Fall is a time for family. Maybe it’s the anticipation of Halloween or looking forward to the warmth that Thanksgiving brings, but the colorful leaves, school activities and time outdoors makes fall the perfect time for family memories.

It’s fitting then that this November New Jersey voters have an opportunity to make a lasting investment in their family’s health, happiness, and financial well being by voting “yes” on ballot question #1. New Jersey’s only state ballot question this year asks voters to renew the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT). Through the GSPT, New Jersey has invested more than $2 billion to preserve parks and recreational and natural areas, our water sources, farmland and historic sites.

The GSPT is successful because it matches funds from county and local open space funds. Today all GSPT funds have been allocated. Without support from New Jersey voters to renew it, land preservation in the New Jersey will virtually stop.

Yes, financial times are tough, but that is the reason we need to make smart investments in our future now.

When I was a child, I fell madly, truly, deeply in love with New Jersey. Our family vacationed at the shore, celebrated the arrival of Jersey tomatoes and corn at barbeques, and most importantly, made a lot of great family memories. Whether traveling through South Jersey on our annual “dad and daughter” crabbing and fishing trip, or hiking on our favorite nature trail, New Jersey’s preserved natural areas left lasting impressions on this Philly girl’s formative years.

Fifteen years ago, I chose to make New Jersey my home. And now I am proud to work for an organization that protects clean water and healthy habitats in New Jersey and to support this year’s state ballot question to renew funding for open space preservation.

Land preservation in New Jersey is a wise investment. It is good for our health and our wallets.

It protects our clean drinking water sources from pollution and the higher cost of treatment needed if contaminated. Preservation supports our agricultural and tourism industries. The GSPT gives landowners the opportunity to choose preservation rather than development when they need to sell their land. In the most populated state in the nation, our open spaces also provide respite, recreation, and beauty through natural hiking and wildlife areas, baseball fields, and the views of wide-open farms.

Open space preservation also helps to stabilize taxes. When land is developed, it increases a community’s need for schools, police and fire companies, and other services – the cost of these services is greater than the taxes paid by new development, and so, everyone’s tax burden increases in that community. When land is preserved, there is no additional cost to communities, but there are numerous benefits.

On this Election Day, I urge you to vote yes on the state ballot question, titled Green Acres, Water Supply and Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Act of 2009. A “yes” vote would allow the state to bond for up to $400 million, which would cost approximately $10 annually per household. A recent analysis found that this initiative would protect approximately 73,500 acres of land and yield $10 in economic value for every $1 invested.

For more than 50 years, New Jersey voters have supported land preservation because they understand that a New Jersey that fails to plan for its future is planning for failure. Our prior investments have made significant strides in protecting our clean drinking water, supporting agriculture and tourism – two of our largest industries – and in providing passive, active, and historical recreation opportunities. There is, however, much more to do.

It is my hope that this fall, we all recognize the importance and impact of the last 50 years of open space investments when we enjoy pumpkins, apples, and mums from local preserved farms, when we watch our kids play soccer in the local preserved park, when we gaze at the warm autumn colors of the tress that have been protected along our scenic byways, and when we take that last fishing trip of the season. And then, I hope that on Thanksgiving, we can all give thanks that we have once again chosen to support what we love about New Jersey by voting “yes” on Election Day this November 3.

Jennifer Coffey is policy director for the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, central New Jersey’s first environmental group. The association protects clean water and the environment through conservation, advocacy, science, and education and is one of the 135 organizations participating in the Keep It Green Coalition for renewal of the Garden State Preservation Trust on the November 3 ballot. www.njkeepitgreen.org.

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