Princeton-area entrepreneurs and shop keepers have been trading on their good looks for years. By setting up shop in a town surrounded by ample wooded open space and clean flowing streams, they have taken created a powerful customer magnet. Having the D&R tow path nearby has proved as great a lure for distant shoppers as any enticing array on Nassau Street. In short, people buy where they feel comfortable.

Aware of the maxim that business benefits from its environs, Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce members are working hard to preserve the area’s lovely natural settings. To mix a little environmental education in with some networking, the chamber is holding its monthly “Business After Business” meeting on Thursday, July 27, at 5 p.m. at the Johnson Education Center, at the edge of Princeton. Cost: $25. Visit www.princetonchamber.org.

To add edible greens, and other savories, to the verdant scene, chef Juan Villasenor will contribute refreshments. Villasenor is the chef for the soon-to-be-renamed Doubletree Hotel (formerly a Radisson hotel) in South Brunswick, and is winner of the Executive Chef of the Year award.

In 2001 the D&R Greenway Land Trust launched a massive public/private campaign to purchase the 60-acre Johnson estate for $7.4 million. Funding came from the state, Mercer County, Princeton Borough, Princeton Township and a host of private parties, including special consideration from the Johnson family, and the estate was preserved as the Greenway Meadows Park.

Opened this past April, the Johnson Education Center at this park is an environmental forum in the most literal sense. Housed in the circa-l900 barn on part of General Robert Wood Johnson’s Princeton estate, the renovated structure serves as a hub where governmental, non-profit, and grassroots groups can gather and work on land preservation policies and projects.

The D&R Greenway Land Trust makes its headquarters in the Johnson Education Center. Chamber visitors may tour the five surrounding acres, which Greenway owns outright and is converting to landscaped gardens, during the July 27 meeting.

Sitting on a hilltop overlooking Stony Brook, just off what is now Rosedale Road, the Johnson Center originally served as the main barn of Edgarstoune dairy farms. The designers of the renovations, Ford 3 Architects, a firm with offices at 32 Nassau Street, opted to keep the lofty character and barn profile, while adding light into its several rooms.

The Greenway hustle. Whoever said that environmentalists can never get organized never saw the D&R Greenway Trust (www.drgreenway.org) in action. Founded in l989, this non-profit is a monument to unification and focused effort. Initially a collaboration of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Regional Planning Partnership, and the D&R Canal Commission, the Land Trust united under a simple mission. It sought to “preserve and protect a network of natural lands” from an unplanned, frightening sprawl.

It is now estimated that if New Jersey goes on developing at its current rate it will totally be built out in 30 years. This means not one open lot in the state. While the population remains fairly steady, 50 acres fall each day to fresh development. In the face of this growth the D&R Greenway Land Trust has to date saved permanently 8,779 acres valued at $193 million.

It has also brought together numerous public and private groups. Friends of open space in Hopewell Valley, Hunterdon County, the Sourland mountains, and Kingston have pooled their efforts into Greenway. Established groups such as Audubon, Private Landowner Network, and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation have partnered in. When an organization is lacking, Greenway builds it.

“The environment is a huge, impossible issue,” says Jo-Ann Munoz, Greenway’s communications director. “But at the D&R Greenway Land Trust we have so many highly energetic professionals honing in on the one issue of land stewardship, in one region, that an amazing amount gets done.”

Munoz, a fairly fast-paced professional herself, has been enjoying Princeton’s open space and the Greenway for the past four years. A native of Long Island, she graduated from Colgate University with a bachelor’s degree in English, and went to work in advertising. She worked in Manhattan and in Mexico City for 15 years before leaving McCann-Erickson, where she had achieved the rank of senior vice president, and moving to Princeton to raise a family. She began volunteering in 2002, and in 2003 took over Greenway’s communications duties full time.

Getting a lot. Of all the D&R Greenway’s 155 preserved lands, 39 parcels are owned outright. The remainder are under easements to title, keeping them permanently undeveloped. One of the Greenway’s fledgling projects is its charitable remainder trust program. Under this program, Munoz explains, individuals contract to deed their property to D&R Greenway at death, while benefiting from the tax break immediately upon signing.

The scope of D&R Greenway’s interest spreads far beyond the D&R Canal. Actually, most of the immediate towpath area and floodplains are state park, administered by the D&R Canal Commission. The D&R Greenway spans central Jersey from the Sourland Mountains to the Trenton Marsh, and from the Delaware River to Crosswicks Creek in Bordentown. While mostly in Mercer, the organization holds in trust lands in Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Burlington counties (visit the group’s website for maps).

Enviro central. The central hive for all of this land stewardship activity is the Johnson Education Center. Only one of only three such facilities in the nation, the center provides an expert staff and a library of land management materials. It offers meeting rooms of several sizes and a 200-seat RWJ auditorium.

In the mere three months since its opening, Johnson Center has proved itself far more than a tree huggers haven. Already it has hosted professional workshops for legal advisors and for appraisers on land management issues. Munoz reports that the center is planning a series of land owner seminars outlining the most cost effective methods of land use. “We are here to be inclusive,” says Munoz. “We want to have developers, town officials, and grassroots organizations all here, working out their problems in the most beneficial manner.”

Awareness is an additional strategy. And toward that end the Johnson Center has played host to a variety of organizations ranging from the PNC Advisors Group to the Princeton Arts Council. The center has several meeting areas, including the RWJ auditorium, renting for $200 an hour plus $175 custodial fee, 50-person capacity meeting rooms at $150 each, and the Marie Mathews Reception Art Gallery at $200 a day. Call 609-924-4646 for more information.

To save as much land as quickly as possible is the D&R Greenway Land Trust’s goal. Even for those who are stone blind to the esthetic benefits of preserved open space, the financial costs of not preserving are staggering. If just 5,000 acres of the land Greenway has preserved were to be developed, it would entail the following costs: $66 million additional in school taxes; additional roads for the 9.1 million extra car trips made by the new residents; and a host of other services.

This is one on the prime lessons learned at the Johnson Education Center: Population may good for business, but overpopulation is not.

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