Posted 14 September 2011, by Lorraine Ash, The Daily Record (Gannett), dailyrecord.com
When Kathy Murphy moved to Mount Olive in 1986, she had no experience in open space preservation. She did, however, harbor fond memories of growing up in the agricultural town of Cheshire, known as “the bedding plant capital of Connecticut.”
So, at a time when the 31-square-mile Mount Olive had only small pocket parks and a couple of ballfields under power lines, Murphy and an ad hoc group of citizens set out to create a 270-acre oasis on the hill between Budd Lake and Flanders.
Five years later, they’d accumulated funding from the state, county and township to make Turkey Brook Park a reality. The township acquired the property in 1996.
“The same year, we authorized an open space trust for the township,” Murphy said. She wasn’t finished yet.
The next year, Mount Olive hired her as its grant coordinator. Her mission was simple but not easy: More grants of all types, including some for more open space.
Since Turkey Brook Park opened in 2003, it has become what Murphy calls the “Central Park for the township and region.” Every day, people walk its half-mile loop and trails and use its fields for soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, basketball, tennis and lacrosse. With 800 parking spaces, the park can attract up to 10,000 people to some events, including Mount Olive Days.
“We have a lot of commerce in the township with the International Trade Zone and different shopping centers and office buildings,” Murphy added. “The park has provided a nice balance for all residents.”
With contiguous open spaces, Turkey Brook Park now comprises 600 acres, part of the more than 2,000 acres of open space the township owns, Murphy said. Plus, parts of Allamuchy and Stephens state parks are in Mount Olive, as well as the county-owned Flanders Valley Golf Course.
Murphy, whose college degree is in history and special education, has never stopped working for preserved open space. She is still grant coordinator for the township and volunteers as chairperson of the township’s open space committee.
These days the committee has two major focuses. The first is buying from BASF a 57-acre tract on Continental Drive that buffers the Musconetcong River and Route 80. The land was slated for office building development before the economic downturn.
The second focus is partnering with The Land Conservancy of New Jersey on the 500-acre South Branch Preservation Project, a reference to the watershed of the South Branch of the Raritan River. The project comprises several tracts, including the 215-acre West King Estates tract at the corner of Wolfe Road and Route 46, which will be preserved with a recently awarded $1.6 million Morris County Preservation Trust Fund grant.
The passion: Clean water, deep history
When Kathy Murphy looks at Turkey Brook Park, she sees more than a recreational area and a beautiful view.
The Seward family, whose Italianate mansion on the property is under renovation, was one of the most wealthy farming families in the region from 1789 to 1938.
“This property has not been subdivided since colonial times,” Murphy said.
The preservation of Turkey Brook Farm and most of Murphy’s land projects also is about protecting the water supply for Mount Olive residents and New Jerseyans who live well outside the borders of the township.
“So many public water resources are in Mount Olive,” Murphy said.
At 374 acres, Budd Lake is the largest natural glacial lake in the state. It’s also the headwaters of the South Branch of the Raritan River, which provides drinking water to one million people downstream.
Additionally, the Musconetcong River flows along Mount Olive’s north border and down its west side, where it forms a demarcation line between Morris, Warren and Sussex counties.
The Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority also has some important wells in Mount Olive, according to Murphy.
“The land we’ve helped protect has helped save on the cost of water,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be treated as much because there isn’t as much infrastructure here.”
Preserving parkland has saved residents a lot of money in another way.
“If all the land had gone to housing,” she explained, “we would have had a huge debt for more schools, more roads, more police, more infrastructure and services.”
Laura Szwak, chairperson of the Mount Olive Open Space Committee and director of education and outreach for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, calls Murphy the “go-to” person in the township on matters concerning the environment, historic preservation and open space.
“She knows the town’s landscape like her own backyard,” said Szwak, who called Murphy the environmental conscience of Mount Olive.
Kathy Murphy of Mount Olive
Vice Chairperson, Mount Olive Open Space Committee
Grant coordinator, Mount Olive Township
Turkey Brook Park just the start
Helped Mount Olive Township acquire 2,000 municipal open acres since 1991
First project, 600-acre Turkey Brook Park
Current projects, 57-acre BASF tract and 500-acre South Branch Preservation Project