More than 440 acres of a New Jersey Pinelands cranberry farm dating to the Civil War will be preserved and open to the public but closed to off-road vehicles to help protect waterways and wildlife.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation, using grants from several sources, bought the Burlington County property that spans Woodland and Southampton Townships for $560,000.  It announced the August sale and plans for the property on Monday.

The land is the site of the former Birches Cranberry Co., most recently owned by the Thompson and Wright families.  The 442 acres include 5.5 miles of streams, including the pristine Burrs Mill Brook, a tributary of the Rancocas Creek, which ultimately flows into the Delaware River.

Cranberry production was halted in 2004 and the land has been allowed to revert  back to the wetlands and pitch pine forest characteristic of the area, which is within the Pinelands National Reserve.

Scene from a 442-acre cranberry farm purchased by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Woodland  and Southampton Townships, Burlington County.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Scene from a 442-acre cranberry farm purchased by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Woodland  and Southampton Townships, Burlington County.

"This is a gorgeous property, with the Burrs Mill Brook running along its entire length and old cranberry bogs being reclaimed by nature," said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "We're very grateful to our preservation partners for making this project possible."

The New Jersey Pinelands Commission, a state agency that oversees the Pinelands Preserve, contributed $169,000 to the purchase as part of an effort to address off-road vehicle use.  Other groups that helped pay for the deal are the New Jersey Green Acres Program, Rancocas Conservancy, Open Space Institute, William Penn Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Victoria Foundation and the Nature Conservancy.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation said the land will be open to the public "for passive recreation, including hiking, birding and nature observation."  A trail network will be built from existing sand roads that border what were once working cranberry bogs.  The land will be managed as part of the foundation's existing 1,227-acre Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, about a mile to the east on Route 70.

The land is home to various species of wildlife and should be attractive to birders, with inhabitants including bald eagles, red-headed woodpeckers, barred owls, brown thrashers, great blue herons, worm-eating warblers and eastern whip-poor-wills.  Other species that also breed or find habitat on the property include American black and mallard ducks, ring-necked and northern pintail ducks, buffleheads and wood ducks.

Those involved in the purchase say it is important in the effort to keep the waterways that feed the Delaware River clean.  The Rancocas Creek flows from the Pinelands to the Delaware, accounting for one-tenth of the Delaware River's total flow.  Much of the creek's flow comes from the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, 17 trillion gallons of water that rests under the Pinelands.