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Efforts Escalate to Protect a New Jersey College's Cherished Forest Amidst Legal Challenges


Amidst an ongoing legal battle, a coalition of environmental advocates, educators, and community members is actively advocating for the preservation of a 2,000-acre forest surrounding Union County College. This pristine natural area, known as the Watchung Reservation, serves as a vital ecosystem, providing recreational opportunities, and supporting educational programs.

The Legal Battle

Real estate development company, The Rockefeller Group, has proposed the construction of a warehouse and distribution complex on a 246-acre portion of the forest. This plan has sparked legal action by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, who filed a lawsuit in 2022 to block the project. The lawsuit alleges that the project violates land use regulations and would cause irreparable environmental damage.

Ecological Significance

The Watchung Reservation is a diverse natural habitat, home to a wide array of plant and animal species. It is designated as a "Greenway" in New Jersey's State Development and Redevelopment Plan, recognizing its critical role in preserving biodiversity and providing a natural buffer between neighboring communities.

The forest acts as a natural filtration system, protecting the Rahway River watershed from pollutants. It also helps mitigate flooding and absorbs carbon dioxide, contributing to the fight against climate change.

Educational Value

Union County College has utilized the Watchung Reservation as a living laboratory for its environmental science and natural resource management programs. Students engage in research projects, conduct field studies, and gain valuable hands-on experience in the natural world.

The college also offers public programs and workshops in the forest, providing opportunities for community members to learn about the ecosystem and the importance of preserving natural spaces.

Community Benefits

The Watchung Reservation provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, including hiking trails, bike paths, and picnic areas. It serves as a sanctuary for wildlife, enabling visitors to observe and appreciate the natural beauty of the region.

The preservation of the forest would ensure the continued availability of these recreational and educational benefits for future generations.

Advocacy Efforts

The Forest Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, has launched a petition drive to support the preservation of the Watchung Reservation. The organization has already gathered over 10,000 signatures, demonstrating the widespread public support for protecting this natural asset.

In addition, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has hired a renowned environmental law firm to represent them in the ongoing lawsuit. The firm will argue that the Rockefeller Group's project violates the New Jersey Highlands Act, which protects sensitive natural resources in the region.

Uncertain Future

The legal battle over the Watchung Reservation is ongoing, with both sides presenting their arguments to the courts. The outcome of the lawsuit will determine the fate of this cherished forest.

If the project is approved, it could set a precedent for development in other protected natural areas in New Jersey. Conversely, a victory for the preservationists would send a clear message that the value of natural ecosystems outweighs short-term commercial interests.


The campaign to protect the Watchung Reservation is a reminder of the importance of preserving our natural heritage. Amidst the pressures of development, it is crucial to prioritize the protection of vital ecosystems and the educational and recreational benefits they provide.

The coalition of advocates, educators, and community members continues to rally support for the preservation of the forest, hopeful that the courts will ultimately recognize the invaluable contribution it makes to the environment, education, and the well-being of New Jersey residents.

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