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Somerset County to Expand Sourland Mountain Preserve by 402 Acres

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted February 18, 2024


The 6,000-acre Sourland Mountain Preserve in Montgomery Township and Hillsborough will expand by another 402 acres. Somerset County officials voted this week to purchase the former Hillsborough Golf & Country Club, located on the northwest side of the preserve, for $6.75 million.


Photo of a dairy barn on the Hillsborough Golf and Country Club property. Courtesy of Somerset County.


The Somerset County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously on February 13 to purchase 402 acres in Hillsborough, expanding the Sourland Mountain Preserve in central New Jersey’s largest forest. The property was formerly the Hillsborough Golf & Country Club, located on both sides of Wertsville Road. The large tract of land was owned by the estate of the late Bryce Thompson IV—a New Jersey land baron who bought and sold more than 15,000 acres of land, mostly to developers in central New Jersey.


“The Estate of Bryce Thompson is pleased to see the property acquired by Somerset County for open space,” said Executor Archibald Reid.  “During his lifetime, Mr. Thompson worked with Somerset County to preserve over 1,000 acres of his land in and around the Sourland Mountain that may otherwise have been developed. Mr. Thompson’s willingness to work with the county was key to the ongoing preservation efforts of the mountain and its resources.”


Somerset County led the negotiations with the Thompson family and will contribute the largest amount to the purchase using approximately $3 million from the county’s dedicated open space tax fund. New Jersey’s Green Acres program is expected to contribute about $2.3 million, and Hillsborough Township will contribute the remaining amount from its open space fund.


“This property has long been at the very top of our priority list for preservation, and we are grateful to the state and Hillsborough for helping us make this acquisition possible,” said Somerset County Commissioner Director Shanel Y. Robinson. “This is the single largest open space acquisition Somerset County has made in 20 years.”


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Commissioner Melonie Marano, who serves as liaison to the Somerset County Open Space Advisory Committee, says, “The preservation of this property expands the Sourland Mountain Preserve, which is vital to protecting plant and wild animal life, migrating birds, clean water, and outdoor recreation."


The 402 acres stretch from the north side of the Sourland Mountain to the Amwell Valley below and are visible from miles away. The parcel south of Wertsville Road consists of 75 vacant acres on the side of the mountain with areas of mature woodland and open farm fields. The portion north of Wertsville Road consists of 327 acres, including approximately one mile of Neshanic River frontage, and had been used as a golf course and polo field.  Structures on the property include three storage barns, three residences, a small motel, and a clubhouse.

The yellow area in the map is the land to be preserved in Hillsborough, adding 402 acres to the 6,000 acres (in green) already preserved in Montgomery Township and Hillsborough by Somerset County.


While both the buyers and sellers have signed the sale agreement, the closing will not happen for several weeks or months, during which time the property will remain privately owned and should not be visited. Once the county takes ownership, the public will be invited to contribute to a master plan to guide the passive development, restoration, and use of the property, including potential uses for existing buildings. 


“Public service is about leaving our children a better world, and protecting natural land helps achieve that,” said Hillsborough Mayor Robert Britting, Jr. “Working directly with Somerset County to protect over 400 acres of land in Hillsborough was an honor.”


Jay Watson, co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, says he "is thrilled Somerset County has authorized the preservation of this strategically important property."


In addition to being adjacent to the Sourlands Mountain Preserve, it is also adjacent to the 1,150-acre Rainbow Hill preservation area.


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