A group of environmental organizations have pitched in to buy 477 acres that will be added to already sprawling Cape May National Wildlife Refuge and help provide increased forest cover for thousands of migrating birds.
The tract in Cape May Courthouse was the largest privately owned property remaining on the peninsula, according to the Nature Conservancy, which announced the $1.3 million deal Tuesday.
The deal settled at the end of the year and is just now being made public. The land was immediately turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the refuge.
The refuge spans about 12,000 acres. It provides habitat for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that fly to the area each year and make it a magnet for bird watchers from around the world. The refuge within the Delaware Bay watershed is internationally recognized and used by the red knot, ruddy turnstone, semipalmated sandpiper, and sanderling birds.
The new parcel, a mix of oak and pine, is about a mile from the Delaware Bay and less than a quarter-mile from a salt marsh.
"This is a particularly satisfying achievement because it is the culmination of more than 10 years of effort by many dedicated people and organizations," said Barbara Brummer, director of the Nature Conservancy in New Jersey.
Negotiations to protect the land from development began in 2005, she said.
Congressman Frank LoBiondo called it a "win-win-win for Cape May County residents, ecotourism, and environmental stewardship."
The purchase was funded in part by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres program. The land was owned by Cape Viking LLC, a subsidiary of South State Inc. General Contractors of Bridgeton.
Viking officials say they had planned to develop the property but agreed to sell it for protection after being approached by environmental groups.
"This is an important addition to the protected mosaic of lands that make Cape May one of North America's most important migratory stopovers and world-renowned ecotourism destinations for birding and outdoor recreation," said Kathleen Cox, a realty specialist for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Environmentalists say the new land contains streams that flow into the bay and will also help protect against growing erosion from sea-level rise.
Mary Conti, spokeswoman for the Nature Conservancy, said a number of groups used their own money, as well as money from government grants, to help fund the purchase. The groups include the American Littoral Society, Ducks Unlimited, Open Space Institute, and Victoria Foundation. Private donors also contributed.