the 50-acre Sycamore Creek Farm owned by Tony and Patti Cifelli in Hopewell has been designated for permanent preservation, the D&R Greenway Land Trust has announced.

Tony and Patti Cifelli raised their two children on the land. With the couple’s recent move to North Carolina, son Pete purchased the farm from his parents.

A forest of majestic trees, a stone wall and Christmas fern adjoins acres of farm fields. On the property is a home, circa 1830, and renovated barns. A tributary waterway, Jacobs Creek, flows to the Delaware River, recognized as the “2020 American River of the Year.”

“Protecting water quality is the core of D&R Greenway’s founding mission,” said D&R Greenway president and CEO Linda Mead, who first visited the site this summer. “The Delaware River watershed provides drinking water for 15 million people.”

Jacobs Creek creates a natural, rich forested valley, flowing from the nearby 146-acre Woosamonsa Ridge Preserve that was protected by D&R Greenway and is co-owned and managed with Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. Future hikers will have the opportunity to walk among stands of willow and alongside mature sycamore, sumac, red maple, red cedar, black walnut, mature oak and stately beech. Clusters of Christmas fern dot the woodland.

Trails, yet to be built, will enable a linkage to the Jacobs Creek trail to the south.

The Cifelli property contains habitat critical for salamanders and frogs. Experts expect rare wood turtle and dragonfly species, because of this land’s high forest quality. Birds that may be observed here include New Jersey Endangered and Threatened species, such as barred owl, worm-eating warbler, wood thrush, veery, hooded warbler, Kentucky warbler, Canada warbler and Cooper’s hawk.

Preservation funding was provided by public partners including the New Jersey Green Acres program grants to D&R Greenway and FoHVOS, Mercer County, and Hopewell Township. D&R Greenway contributed funds from a private donor, Gene Gladston, who made a bequest to its Revolving Land for Life Fund.

Patti Cifelli shared this family history on this beloved land:

“When we first walked the farm, April 1st 1984, we could see it as an incredible place to raise our children and keep horses. The stream valley was beautiful with its mature canopy. We envisioned some farm fields converted to horse pasture. The Johnson family (previous owners) emphasized that it was important that the property continue as a working farm. The farmhouse dates back to 1830, but the Johnsons had ‘only’ lived there for 70 years.

We named it Sycamore Creek Farm, inspired by massive trees along Jacobs Creek. It was indeed an excellent place to raise our family. My husband had experience in historic restoration. In addition to the importance of horses to (daughter) Sara and me, I have an intense love of nature. We not only taught our children to put in hard days’ work upon the land, but also to understand that natural areas should be maintained with the sense of stewardship for all life that it supports. Early memories include their Thurman grandparents, tapping our big sugar maples to make syrup; teaching them to monitor the bluebird nest box trail they had established. The farm was our major retirement investment.

We realized that preserving the farm would be far more desirable than selling to a developer. Opportunities for passive recreation for most people are dwindling in Central Jersey. Habitat for so many native plant and animal species is also shrinking. Preserving the farm guarantees that this beautiful place stays as it is, and will be soon enjoyed by more and more people. Preservation allows us to retire; keep our long-ago promise to the Johnsons; and still keep the farm in our family.”

The purchase of a conservation easement by D&R Greenway and partners enabled the land to stay in the family and continue as a farm with permanent protection. D&R director of land preservation Danielle Dobisch orchestrated the preservation as her first negotiated transaction with D&R Greenway when she joined the nonprofit land trust’s staff.

“Preserving land is about building relationships. Patti and Tony Cifelli really love their farm and wanted to do the best by it, to make sure the open land was there for the future. Having their son, Pete, purchase the preserved farm, just made the process so much sweeter,” said Dobisch. “I’m thankful to have worked with Patti and Tony to see their dream come to fruition: their farm preserved, forever.”

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