In the meadows, you may see young nature campers and their counselors looking for dragonflies or listening for bird songs. At the bird and butterfly garden, you may find plein air artists behind their easels painting colorful blooms on canvas. Families may be walking their dogs on the mowed trails or casting for bass in the farm pond.
Inside the restored farm buildings that now serve as work spaces, the Raritan Headwaters staff is doing what they do best: protecting clean water in the upper Raritan River watershed.
In the old milk house, now a laboratory, you may find scientists analyzing stream water samples collected by volunteers. At the farmhouse, other staff members may be discussing legislation affecting New Jersey’s water supplies, the results of the latest stream cleanup or plans for a guided kayak paddle on the Raritan.
This year, Raritan Headwaters is marking its 60th anniversary. The occasion will be celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 21, with a festive evening under a tent at Fairview Farm. Anyone interested is invited to attend and support RHA’s conservation mission.
“We have much to celebrate,” says Cindy Ehrenclou, RHA’s executive director, who also happens to be marking her 25th year with the organization. “For six decades, we’ve worked hard to protect the region’s water supplies, open spaces and the quality of life in our watershed communities. I think we’ve been successful, because today, this area is still a wonderful place to live, work and play. But we know we can’t be complacent - there are continuous challenges to our wellbeing and new threats to the health of water.”
Raritan Headwaters was formed by the 2011 merger of two nonprofit conservation groups, the Upper Raritan Watershed Association (URWA) and the South Branch Watershed Association (SBWA), both founded in 1959 to engage New Jersey residents in safeguarding water sources and natural ecosystems.
URWA and SBWA were established at a time when few laws existed to protect clean water and air. The momentum to create the two organizations grew out of a series of grassroots meetings organized by citizens who were concerned that the area’s natural resources were being destroyed by the fast pace of development.
Over the years, URWA and SBWA successfully fought to protect the watershed region in Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris counties from poorly planned land use proposals and threats to the health of water resources. Both groups were pioneers in environmental education, preserved key watershed properties, and monitored water quality in the region’s streams.
Today, Raritan Headwaters is known as a leader in environmental education and outreach, local and statewide advocacy, water quality monitoring, ecological research, habitat restoration, land preservation and stewardship. Some key initiatives include:
Eighty percent of the watershed’s residents get their drinking water from private wells. “The only way to be sure your well water is clean and safe to drink is by testing it,” notes Dr. Kristi MacDonald, RHA’s science director. Data from well tests is used by RHA to detect trends in groundwater quality.
The upper Raritan River watershed contains 1,404 miles of streams including the North and South Branches and dozens of tributaries. RHA monitors stream water quality with the help of trained volunteer citizen scientists. The data collected informs state, county and local policymakers.
Every April, Raritan Headwaters sponsors a massive volunteer cleanup throughout Somerset, Hunterdon and Morris counties. This year, 1,700 volunteers picked up 18 tons of trash at 50 sites, beautifying stream banks, improving water quality and removing threats to aquatic life.
Raritan Headwaters provides education for families and children, including field trips and in-school programs and a series of summer nature camps. Last fall, RHA acquired a new van - painted in blue and white colors of the RHA logo - customized as a mobile classroom.
Raritan Headwaters, an accredited land trust, holds 33 conservation easements preserving 850 acres in perpetuity. The Association also owns and manages 11 preserves totaling 460 acres, all open to the public. Fairview Farm is the crown jewel of RHA’s preserves.
According to local historian W. Barry Thomson, the recorded history of the land goes back to 1701, when it was included in the large Peapack Patent conveyed to George Willocks and Dr. John Johnstone.
For much of the 19th century, various members of the Vliet family farmed the land. The last family member to own the property was James Honeyman Vliet, a descendant of John Honeyman, who reportedly worked as a spy for General George Washington during the American Revolution.
The next owner was Philip Auble, who worked the farm for some 13 years before selling it to Philip and Minnie Frank in 1906. After eight years, the Franks sold the property to attorney Stanley L. Wolff, who appears not to have lived there. In 1915, a year after buying the farm, he sold it to Paul Zuhlke.
Zuhlke was the first to call the property Fairview Farm; the name was taken from the family’s estate in Madison.
At Fairview Farm, Paul and his second wife, Roberta, raised Guernsey cows, pigs, and horses. In 1928, they worked with the Agricultural Extension Service to develop a permanent demonstration forest by planting rows of Norway spruce and red pine trees. Some of these trees are still evident along the drive into Fairview Farm.
Following Paul Zuhlke’s death in 1958, his estate was left in trust for Roberta. She died in 1972, leaving Fairview Farm to the Upper Raritan Watershed Association, an organization she admired. Her will expressed the intention that it be used as “a permanent refuge for the preservation of wildlife.”
In the years since, bucolic Fairview Farm has become Raritan Headwaters’ living laboratory to educate and inspire present and future generations. The preserve is located at 2121 Larger Cross Road in Bedminster and is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk.
To learn more about Raritan Headwaters, and to purchase tickets and sponsorships to the Sept. 21 event , go to www.raritanheadwaters.org or call 908-234-1852.
Raritan Headwaters Is Celebrating 60 Years as the Area’s Watershed Watchdog
By Sandy Perry/Photos Courtesy of RHA
On the quiet, north end of Larger Cross Road in Bedminster, look for the “Fairview Farm” sign next to a pair of stone pillars. Turn down the long driveway and continue through an allee of spruce and over a small stone bridge.
You’ve arrived at the Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve, home of the nonprofit watershed watchdog Raritan Headwaters Association. You’re in luck, because the 170-acre preserve is a very special place to spend time in the summer.