Mercer County Open Space and Recreation Plan
The following information contains the Goals and Criteria from the Mercer County Open Space and Recreation Plan. This Plan was adopted in 1992 and has gone through several plan amendments, the most recent amendment was August 1998. The Goals and Criteria are used to prioritize lands for preservation. For a copy of the complete document contact the Mercer County Planning Division at 609-989-6545.

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Part A : Implementation and Prioritization


In 1989 the voters of Mercer County overwhelmingly approved a tax for the preservation of open space. This voter supported referendum not only supplies a source of funding for the preservation of County open space, but expresses the commitment and desire for open space preservation by the citizens of Mercer County.

In 1997, legislation was adopted that expands the uses for the tax to include active and passive recreational development.( Upon the adoption of an ordinance or resolution by the County Freeholder Board or passage of a voter referendum) This Plan is amended to set goals and criteria for using the trust fund for recreational development, while recognizing the limits of funds and the high cost of park development and that such development cannot happen without specific authorization.

This plan has been prepared by the Mercer County Open Space Preservation Board and the Mercer County Planning Division. The 1973 Open Space and Recreation Plan has been updated and incorporated into the plan as Part B, entitled the "Long Range Open Space and Recreation Plan". It is to serve as the guide to future Open Space acquisition and development. Part A is to serve as a more detailed prioritization and implementation plan for both open space preservation and recreation facilities development.

The plan will guide the County in its use of the Open Space Preservation Trust Fund Tax and other resources, with the task of providing the County with the preservation and appropriate development of its natural resource, open space.

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Goal and Objectives

Goal # 1

To preserve adequate County open space for the future.


a. County acquisition of an additional 4,300 acres of county-wide significant recreational open space. This number is based on the New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan's (SCORP) "Balanced Land Use Guideline".

b. Acquire additional lands beyond the above County number for a percent of SCORP's Statewide open space goal, as required for environmental protection and to satisfy open space objectives beyond recreation.

c. Encourage local preservation efforts, providing incentives and support so municipalities may achieve goals in SCORP'S "Balanced Land Use Guideline".

Acquire the majority of the land in the near future while suitable undeveloped tracts are still available.

e. Create and implement innovative financial mechanisms to enhance and maximize the limited funds available through the County Open Space Preservation Trust Fund Tax.

Supplement the Trust Fund Tax with other funding sources such as State Green Acres state acquisition, non profit acquisition and Green Trust's loan/grant municipal and county programs, Federal programs, State Farmland Preservation Program and private donations.

Goal # 2

To balance the provision of open space with other land uses.


a. Reinforce the planning efforts of local, County, and State master plans.

b. Preserve lands that have county-wide significance to be retained in a largely natural or undeveloped state for purposes of park land, protecting ecologically sensitive areas and preserving flora and fauna. This includes preserving areas of scenic, agricultural, historic and cultural value while affording, whenever practicable, public outdoor recreational opportunities.

Balance open space facilities throughout the County to provide adequate access and availability to all people of Mercer County.

d. Encourage cooperative efforts to preserve regionally significant areas with neighboring counties and regions.

e. Take advantage of opportunities to use recreational/ open space as catalyst to economic and residential redevelopment.

Goal # 3

To maintain ecologically strong communities for the people of Mercer County.


a. Protect environmentally sensitive lands in a largely natural or undeveloped state.

Preserve natural resources by acquiring lands that meet the established conservation criteria described in this Plan.

c. Encourage and promote participation and support from the community, non profit conservation organizations, local businesses, and citizens.

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Goal #4

To develop a portion of the County’s open space for active and passive recreation.

a. Determine the need and desire for multiple-use recreational development and the areas that are best suited to accommodate these needs.

b. Maximize enjoyment and utilize development techniques that will fit each user age group, for both active and passive recreation.

Goal # 5

To balance passive and active open space development with other land uses.


a. Develop recreational open space that has county-wide significance and provides recreational opportunities to all people of Mercer County.

Provide active recreational facilities in the urban and suburban areas of the County where adequate infrastructure already exists and the majority of the population has access to it.

Limit recreational development to passive recreation in the rural and environmentally sensitive areas of the County to protect the natural environment and the rural character of the area.  

Goal # 6

Maintain and protect the natural environment when developing all open space.


a. Ensure that impacts of recreational development are appropriate to maintain and sustain the natural environment.

b. Design and construct all recreational development according to all required environmental regulations and practices necessary to preserve environmentally sensitive areas, scenic vistas and plant and animal habitats.

Minimize the clearing of land and situate active recreation in already cleared areas. 

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II Open Space Conservation Criteria for Land Acquisition and Development
To accomplish these goals, criteria have been established to guide County participation in open space acquisition and development.

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Protection of Land in Largely Natural or Undeveloped State
The protection of natural resources, and ecologically sensitive land, such as wetlands, wildlife habitat, waterways, slopes, mature woodlands, large stands of forests and ridge lines in their natural state is the primary goal of this plan. The criterion of the "Protection of Lands in Largely Natural or Undeveloped State", is to be the first criterion of all open space acquisitions and will govern the proposed uses of acquired lands. These large natural areas should only be developed for passive recreation.

1. Water quality protection:
The protection of our watersheds and the potable water supply will benefit the environment, public health, and is critical for the maintenance of healthy plant and animal populations. As the human population grows and development expands, there is an increased demand for potable water and recreation. Recreation in environmentally sensitive lands must be compatible with the natural values of the site.

2. Wetlands and slope protection:
Many of the wetlands and steep slopes are protected in part by government regulations. It is still important to provide the most protection for these sensitive environments. Disturbances to these areas and buffer areas surrounding them can result in flooding, erosion, increased water pollution, and loss of wildlife and vegetation.

3. Habitats for plants and animals:
Conservation of the habitat of plants and animals is necessary to the survival of many unique and endangered species, and to maintain healthy environments for diverse communities of plants and animals that generate higher biodiversity, in increasing the quality of life for the residents of Mercer County.

4. Size of open space, larger areas afford more protection:
To provide adequate protection of a natural area, the protection of large areas of land containing many smaller natural communities is encouraged. Large natural areas reduce the edge effects that adversely affect natural communities. Large areas may include larger portions of watersheds, which serve to protect water quality and sensitive plant and animal habitats.

5. Connections with other open spaces:
Open spaces that are near to or connected to other open spaces offer advantages in shared facilities and maintenance. Connected open space also provides increased protection of the natural environment by increasing the effective size of the protected open space.

6. Threatened or endangered species:
Preservation of land containing the habitats of endangered or threatened species is needed to ensure the survival of these species.

7. Geological significance:
Geologically significant features such as high ridges, unique land formations, and unique rock formations are to be considered as valuable natural areas for preservation.

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Recreational Open Space and Development :
Open space for public recreation is important and in high demand.

1. Relationship to natural and undeveloped open space:
The preservation and development of open space for recreational uses should provide for the preservation of the natural environment when developing the recreational facilities.

2. Public access:
Recreational facilities should be accessible to the public which they are meant to serve. Access in urban areas should be available through local pedestrian circulation and local mass transit systems. Regional parks outside of urban areas should also be accessible to mass transit. Bike trails, nature trails, and urban paths are also important public access systems. Bike trails refer to non-motorized vehicles, motorized vehicles should be prohibited except under extraordinary circumstances.

3. Need as it relates to population:
Urban areas and high population growth areas are important considerations to the location of recreational facilities. These areas are in high demand for open space and there is little or no land available close to these population centers.

4. Use-specific size:
The size of a park to be developed for recreation must be compatible with the use. Larger areas are required for passive recreation that will include activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and biking. Smaller sized parks may be appropriate for developed recreational facilities integrated with natural habitats. Small urban parks may be provided with playgrounds and other active recreation facilities.

5. Water access:
Water access provides many possible amenities for recreation and scenic enjoyment. A river can provide a greenway for trails, non-motorized boating, and fishing. Lakes and other waterways may provide other water sports that may be practicable while maintaining the quality of the natural environment.

6. Aesthetic views and vistas:
Significant and especially unique and beautiful views and vistas should be maintained. A scenic overlook of a natural, historical or expansive landscape is valuable.

7. Passive recreation:
Passive recreation is best suited for natural and environmentally sensitive lands. Great care should be taken in selecting the appropriate recreational development.

8. Active recreation:
Active recreation should be limited to lands that can sustain the impact of recreational development in a way that assures the maintenance of the natural environment.

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Historical and Cultural Lands:
The preservation of cultural and historical sites are essential in the preservation of our community's and country's history.

1. Relationship to natural and undeveloped open space:
The preservation of a historical site must also include the preservation of open space and the natural environment. This will enhance the preservation of the natural environment as well as the historical preservation.

2. Historical significance and value:
Historical and cultural sites are educational and important reminders of our heritage and our past. Preservation of historically significant landscapes must be provided.

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Farmland Preservation:
 It is the intent of the Open Space Plan to include significant preservation of the county's farmland.

1. Relationship to natural and undeveloped open space:
As with all other preserved open space, farmland needs to coexist with and help maintain the preservation of the natural environment. Farmland with associated natural open space preserves our heritage of land use in Mercer County.

2. Mercer County Agricultural Development Board Criteria:
Farmland preservation projects will be based upon the established Agricultural Development Areas (ADA) developed by the County Agricultural Development Board, with priorities given to farmland with significant associated natural open space. The Open Space Preservation Board has included in this plan the established ADA criteria (appendix A) and will work directly with the Agricultural Development Board for all farmland preservation acquisitions.

3. State Agriculture Development Committee Criteria:
Farmland will also reflect the criteria and policies set forth by the State Agriculture Development Committee.

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Administration and Acquisition:
The following procedural concerns needs to be addressed for each open space acquisition.

1. Development pressure:
Projects that are under immediate threat from development will require priority and swift action. In some situations the development pressure must be weighed against the time frame and the feasibility of the projects success.

2. Relation to planning efforts:
To the greatest extent possible projects should reflect the master plans of the local municipality, County, State and adjoining regions.

3. Support, from other public and private groups:
The support of the community, non profit conservation organizations, local businesses and surrounding facilities is beneficial to the success of a project. Support outside of government can lead to donations and public involvement.

4. Costs:
The market value of the land should be compared to the open space value of the land. A project that has a moderate or low market value along with the potential to serve a large population with a quality facility is often more appropriate than a more expensive property of equal open space value. The cost of maintenance and operating expenses must also be considered. Facilities close to existing parks that can be cared for by the same agency are more cost efficient. Generally, facilities with passive activities are less costly to develop and maintain.

5. Donations:
A project with support and donations from the public has a significant advantage. All projects should attempt to have significant support and donations from outside County government. The State Green Acres program may match funding of all non profit donations. Maximizing the use of these types of programs should be encouraged.

6. Acquisition expediency:
The lack of conflict, availability of funds, support, ease of transaction of sale and a cooperative seller are all helpful in acquiring open space relatively quickly and with minimal obstacles. 

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Administration and Recreational Development:
In order to provide a variety of recreational opportunities as County-acquired land accumulates,it is important to begin appropriate recreational development.

1. Cost:
The cost to develop land for recreational purposes is significantly higher per acre than the cost of acquiring land. Active recreation facilities such as ballfields, tennis and basketball courts are costly to develop, operate and maintain. Careful consideration to the limits of the open space trust funds should be considered when selecting recreational development projects. Passive opportunities such as nature trails. picnic areas , boating and fishing have less impact on the environment and are less costly to develop and maintain.

2. Donations and Private Investment:
Due to the high cost of developing land for recreation, projects that can secure funding from private donations, public/private partnerships or other funds should be encouraged.

3. Protection of the Environment;
Protection of the natural environment is an essential consideration in type and location of recreational facilties to be developed.

4. Coordination of development projects with the Mercer County Park Comission.:
It is necessary to coordinate all land acquisition and recreational development projects with the County Park Commission. The Commission is responsible for the management of these properties and their operating costs. 

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