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By Laurie Cleveland | 

Am I a tree-hugger? No. I haven’t earned that title. I’ve never tied myself to a tree, bulldozer, or chain link fence. I’ve never put my life in mortal danger for any cause. Though I’m a child of the 60’s, I’ve never even been arrested! I try to stand up for what’s right, tread lightly on the earth, and leave the world a better place.

I do enjoy a good protest. Marching on Washington, Trenton, Philadelphia is all very revolutionary. I do my best to be an active citizen: listening, learning, voting, and sometimes just showing up. It’s not always exciting (attending late-night meetings, researching, writing letters, and calling my representatives), but it is important. Maybe it’s in my blood. Since I have the ability, it’s my responsibility.

When I learned that my local zoning board was considering an application to turn a house into a boutique hotel, I urged my friends to attend the hearing. “How can you be against everything?” one asked. “They’re going to have a nice restaurant and bar, you know.” To be fair, I’m not against everything. I like lots of things: a delicious meal, a good glass of wine, a long walk in the woods. The fact is – a lot of the things I like rely on a functioning ecosystem. 

My dad was a farmer, and he came from a long line of farmers. He taught his kids that the food on our plates was the result of hard work – ours or somebody else’s. We learned to respect the land, the people, and the animals around us. When I was a kid, nature was everywhere, and humans were all a part of it. We made a living from the land, so we had to take care of it.

The Hopewell Township Planning Board understood this concept when they drafted the master plan in 2002.  “Land use and management decisions made today will determine whether we squander these riches through ill-conceived development and exploitation, or choose to be worthy stewards of the land and water, preserving what is best about the Township, and its critical resources, for future generations.” There it is. 

I’ve done everything I can to help my kids find their way to a happy, healthy life: braces, sports, piano lessons. I’ve been a Scout leader, cupcake baker, cheerleader, and proofreader. Why would I not preserve critical resources for future generations – and urge my elected officials to do the same? 

The above map indicates critical green spaces in bright green and blue, and the proposed hotel site indicated by a red dot. Commercial zoning within this sensitive area will be detrimental to the Sourland Mountain ecosystem. As New Jersey approaches buildout, it’s more important than ever to strengthen connectivity to ensure the survival of our native species. 

The Zoning Board’s decision today will likely outlive this applicant, you, and me. It will be passed along to the future owners of the property. Regardless of how “eco-friendly” the current applicant says that she would make this hotel, we don’t know the exact impact of this more intensive use would be on the sensitive species who rely on the rich habitat surrounding the property in the future. We don’t know a lot of things: how many hundreds of animals will be killed because of the increased traffic; how many birds won’t make their nests on the Fiddlers Creek Preserve because the light’s too bright or there are too many human voices next door. How will all of this new activity impact the water quality or quantity now – and as the climate warms? 

We do know that animals need connected green spaces to keep their populations healthy. We know how important that the Ted Stiles Preserve and Fiddlers Preserve are to the survival of native species, migratory birds, and our own health and well-being. We know that human activity causes birds to abandon their nests. We know that bird numbers are already in steep decline. We know that our trees are dying because of invasive insects. We know how to restore the forest and enhance the ecosystem to support native insects, amphibians, birds, fish, and other animals. We know how to sequester carbon. We know that humans rely on the ecosystem services provided by the forest, so it’s in our best interest to protect and strengthen the forest. 

Climate change is here, and our kids are facing challenges that we never imagined. Why would we not do everything we can today to ensure that they have clean water, fresh air, and healthy soil? They don’t need a boutique hotel, but they do need birds, turtles, and trees. The Hopewell Township Planning Board had it right in 2002, and I hope the Zoning Board honors their hard work today.

The citizens of Hopewell Township have made it a priority to preserve our green spaces, and we’re working hard right now to restore the forest. If you can, please attend the Zoning Board meetings via Zoom. Please reach out to your elected representatives to let them know that the environment is important to you – and urge them to protect it to ensure our own health and the health of our future generations