The Egg Harbor Township Nature Reserve has been a smash success. A decade ago the former sand mine was an eyesore and hazard. Now it is a natural gem that provides recreation to a constant stream of residents and visitors.
The township has been able, without spending a lot of money, to set an example for other municipalities in the region. Galloway Township officials deserve praise for seeing the value of that model and deciding to turn their own former sand mine into a valuable natural resource.
Galloway’s site is 112 acres, about half the size of the EHT reserve, so it might be a bit easier to restore. It also doesn’t seem to have the massive pieces of defunct mining equipment that needed to be removed in EHT.
The former operator of the sand mine, Ole Hansen & Sons, conveyed the property to Galloway Township at no cost. That deal works for both — leaving the township to use its resources on improving rather than acquiring the land, and freeing the company from the legal requirement to restore the property after concluding its pit mining operation.
Chris Johansen, township manager of Galloway , is quite right that grant money can be found for plantings and other upgrades. Egg Harbor Township was able to get $24,000 from the state Department of Environmental Protection to help fund kayak ramps and steps, providing $6,000 worth of labor as the required match. The development a few years ago of a 25-acre park in Woodbine was made possible by a $500,000 Cape May County open space grant.
Egg Harbor Township also tapped graduate students at Stockton University to help design its nature reserve and got significant assistance from volunteers. Stockton already is in discussions with Galloway officials about assisting with its project. CME Associates is preparing a master plan to create something like the EHT reserve.
The Galloway property currently is used, illegally, by off-road motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, which was the case in EHT before that property was restored. Galloway officials have posted no trespassing signs and said they’re looking forward to minor grading work beginning in the summer so workers can let police know when illegal motorized use occurs.
If they changed the no trespassing signs to simply no motorized vehicles, hikers and naturalists could start alerting police now and claiming the property for proper uses. That would also allow residents to get to see their future park and weigh in on its design and facilities — which was crucial to Egg Harbor Township’s success.
The EHT Nature Reserve gets a lot of use because it serves a wide variety of interests — walking (with or without a dog), running, bicycling, fishing, nature study, nonmotorized boating, snow sliding and even, on occasion, an art show or other township event.
Galloway should open up its nature reserve process to the public to better assess what will work for local people, and to get volunteer help creating and maintaining it.