MENDHAM TOWNSHIP OPEN SPACE
Mendham Township, Morris Country, New Jersey enjoys abundant open space to benefit the public. A wealth of beautiful areas is within minutes of our residents’ homes, for all to enjoy. And even if you never visit one of our properties, our open space benefits you!
What is “Open Space”?
Open Space is simply land that has been set aside by law to be protected for public benefit. Frequently, the land is to be preserved in a natural state to protect environmental features, but open space also sets aside land for active recreation such as playgrounds and parks, local gardens, to protect historic features, or other reasons.
Open Space is generally protected either by easements (the current owner must abide by specified restrictions such as not building on the property, not disturbing the ground, or allowing the public to hike there), or by the having the town, county, or a private land trust purchase the land and include restrictions in the deed that run with the land.
Open space is for public benefit and the public is not only allowed to visit, the public is encouraged to visit and enjoy the land.
Farmland Preservation is similar but allows farming activity and building of farming-related facilities within some limits. Preserved farms are privately owned and generally not for public access, but preserve the rustic beauty, deep heritage, and viable local industry of farming.
Our town Open Space Trust Committee is a knowledge resource and outreach advocate for open space. The Environmental Commission creates and maintains trails and looks after the properties. The Township Committee manages the Open Space Trust Committee and Environmental Commission and is in charge of all acquisitions, easements, etc. The Township Committee is an elected body and holds public meetings. The Open Space Trust Committee and Environmental Commission are comprised of volunteer residents and hold open meetings. Subcommittees and volunteer groups, such as the Trail Stewards and others help in the care of our open spaces.
What are the benefits of Open Space to the public?
Depending on the property and why it is has been protected as open space, open space can provide the following many benefits for current and future generations:
- Protects the environment
- Protects water quality, including streams and underground aquifers, for drinking water and for wildlife.
- Reduces flooding (surface water such as from rain is absorbed more by natural land than by grass lawns, paving, etc., yielding less run-off and flooding and more water being absorbed into the ground)
- Protects vegetation (vegetation such as trees and flowers provide natural beauty and also help reduce ground erosion and improve air quality)
- Protects wildlife, including endangered species
- Compared to developed land with home heating systems, lawn chemicals, automobiles, etc., open space reduces pollution.
- Helps property values:
- It is well established that homes located near open space enjoy higher property values.
- Helps to keep property taxes lower:
- Compared to development, especially residential development, open space helps to reduce property taxes.
- It should be noted that open space and development are not “natural enemies”: We all live in homes and enjoy urban facilities! However, we should strive for “smart development” that improves the quality of life and reduces impact on the environment, vs. “urban sprawl” or poorly planned development that results in unnecessary environmental damage or that is unattractive). Open space programs strive for a balance between open space and development.
- Provides recreational opportunities, only minutes from home:
- Mental relaxation and renewal
- Observing and studying Nature, studying natural science
- History and archaeology
- Preserves historic remains:
- Colonial iron mines, forges, mills, etc.
- Some properties have buildings used for municipal departments, local clubs, etc.
- Active recreation:
- Some open space property has active recreation facilities, such as playing fields, jogging trails, tennis courts, etc. (Vs. “passive recreation” such as hiking on natural trails.)
How can I learn what’s in an open space property?
- Visit www.hikemendham.org for to learn where our open spaces are located, trail maps for each property, and the schedule for our monthly guided hikes (free!).
- The Mendham Township library and the town hall have printed maps for some open space areas that show trails and include historic and other information.
- Questions? Please call town hall: 973-543-4555.
- If you pass an open space property, feel free to park and enter it, explore!
Any cautions about using open space?
- Our open space trails are in natural condition, so hiking trails may have trip hazards like rocks or roots, may have some muddy or wet areas, and some portions of some trails may be relatively steep. For most folks, they are enjoyable and not difficult, but everyone is different so please use “common sense”.
- Most trails should be useable by any reasonably fit person, and we see a range of people from children to seniors happily using them, but you must exercise good judgment and not try to hike areas beyond someone’s health or ability. In addition to the natural trail surface, some trails include relatively steep sections or wood plank boardwalks. If you get to a section that is not appropriate for you or someone in your party, you may choose to turn back or take another path.
- Well-behaved dogs are allowed, but must be on a leash. Unleashed dogs may be harmless but other trail users don’t know that, please control your dogs.
- Bicycles, horses, and vehicles such as ATV’s are not permitted on most trails in Mendham Township, for reasons of environmental protection, trail damage, and preserving a safe and desirable hiking environment for all. The Morris County Patriots Path allows bicycles (except in some parks that are connected to the system, check park rules before bicycling in a County park!) and some paths in town allow horse riding. Call town hall (973-543-4555) for more information.
- As with any outdoor activity, check the weather forecast and look around before starting a hike. Temperature extremes, thunder and lightning, etc., are reasons to not be outdoors much less starting a hike into a remote area.
- Our trails are often clear from the worn path, but we try to maintain blazes (painted markings on trees or other objects) to guide hikers. Each trail has its own blaze color so if you come to an intersection you can stay on the one you wish to. We try to strike a balance between clarity and keeping the area in a natural condition, so some folks may think there are too many blazes and others not enough blazes. Our volunteers try to maintain the blazes but our resource limitations may result in some areas with faded or inadequate blazing, sorry. You should have a trail map and keep track of your location, and if you get lost, retrace back to where you know it.
- Always bring your cell phone, a trail map (from www.hikemendham.org etc.), some drinking water, sun protection (hat, sun block, etc.), and wear suitable footwear. When ever hiking anywhere, it’s a good idea to tell someone where you’re going so in the unlikely but possible chance of an accident, someone will know where to look for you!
What are the benefits of open space to land owners?
Glad you asked! If you are a land owner and you are thinking about the any of the following, you should learn more about protecting your land as open space:
- Willing your land to your heirs, keeping the land in your family. Often, simply willing your land results in high taxes and your heirs may actually not be able to afford keeping it in the family. Preserving your land as open space is often advantageous financially and preserves the land you love.
- Selling your land. If you are considering selling part or all of your land for financial gain or to move on, preserving your land as open space may be financially sound while preserving the land you love.
- Keeping your land but obtaining financial gain. If you wish to retain your land ownership but realize some financial gain, selling a conservation easement or (especially) engaging Farmland Preservation may be a good means to do.
- Doing a good deed! If you wish to preserve the land you’ve loved for current and future generations to enjoy as you have, or if you seek a tax deduction, preserving your land as open space may be a good option. You may preserve the land by selling it at market price, selling it at reduced price and donating a portion of the value as a contribution, donating all of the land, or creating an environmental easement on your deed.
The bottom line is that open space has many different tools and options that may be of interest to land owners and farmers. You should learn more and discuss with your financial or other advisors. You should not assume that your only two options are selling or willing!
Many of our town’s open space properties were acquired from enlightened and generous land owners who learned about the practical benefits of open space and wanted to preserve their beautiful land, a win-win.
Please call town hall and ask for Steve Mountain for more information (973-543-4555).