It’s probably fair to say that not a lot of people know what the South Jersey Land and Water Trust is or, more to the point, what it does.
Which is odd because the SJLWT likely, and significantly, has impacted every resident in South Jersey.
Distilled to its essence, what the Trust deals in is beauty. It fosters, nurtures, and protects the beauty of verdant, sun-speckled woodlands and of farmland ripening with growth and myriad living fauna.
It guards the beauty of the cool, welcoming clarity of our area’s vital waterways, lakes and ponds. It seeks to keep important the heritage and history deeply inherent in the South Jersey landscape and culture.
That’s no small task for what spokeswoman Mica McCullough admits is “a small organization,” that was founded in 1990 by a grass-roots movement of citizens who wanted to preserve land. In 2006 the group, South Jersey Land Trust, partnered with the Federation of Gloucester County Watersheds to combine the best of both efforts.
Since then the SJLWT has permanently preserved more than 1,900 acres of land and fought to clean and keep clean hundreds of miles of watersheds and waterways, every mile necessary for drainage, water fowl, migratory birds and wildlife, both endangered and thriving.
The 501-C non-profit advocates for its environmental goals at the municipal to federal levels, sponsors water and land clean-ups, offers educational and historical research and instruction and aids landowners seeking to preserve their property and the beauty of the land in perpetuity. Its reach extends from Camden County south, east and west to the Delaware Bay and the Delaware River.
The Trust does this in several ways, some of which are complicated and involve finances, research, and politics, and some of which are hugely fun and involve nature-happy volunteers, hiking, wading, trail clearing and selfies in those speckled woods.
Its newest move, however, brings the agency’s headquarters from Glassboro to a historical house on the banks of Oldmans Creek in Auburn, right across the waterway from Woolwich Township. The Charles MacKannan property, 37 to 39 acres of woodlands, fields and flowing waters, was once home to the Scull family in the late 1700’s. They built a dock on the waterfront and ferried goods and merchandise to Philadelphia, according to McCullough.
The Boy Scouts of America bought the property in 1938 and ran Camp Kimble there until 1962. Five years later the house and land was bought by Charles and Doris MacKannan, who ran the Auburn Hills Campground there until the early 80’s.
McCullough said the MacKannans kept the 1795 house “as close as possible to the original. It has the old, tall brick fireplaces and the stone foundation.” The SJLWT, in an unusual step for the agency, purchased the property after speaking with the owners.
“They loved this land,” McCullough said of the owners. “It was a question of preservation. He wanted to preserve the beauty he loved all his life.” Generally, she said, the Trust helps landowners thinking of preserving their land in various ways by guiding them through the pros and cons and the process itself.
But the Trust does not take ownership. “This was special,” she said. “He knew the land was special and he didn’t want it to go to just anybody (upon his death).”
Two months ago the SJLWT began moving into the Oldmans Creek property, eager at the chance to actually reside within a land it helped preserve. The property is open to the public, free of cost, from dawn to dusk for trail walking, picnicking, visiting, fishing. “Just remember, there are no restrooms available,” McCullough warned.
And the agency hopes some of the visitors will be volunteers for the inevitable work that a move requires, and there’s a wish list of items needed – dishes, silverware, garden tools, native flowers for the gardens, and more.
Meanwhile, McCullough, who has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and a master’s in Sustainable Practices, (“That’s where you learn about real world applications for Environmental Studies,” she quipped,) finds herself eager to travel from the Hammonton home she shares with her husband to Auburn.
Part of McCullough’s part-time job as Communications Coordinator with the SJLWT is to get down and dirty in the field – or the wood, creek, pond. She takes volunteers and instructs them on environmental knowledge.
She has a picture of herself delighted at the find of a small songbird skull in a dollop of owl poo. She can tell the difference between a lung snail and a gilled snail and will happily lecture how the snails, plus leeches, mayflies and dragonfly larvae tell about the pollution level of a body of water.
She loves this stuff. “Leeches are very pollution resistant. So are lung snails. The gilled snails and mayflies and such, not so much. So if you find leeches and lung snails, but can’t find mayflies or gilled snails, don’t drink the water,” McCullough advised, delightedly deep in the wonders of nature.
It’s not just the trees or farms or waters of the Oldmans Creek environs, it’s also the history, geologic and human that McCullough and the Trust seek to preserve in their work. The area surrounding the major waterways in South Jersey, including Oldmans Creek and Mullica River, was home to branches of the Lenni Lenape Indians, to commerce routes of early settlers that pre-dated the Revolution, to colonial homesteads of families whose names are preserved today.
Descendants of Roger Pedrick, for whom Pedricktown was named and who settled 1,000 acres along Oldmans Creek, still live near there today.
The Trust has preserved land otherwise possibly endangered by housing and industry influx, like the Daniels family’s 100 acres in South Harrison Township, one of the few untouched areas of forested land in the upper Oldmans Creek watershed.
It has also helped preserve land with an emotional history, a common reason for the desire to protect a homestead. The 26-acre Finocchiaro Farm in Woolwich was placed in preservation eight years ago because the sellers saw it “as a family farm (and therefore) an investment in everyone’s future,” according to a history written by the SJLWT.
The agency’s move from the ever-more-crowded Glassboro to Oldmans Creek and its acres of preserved land and water is “a great excuse for me to be up there, at such a beautiful place,” McCullough said. And she invited anyone who also loves such environs to join her.
It’s a chance to leave a rushed afternoon for a few hours in pristine nature. Breathe in wood, breathe out worry.
The Trust, in other words, is looking for like-minded environmentalist volunteers. Check out the SJLWT website at www.sjlandwater.org for more information on visiting, on the wish list of needs for the new accommodations, and of a feel for the vital work the Trust accomplishes, practically behind the scenes, every year.
Of that work, McCullough wanted to emphasize that the Trust, “could not be where we are now, and the environmental movement as a whole could not be where it is, without the landowners. The properties preserved are protected because the landowners loved the land.”
Perhaps, if you do, too, you’ll find it rewarding to support the South Jersey Land and Water Trust, your new neighbor.
— By Jean Redstone