Corrections or additions?
Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved.
Citizens for the Sourlands
At 564 feet, Sourland Mountain is not much of an
point on our landscape. Less than an awesome peak, it’s a hard rock
ridge that traverses three counties. But at the heart of this most
densely populated state, the unspoiled mountain and its surrounding
forest region — known as the Sourlands — could be compared
to a sleeping giant in our midst. There are few residents of
New Jersey who know how to find them, and fewer still who take
of their recreational opportunities. So little known are the
that those who do know and love them fear they may be swallowed up
by suburbia before the public wakes up to what it has lost.
But the terms of engagement are changing, thanks to the efforts of
the small but feisty Sourland Planning Council, currently preparing
the first grant application for an environmental inventory and
study of the entire Sourland Mountain region, to be funded under New
Jersey’s newly-created Smart Growth Program.
"Central New Jersey needs open space. The Sourlands need
says Jerry Haimowitz, who has served as president of the Sourland
Planning Council since 1997. "The purpose of the Smart Growth
grants is to help municipalities implement the goals of the New Jersey
State Plan. Among the goals of the state plan, is to promote regional
planning, environmental preservation, and to prevent sprawl."
The group is working to make its application by October 1, with a
budget request of somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000.
we are a regional project, we tend to rise in the rating system,"
Haimowitz adds, "and that improves our chances for funding."
Stretching across some 60 square miles, dissected by three counties
— Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon — and affecting five
the Sourlands is known as the Bermuda Triangle of New Jersey. Located
along the major growth corridor between metropolitan New York and
Philadelphia, the greatest obstacle to its planned growth has been
the fact that, in planning terms, Sourland Mountain does not exist.
Because it extends through Hillsborough, Montgomery, Hopewell, East
Amwell, and West Amwell, eight political jurisdictions had a piece
of the Sourlands picture, but nobody could see the whole.
Sourland Mountain is the spine of the Sourlands. Less than 600 feet
at its highest point, it stands between the two most prominent natural
areas in the state, the Highlands to the north, and the Pinelands
to the south. The Sourlands (as defined by the Sourland Planning
Council) span an area from the Delaware River in the west, to the
Raritan in the north, and the Millstone River and D&R Canal to the
east. Protected until now by simple geography, the citizen’s council
fears that natural characteristics may not be enough to protect the
Sourlands from encroaching suburban sprawl much longer.
A natural haven that all but swallows up two large county preserves
(see accompanying story), the Sourlands are the site of a bevy of
irreplaceable resources — a mature forest that comprises the
contiguous forest in central New Jersey, headwater streams for eight
vital water sources, and equally vital "perched wetlands"
(highland wetlands that constitute stream headwaters). Its critical
habitat shelters endangered populations of birds and reptiles that
include the Long-Eared Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, and Wood Turtle, as well
as a complement of plant life. Strong arguments for its preservation
lie in its abundant and as yet unexploited resources for recreation,
and historic and cultural resources that include preserving the
Once safely rural, the Sourlands were already undergoing intense
development pressures in the 1980s, when a handful of concerned
asked themselves if anything could be done to guard against patchwork
In April, 1986, a small group of people living in the Sourland
area met in the dining room of one of its members and decided to form
the Sourland Regional Citizens Planning Council. "The name we
chose was a mouthful — but accurate," says founding member
Andrea Bonette, who still serves as the group’s treasurer. Earlier
this year the group officially changed its name to the more manageable
Sourland Planning Council.
Under the leadership of the organization’s founder and late president
Robert Garrett, the group went on to compile, write, and publish
Sourland Legacy: A Report by the Sourland Regional Citizens Planning
Council," a 60-page book, written by Charles E. Little, and
with the photographs of Clem Fiori. The book helped define both the
region and the threats to its endurance. By the mid-’90s, however,
Garrett was battling cancer and the organization was flagging.
In 1997 Haimowitz, executive director of the Lambertville Sewerage
Authority (he is also the plant’s licensed operator, engineer, and
chief administrator), was looking for a new realm for his
volunteerism. After serving for about 10 years on the Hillsborough
Township Environmental Commission, a volunteer group that advises
the township on environmental issues, he was not reappointed.
"Through my work on the commission, I was very much aware of the
group working on the mountain," he says. "I joined the
Planning Council in 1997, and it was not very long before I was made
president" following the death of Garrett. "It was already
getting back on its feet when I joined," says Haimowitz. "I
just continued that trajectory of recovery."
Today the group looks back on its 15-year history with pride. Up to
this point, its work has been carried out with the assistance of two
grants, each for $1,000, and each matched by community donations.
"Over the course of 15 years, we have succeeded beyond our wildest
dreams," says Haimowitz. "The ability to pull the five towns
and three counties together to perform such an extensive study of
the mountain, using grant money, is beyond our wildest expectations.
We had thought we were going to have a very slow, steady uphill
battle. Now the group is getting these five towns and three counties
to join in applying for a Smart Growth Grant to fund a unified plan
for the mountain. The support that has come out of the woodwork for
this has been fabulous."
Today the Sourland Planning Council distributes 300 copies of its
regular newsletter. Its meetings take place four or five times a year
— the next meeting will be on Wednesday, July 19 — and are
generally attended by about 30 people.
Asked if the group’s primary movers are also area landowners,
says, "The core group, I would characterize as environmentalists
and not as NIMBYS." "NIMBYS" is an acronym for the
"Not In My Back Yard" attitude toward growth and planning.
And the Sourland Council, he notes, is not a no-growth organization.
"Without growth, where will our children live?" he says.
do you address the vested rights of the landowners? You must have
Like so many environmental issues, Haimowitz says even where there
is support politically, there has not been funding. "We never
expected to find a source for a 100 percent grant, nor to get it going
The Sourland Planning Council will write the grant application in
the name of the five municipalities. If the grant is successful, it
will be administered by a committee of the five municipalities; the
structure of which is yet to be determined. In addition to the
Sourland Planning Council, three other nonprofit groups have already
asked for the seat at the table: The Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed
Association, the Delaware and Raritan Greenway, and the Hunterdon
County Land Trust.
"The most important thing is to define what components of the
Sourlands have to be saved intact in order to maintain the integrity
of the eco-system and then allow development to proceed within those
constraints," says Haimowitz. The group estimates that all the
various components of the planning study could be completed and
in three to nine months. "Then you get to the hard part, which
is what do the municipalities do with the information," says
"and that’s really up to them."
For Haimowitz, the rich natural resources of the Sourland Mountain
are bred in the bone. Born in Hillsborough Township, he has lived
here all his life.
Haimowitz grew up on a chicken farm on Hillsborough Road. His father,
Clem, also had a college education; in 1960, when farming was bad,
he went back to college and earned his teaching certificate. His
Ruth, was a registered nurse. The youngest of three boys, Haimowitz’s
oldest brother Rocky works for the Denver building department. Brother
Larry lives San Jose, California, and works for a semi-conductor
Haimowitz graduated from Somerville High School (before Hillsborough
High existed), and attended the University of Maine. Why so far?
a typical teenager, I drew a line 250 miles from home and another
500 miles from home and looked for schools between those two
He earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering in 1971. Working for
American Cyanamid’s Bound Brook plant, he took night classes at
earning a master’s in sanitary engineering in 1978.
Part of his work with the Lambertville Sewerage Authority includes
community education. "I do a fantastic one-half hour presentation
for kids on the definition of water pollution," he says. "You
know most people push the silver handle and forget it." Haimowitz
is also a volunteer for the Somerset County Park Commission in the
Sourland Mountain Preserve. He also serves on the public education
committee of the New Jersey Water Environmental Association.
One of the Sourland Planning Council’s most effective tools for
public awareness is a CD-ROM presentation, completed in April. Titled
"The Sourlands — a natural area at the crossroads," the
presentation was created by Joel Coyne, by trade a public health
for the Bernards Township Health Department. The presentation
tells the story of the Sourlands and sketches out potential planning
alternatives in 90 slides, maps, and diagrams. "He’s the genius
who made it happen," says Haimowitz.
Haimowitz is keen to attribute the current climate of success to
"I think what we’re seeing is a slow increase in awareness of
environmental issues in general and of the uniqueness of the Sourland
Mountain in particular," he says, "and I think we’ve just
reached a critical mass. This is what Bob Garrett had envisioned in
1986, and his dream is coming true. If he hadn’t died, he probably
would have got this done several years earlier."
— Nicole Plett
Municipal Building, 201 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville, 609-737-0605. Thursday, July 13, 7:30 p.m.
08853. Annual membership is $15, $25 family, $10 senior, and $50
Next meeting is in a home in East Amwell (For directions, call Andrea
Bonette, 609-466-0641), Wednesday, July 19, 7:30 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.