CHATHAM – The official public opening of the spectacular new Giralda Farms Preserve at Loantaka Brook Reservation in Chatham Township, a 136-acre natural area purchased and permanently preserved for public use with the assistance of a $10 million Morris County Open Space grant, will take place on Saturday, June 6, as part of a National Trails Day event in Morris County.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony, jointly sponsored by Chatham Township and the Morris County Park Commission, will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday at the trail head off Woodland Avenue in Chatham Township, a short distance from St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.
This joint effort preserves one of the largest remaining tracts of open space in southeastern Morris County. For the first time in more than a century, the public will be able to walk freely on what was already a private estate when Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge purchased it in 1916. After her death in 1973, the property became part of the Giralda Farms Corporate Park, off limits to the public behind a fence and guarded gatehouse.
But starting Saturday, the public will be invited to wander a current 1.2 mile network of hiking and off-road biking trails (which could be expanded in the future), which connects to the existing trail system at Loantaka Brook Reservation via Woodland Road.
In addition to the county open space grant, funding for the total $14.1 million preservation deal was provided by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program, Chatham Township Open Space Trust Fund, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, F.M. Kirby Foundation, Normandy Real Estate Partners, the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority and the Morris County Park Commission.
“This is a spectacular addition to the county’s existing network of natural lands and trails, which improves the quality of life for all residents of our county,” said Morris County Freeholder Director Kathy DeFillippo. “It is testament to the continued importance of the county’s open space trust fund, which helps to make such important preservation projects possible.”
“This project connects greenways and enhances the recreational opportunities for all residents of our county,” said Freeholder John Cesaro, county governing board liaison on preservation issues. “We thank all of the partners who worked to make this happen.”
“This is a wonderful resource for Chatham Township as well as all of southeastern Morris County, which will be forever protected and open to the public,” said Chatham Township Mayor Kevin Sullivan.
The Giralda tract features a stunning combination of meadows and hardwood wetlands and uplands, as well as lawns, winding carriage trails, majestic specimen trees, and a pond. In addition to recreational potential as a resource for hiking, biking and cross country skiing, the new preserve offers key environmental protections.
“The purchase provides an important wildlife corridor and opportunity for passive recreation while helping to protect water quality in the region leading into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,” said Sally Rubin, executive director of the Great Swamp Watershed Association.
For more than a century, public access to the property was allowed only for invited guests and, more recently, for special events, such as the Giralda Music & Arts Festival. Future plans for Giralda Farms Preserve at Loantaka Brook Reservation will include an extended walking trail, an entry kiosk, benches, and informational signs marking specimen trees and historic vistas. The tract is expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors a year.
The vast majority of the Giralda tract is owned by Chatham Township but the trail network and property will be maintained by the Park Commission.
“The Morris County Park Commission’s role as a partner on this project reinforces the commitment to protect Loantaka Brook and provide for recreational opportunities in the region,” said Morris County Park Commission Executive Director David Helmer. “The Park Commission and Chatham Township have worked collaboratively on a number of significant open space preservation projects over the years and this project is another example of the importance of teamwork when it comes to protecting our environmental, cultural, and recreational resources.”
To begin the celebration on National Trails Day, the Morris County Park Commission will hold a walk and bike ride starting at 9:30am at the Kitchell Pond portion of Loantaka Brook Reservation, at Kitchell Road between Spring Valley Road and Woodland Avenue on the border of Morris Township and Harding.
Participants will proceed south to the trail head of the new Giralda tract, where there will be a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony. Maps of the new Giralda Farms Park will be provided at the event.
For information on the history of Giralda Farms, click here.