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New Jersey Natural Lands Trust


Pennsauken Township, Camden County
540 Acres – Conservation Easement

The conservation easement was granted to the Trust by the CITGO Petroleum Corporation. Over 500 acres in total, the 300-acre island is surrounded by some 140 acres of ecologically important tidal flats. Given its location in a heavily industrialized area, surprisingly the island provides breeding, foraging or resting habitat for an amazing array of wildlife. In addition to a pair of American bald eagles that currently use Petty’s Island as part of its foraging territory, hawks, falcons and waterfowl such as osprey, Northern harrier, Cooper's hawk, red-shouldered hawk, American kestrel, peregrine falcon and American black duck have been observed. Songbirds, such as Savannah sparrow, migrate along the river corridor and find habitat and cover within the island’s woods and wetlands.

Plant life abounds on Petty’s Island. In just one visit, state botanist David Snyder found numerous rare plants such as the awl-leaf arrowhead, American waterwort, bouquet mud-plantain and the water marigold, which is a globally rare plant documented only from the Delaware River in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Hudson River in New York and the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

In addition to its many natural attributes, Petty’s Island conjures up many fascinating stories and legends: the story of Quaker Elizabeth Kinsey making a deal to buy the island from Lenni-Lenape Indian Chiefs around 1678 that included her allowing them to continue hunting and fishing on the island--provided they agreed not to kill her hogs or set fire to her hayfields; the story of Quaker William Penn’s ownership of the island; the legend of pirates such as Blackbeard docking at the island; the legend that Benjamin Franklin spent a night on the island; the story of an Irishman, Ralston Laird, who after being a farm manager on Petty's Island for more than 50 years was named its king. As well as many, many more stories and legends of gambling, dueling and slave trading.

Once fully restored, Petty’s Island will provide amazing opportunities to learn about its natural diversity and fascinating history. Its restoration will provide local residents with access to spectacular views of the river and the City of Philadelphia that have been off-limits to them for far too long. To facilitate future educational and public access opportunities, CITGO has committed to a $2 million stewardship fund to be used to provide, among other things, education programming and another $1 million fund to assist the Trust in establishing a cultural and education center.

Although the Trust holds a conservation easement for the entire island, it assumes no liability for cleanup of past pollution on the island. CITGO is fully responsible for removing all structures associated with former petroleum operations and completely clean up any contamination. Before CITGO can turn actual title to the island over to the Trust, the DEP must certify that contamination has been addressed according to state standards. The cleanup terms are covered under a separate agreement with the DEP known as an administrative consent order. Some industrial operations will continue on the island until the end of 2017 when a lease that CITGO has with a shipping terminal will finally expire and CITGO can complete its restoration of the island and transfer its ownership to the Trust.

The conservation easement rules out most active recreational activities on the island by prohibiting development such as marinas, golf courses, restaurants and ball fields. But there are still many passive recreational options left to consider, including the cultural and education center and hiking trails in addition to educational programming. The Trust is currently working with area stakeholders to develop a long-term vision for restoration and public access at the island. At a meeting on February 21, 2014, the Trust gave a presentation of the findings of a 2013 Feasibility Study regarding potential locations for a future cultural and education center with the caveat that another potential location on the island has been identified since the report was finalized.  The stakeholders were also cautioned that the designs included in the report are only conceptual.        

Public Access and Uses:
Under the terms of the conservation easement, public access to Petty’s Island is only permitted as part of a scheduled program.  The Trust has contracted with the New Jersey Audubon Society to provide educational programming on the island.  For more information or for a schedule of programs please visit: http://www.njaudubon.org/Go/Petty.
Hunting is not permitted on Petty’s Island.

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