Montgomery Purchases Land to Expand Bessie Grover ParkPosted on August 8, 2019
On July 29 Montgomery Township acquired new open space along the Rock Brook on Camp Meeting Avenue. This purchase will enlarge Bessie Grover Park and allow for expansion of its limited parking area, so that more residents can enjoy its new playground equipment, use its picnic area, fish in its brook, and appreciate its unique natural setting.
The purchase was made from resident Georgia Whidden. Ms. Whidden’s property consisted of two lots totaling 7.8 acres. D&R Greenway Land Trust brought together Whidden and a number of non-profit and government partners, to whom they assigned their rights to purchase all of the land. Block 25001, Lot 7 (6.6 acres) was purchased by Montgomery Township, and Lot 3 (1.2 acres) was purchased jointly by the non-profits Sourland Conservancy and Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM). The Township paid $207,200 for the 6.6 acres that it acquired. (SEE MAP BELOW.)
The adjacent 1.2 acre lot was purchased by the Sourland Conservancy/SSAAM. The lot fronts on Hollow Road, and also adjoins the Mount Zion AME Church, which these groups lease and recently restored. The new lot is tagged by these two non-profits for creation of an environmental and cultural center and will be an important link between the AME Church and the Township’s Bessie Grover Park.
Montgomery Township, the Sourland Conservancy, SSAAM, and D&R Greenway Land Trust all share the desire to preserve and protect the ecology and history of the Sourland region and to create a place where residents and visitors can learn about its African-American history and the unique ecology of the region.
“Montgomery Township supports environmental stewardship and celebrates cultural heritage,” said Mayor Sadaf Jaffer. “We are enthusiastic about the steps taken by the Sourland Conservancy/SSAAM to protect the Mt. Zion AME Church. We also support their plans to use the adjacent property as an environmental and cultural center highlighting the rich African American history of our region.”
Montgomery Township Open Space Coordinator Lauren Wasilauski added, “The Township’s strong relationships with groups such as those involved here help us maximize our preservation efforts – the Sourland Conservancy and SSAAM were able to get the land they need and the Township acquired an additional 6.6 acres along our Rock Brook for expanding Bessie Grover Park next door.”
Property owner Georgia Whidden stated, “We are pleased to support Montgomery Township’s long, strong commitment to land preservation. We especially appreciate the D&R Greenway and Montgomery Township’s hard work in making this project a reality.”
D&R Greenway Land Trust, a nonprofit that has preserved land in the Sourlands since 1989, played a key role by securing the contract to purchase the property from the private landowner. They worked with the Sourland Conservancy and SSAAM to create a vision, raise funds and support the technical work that resulted in the acquisition of this land by Montgomery Township and of the adjacent parcel by the nonprofit partners.
“We are thrilled that the outcome of our three-year effort is that Montgomery has been able to expand their parkland and our nonprofit partners were enabled to acquire a place where they can build their new home and museum,” said Linda Mead, President & CEO of D&R Greenway. She continued, “This result benefits the public and meets our goals to protect and steward the unique natural and historic resources of the Sourlands.”
This acquisition is part of the Township’s continued work along the Rock Brook Greenway, an important environmental resource. A portion of Rock Brook immediately north of this property is slated to be reclassified as a C-1 stream by NJDEP because of its superior water quality and importance as habitat.
In addition to her long-standing service to the AME church and community, Bessie Grover at age 74 rescued four people from a burning house. Montgomery Township named Bessie Grover Park in her memory and in 2006 erected a stone monument to honor her in the park that bears her name.