It was a big celebration in Estell Manor Thursday morning for a major mile stone, not just for the state and several non– profit organizations who protect open space, but also for 13 families that turned over 5000 acres of land to be preserved.
It's land is pristine, its history is rich, and now this South Jersey treasure is open to the public, all 5000 acres of it.
"It's a big day. It's an emotional day for all the folks in Lenape Farms," Stewart Keener said.
Lenape Farms in Estell Manor has been a part of Stewart Keeners life since day one, and it's been in his family for nearly seven decades.
"Fathers and sons fished together here, they hunted together here, they discovered the property together. Fathers mentored their kids," Keener said.
This day is bitter sweet for Keener and so many others.
In a ceremony Thursday morning, the land was officially sold for $9.7 million to the state and will now be protected and open for the public to create its own memories here. This is the largest land acquisition in the state in at least four decades.
"We want people to enjoy everything from hiking, hunting, for families coming out spending the day. Its just an absolutely beautiful piece of property, Bob Martin of the D.E.P. said.
The families that have run Lenape Farms say this property is part of the fabric that has kept them together for so many years, while this is the end of an era for them as they pass the keys on to the state, they say they are proud of their stewardship here in preserving the land and are excited for the future.
"To put this down as a piece of my life's work, that this property was preserved in perpetuity, makes me proud not just personally, but also because I feel like the legacy that our grandfathers started is being perpetuated forever and I know they would be proud," Keener explained.
Lenape Farms has lakes, streams, woods and is a key watershed. Experts say it even played a major role in stopping storm surge during Hurricane Sandy.
While the decision to turn it over was not an easy one, the families say they knew it was the right thing to do.
"As difficult as it may have been for us, this is the right thing to do and this property should be in the public domain," Keener said.
If you are interested in spending time on this now public land, it is located on the 100 block of Steelman's Landing Road in Estell Manor.