New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Cohansey River Wildlife Management Area just increased in size with the addition of a 417-acre property formerly known as the Sheppard’s Mill Girl Scout Camp. Located in Hopewell and Greenwich Townships, Cumberland County, the parcel was purchased for $1,263,000.

The entire property is now open to the public for hiking, birdwatching, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, and trapping. The addition of the Sheppard’s Mill property brings the size of the Cohansey River WMA to 1,474 acres.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) purchased the property from the Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey, contributing $1,028,000 towards the purchase from the Green Acres State Land Acquisition Program. Natural Lands received an additional $235,000 for the project through the Open Space Institute’s Bayshore Highlands Grant Fund, which is made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The Bayshore Highlands Fund seeks to accelerate strategic land conservation in the New Jersey Bayshore and the Pennsylvania Highlands.

Ecotourism is a growing industry in New Jersey, especially in places such as the Delaware Bay region, where nature lovers converge to watch migrations of shorebirds, birds of prey, and even butterflies. The Delaware Bay region is home to the state’s largest concentration of bald eagles, and is a critical stopover for migrating shorebirds.

“We are very happy to preserve this land for use by a wide variety of wildlife species, including various types of waterfowl, shorebirds, bird of prey, and wading birds,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “The Delaware Bay region is truly a special place, remarkable for its beauty and opportunities for diverse wildlife-related activities, including hiking, fishing, hunting, and bird watching.”

This property was historically used as a Girl Scout camp and contains a 52-acre lake, several stream corridors, and a densely forested area with a hilly terrain, offering a variety of wildlife habitats, including those for bald eagles. The parcel also contains many existing trails and paths that traverse the property.

“Few preservation projects have had as much support as this one from municipal, county, and state residents and government officials, not to mention the thousands of now-adult Girl Scouts who will be able to bring friends and relatives back to relive their childhood experiences hiking the woods, fishing and boating in the lake, and experiencing the property’s tranquility,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands. “We feel fortunate to have played a significant role as part of the team that—after more than five years of negotiations and fundraising—preserved this woodland and lake forever.”

“This groundbreaking project shows the promise of innovative public-private partnerships in protecting natural lands for public use and enjoyment,” said Peter Howell, OSI executive vice president. “For generations, Sheppard’s Mill has connected young people to this wonderful landscape. OSI is proud to have partnered in the protection of this significant and storied property, and prouder still to pass it along to the citizens of New Jersey.”

“The Girl Scouts are thrilled that the Sheppard’s Mill property is now part of the natural resource treasures of New Jersey,” said Ginny Marino, CEO for Girl Scouts of Central and Southern NJ, Inc. “For decades, girls were able to explore all the wonders of the property when they attended camp and now those wonders will be preserved for generations to come.”

“Partnering with groups like these provides a welcome opportunity to add important natural places to our inventory of Wildlife Management Areas across the state,” said Richard Boornazian, DEP’s assistant commissioner for natural and historic resources. “These special places provide awe-inspiring opportunities to enjoy nature and solitude. For decades, the Green Acres Program has played a critical role in securing these sites for public enjoyment, and this latest addition continues that proud tradition.”