The efforts of The Land Conservatory of New Jersey (LCNJ) continue to help in the ongoing battle to keep what remains of West Milford’s existing environmental paradise in its natural state.
An area that officially is named Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve totals 241 acres with the recent LCNJ purchase of the final 43-acre land addition to the preserve. The name of Board Chair Nancy Congers is not widely known throughout the township unless people have followed the LCNJ website.
“Preserving this remarkable property was a struggle that we were losing until Nancy got involved to lead the effort,” LCNJ President David Epstein explained in 2019 when the area was officially named. “She is our hero and I can think of no one more deserving of this honor.”
The original 198-acre park was established in 2017 to preserve the headwaters of the West Brook, a major source of clean water for the Wanaque Reservoir that supplies two million New Jersey residents with their potable water supply.
In 2020 the LCNJ completed a restoration project directing the brook back into its original stream bed with the wetlands reflooded. More water will now go into the reservoir during dry times, erosion will be reduced and native species will again flourish. The brook is seen as an ideal environment for the disappearing native trout species.
The latest property purchase is the second major addition to the preserve that officially opened in 2020. In a published report Sandy Urgo, vice president of LCNJ said West Brook presents a singular opportunity to lift up a property where significant natural resources remain, in spite of manmade alterations and years of neglect.
Noting that the park has tremendous potential, Urgo went on to say the LCNJ looks forward to restoring the biodiversity of this land and improving the quality of the water leaving the site before it makes its way downstream to the Wanaque Reservoir.
The purchase was made in part with contributions from the New Jersey Highlands Council, the Passaic River Coalition and individual donors. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Fish and Wildlife are assisting with the restoration effort. The New Jersey Highlands Council was able to bring half the funding for the project through access to the Federal Highlands Conservation Act grant program.
The new section of property is across the road from the majority of the preserve. It has a pond and waterways that flow into West Brook, that in turn goes into the Wanaque Reservoir. The newly acquired site has been impacted by manmade changes to the landscape over a period of years and needs remediation. The latest efforts will build on the work done thus far to improve the area ecosystem for resident plants and animals, protect the wetlands from further degradation, and make them more resilient to flooding and drought.
With much still to be done, the LCNJ already has had property cleanups. There is an invasive species problem and planting along the pond shoreline now need to be addressed. The restoration project, approved for federal funding by the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program, will remove a dam and an old barn. The LCNJ is now pursuing Green Acres funding for ongoing stewardship of the land.