developer was eyeing a large parcel of trees and wetlands across the street to build 170 townhouses. But Jack had other plans.
“No way I was going to let a developer get his hands on that land,” says Jack. He galvanized the local community to oppose the project and ultimately purchased the land himself to save it from development.
Fast forward 40 years. Jack and his wife, Sara, have sold the 55 acres to The Nature Conservancy at a much reduced price. Their generosity made possible the purchase of a critical piece of The Conservancy’s vision for a ridge-to-ridge greenway from the Kittatinny to the Highlands that will unite what is now a patchwork of preserved lands and link to nearly 400,000 acres of additional protected habitat in New Jersey and surrounding states.
That means roaming animals like bobcats, the last remaining wild felines here, will be able to move freely while avoiding the perils of highways like Route 80. And that streams will stay clean and trees will continue to clean the air.
“New Jersey offers so much diversity of habitat for people and wildlife, and we need to protect those places,” say Jack and Sara.
“The Nature Conservancy has given us the best feeling to see our land preserved forever. And to be able to look out from our porch and see all that beautiful forest and hear the frogs and the birds, we are in New Jersey, and, well, we’re also just in heaven.”
The planned ridge-to-ridge greenway runs from the Kittatinny to the Highlands. "The preserved habitat will benefit lots of New Jersey’s resident and migratory wildlife, but amongst ourselves, we affectionately call this project ‘Bobcat Alley’ because we know it’s a sweet spot for them and that they really need it,” says Eric Olsen, Director of Lands Program for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey.
The Nature Conservancy’s Blair Creek Preserve and Johnsonburg Swamp Preserve together represent more than 1,300 acres of the natural corridor, which once complete will link to the Delaware Water Gap and nearly 400,000 acres of additional protected habitat in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
“There is a solid base of protected lands here already, and the land that isn’t conserved yet is of high quality,” says Olsen. “Bobcats are truly a symbol of wildness. There aren’t many creatures in New Jersey that give you that sense. We have an incredible opportunity to make a lasting difference for these animals right here and right now.”