Hidden Trail Cams Show Value Of Open Space

Deer are spotted by hidden trail cams within preserved township properties. (Photo courtesy Howell Township)

  HOWELL – Hidden within acres of preserved township properties, a secret army of trail cameras silently records the daily rituals of local wildlife inhabitants.

  With every candid shot of nature’s beauty, the trail cameras bridge the gap between the hustle and bustle of modern life and the tranquility of Howell’s open spaces. They serve as silent storytellers, offering a glimpse into the untamed beauty that flourishes beyond the beaten paths.

  In these secret snapshots, it’s clear that the animals feel safe to be their true selves, unaware of the unobtrusive lenses capturing these little moments. Deer have taken center stage, displaying their grace as they wade through water or pose stoically, undisturbed by human presence.

  The hidden placement of the trail cams serves a dual purpose – shielding the equipment from potential theft and safeguarding the town’s wildlife from unwelcome intruders.

  “The cameras are in areas where open hunting is not permitted,” explained Paul Novello, Director of Public Works. “We don’t want anyone to think the trail cams are there for that purpose.”

  Novello said he participated in discussions with Township Manager Joe Clark and Director of Community Development and Land Use Matt Howard, which led to the idea of installing the trail cameras within the preserved township properties.

  Initial screenshots from the trail cams are displayed on the township’s website under a section entitled “Wildlife Photos from Our Preserved Township Properties.” While some elusive creatures like coyotes and foxes have yet to make their screen debut, Novello is confident that they too have found a home in these untouched lands.

  Though not said in so many words, the visual documentation of open space represents a testament to the township’s commitment to preservation amidst concerns of overdevelopment. The looming threat of warehouses encroaching has triggered legal battles and unrest within the community.

  Howell currently lists 12 parcels of preserved land on its website. These properties alone amount to nearly 900 acres of unspoiled wilderness, equivalent to a sprawling expanse larger than 681 football fields or 484 soccer fields. Local authorities say the website offers a snapshot view of the actual total of more than 2,000 acres of preserved township property.

  While some of the parcels of land have been through direct acquisition, others have involved collaborative funding initiatives with Monmouth County, the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, or support from the NJ DEP Green Acres Program.

Deer are spotted by hidden trail cams within preserved township properties. (Photo courtesy Howell Township)

  Signs have made their debut as identification markers within the open space properties. The signposts are equipped with QR codes designed to provide instant access to detailed information about the acquisitions on the township website.

  Among the dozen properties listed as preserved land, Big Woods stands out as the largest and the one first acquired as open space. A 1995 deed transferred the first portion of this property, which stretches from County Road 547 to the rear edge of the Parkside Development. Subsequent deeds in 1996 and 1998 resulted in a total of 422.5 acres of preserved space at this location.

  Harms Pit, located on West Farms Road is the second most extensive piece of preserved space within Howell. A deed executed on March 16, 2006, reveals that Howell bought the property for over $12 million from George Harms Construction Company. Funding was provided by New Jersey Green Acres and the local municipality with the total acreage listed as 89.841 acres by the Township and 57.104 acres by Green Acres.

  Notably, four of the properties listed as already preserved on the township website represent acquisitions made since 2020. Additionally, the deed date for land donated from the Fountain Senior Apartments remains pending, known as the Maxim-Southard Tract, encompassing 43.623 acres.

Deer are spotted by hidden trail cams within preserved township properties. (Photo courtesy Howell Township)

  Residents formed various committees, each dedicated to different aspects of conservation. These include the Environmental Commission, Farmland Preservation Task Force, the Municipal Green Team, and the Shade Tree Commission.

  As the trail cams showcase the wildlife inhabitants in protected space, they also send a powerful message. Somehow, there exists a delicate balance between development and conservation maintained for the benefit of all who call Howell home. Few would deny it comes with its share of challenges.