The final 20 acres of the St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell have been purchased with funding from several private donors and the Mercer County open space program. More than $600,000 was raised to purchase the land that serves as the pedestrian entrance to the property, officials said.
In 2010, the St. Michaels Farm Preserve was created by the D&R Greenway and local residents who donated their personal funds, together raising $11 million. The alternative was a large development that residents said would have destroyed the small-town character of Hopewell Borough.
With the new property acquisition, the St. Michaels Farm Preserve is now more than 400 acres.
“We have had our eyes on preserving this parcel since we closed on the first transaction with the Diocese of Trenton,” says D&R Greenway Vice-President Jay Watson. “The diocese could have sold it for development. It was our persistence that put us in a position to complete the deal.”
The property, the site of the St. Michaels Orphanage from 1897 until 1973, will be used for passive recreation. The diocese kept the 20 acres from the original acquisition with the intention of building a parish house on the site.
“When they decided to divest themselves of this property, it was only natural that it become a part of our preserve and a special place to honor the many children who lived here for nearly a hundred years,” said Linda Mead, president and CEO of the D&R Greenway. “The D&R Greenway has become known for our ability to act quickly to raise the funds that enable preservation in times when public funding is reduced. We are all so grateful to those that stepped forward to enable this legacy.”
The D&R Greenway plans to preserve artifacts at the site to help tell the story of the children who once lived on the property, which once housed 400 children. “We hope to engage a landscape architect to create a park-like setting where visitors can contemplate nature,” Watson said. “This part of the preserve will become a place for healing and reflection.”
The 20-acre open space parcel will serve as a transition from Hopewell Borough to the farm preserve, and includes a tributary to Bedens Brook. The D&R Greenway will clean up the site, conduct an inventory of the trees, and improve the pedestrian entrance.
St. Michaels Farm Preserve is managed by D&R Greenway as a community resource with active farmland, native plant meadows, trails and green space. Sheep, kestrels, purple martins, bluebirds and pollinator meadows attract walkers, nature lovers, photographers, filmmakers and community members.
“This acquisition adds to the St. Michaels and the larger Hopewell Borough greenbelt, a priority project in the County’s Master Plan since 1995,” said Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. “In total the greenbelt provides close to 600 acres of preserved land that protects spectacular views of the Hopewell Valley and the Borough, as well as protecting environmentally significant open space for the region.”
The D&R Greenway has protected an additional 700 acres on the north side of the borough that extends the greenbelt.