Montgomery Township preserves 62 more acres in the Sourlands

Beech trees on the 62-acre Sourlands property that fronts Spring Hill Road in Montgomery.

Montgomery Township officials closed on a deal this Tuesday that preserves 62 more acres of land that once was a camp site in the Sourlands for open space.

The property, mostly forest, fronts Spring Hill Road. Officials targeted it for preservation because of its sensitive environmental characteristics and proximity to other preserved lands. It is currently undeveloped except for some old trails. Two streams, wetlands, steeply sloping hills, and a mature forest cover the land.

“This 62-acre tract is a pivotal preservation for the Township,” said Montgomery Mayor Mark Conforti. “We are connecting several other open space parcels to create a larger preserved tract. This adds more value for wildlife management and passive recreation. Closing on this piece also prevents development that could strain the water supply in this section of town.”

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped the township broker the deal with the landowner. The purchase price for the property was about $1.05 million, half of which was provided through grants by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program. The other half was funded by Montgomery Township’s open space tax.

“We are thrilled to preserve another large tract of land in town,” said Montgomery Deputy Mayor Christine Madrid. “This is a unique and amazingly beautiful part of the Sourlands which could have been lost. It has forested slopes, streams, springs, and provides access to other adjacent open space.”

According to the deed for the property, it was sold by Angelo and Sofia Arecco to the Trenton Christian Camp Association in 1953. The property was sold again in 1973. Research by the Van Harlingen Historical Society indicates that this property played an important role in the lives of the Italian-Americans who settled on Spring Hill Road in the late 1920s. Some of the families still live in Montgomery. Many Italian immigrants worked building tunnels and other infrastructure in New York City, then bought farms in Montgomery to raise their families. According to recorded oral histories by Walter Baker, the Arecco family built one of the first swimming pools in township, filling the pool with fresh local spring water. The family also and built summer dwellings for boarders to escape the city heat. Guests enjoyed traditions from “the old country,” including bocce ball, group singalongs, and  homemade wine. ATrenton affiliate of the Christian Camp Association later ran “Camp Delaware” on the property for two decades.

According to Montgomery Open Space Coordinator Lauren Wasilauski, some possible passive uses of the property that township officials are considering include hiking trail development, woodland management and deer hunting.