URGENT A group of aggressive mountain bike enthusiasts have pressured the Union County Parks Department and the Union County board of freeholders into creating 13 ½ miles of mostly new mountain bike only trails in the Watchung Reservation.

These trails are already being constructed – and to my knowledge without proper vetting, community notice and input and authorizations and approvals.

This is not something that can be done on a trial basis – once these trails are created it would take decades to undo the damage. The current Watchung Reservation trail design was laid out by the Olmstead office a century ago to preserve these landscapes and natural habitats for future generations.

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We are the current stewards of this jewel of a natural park and have the responsibility to protect it from aggressive over development and damage for future generations.

The Watchung Reservation Trails Master plan and the proposed bike trail plan can be downloaded & viewed at: http://ucnj.org/watchung-reservation-trails-master-plan/

It is urgent that all union county residents who want to know more about these plans and or are opposed to this development contact the county manager, the parks and recreation directors, and the freeholders immediately and attend the meetings at: Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation 452 New Providence Road. Mountainside, New Jersey Tuesday March 7, 2017 at 7 p.m.

The next Freeholders meeting is this Thursday March 9, 2017 at 10 Elizabethtown Plaza, Elizabeth, NJ 07207

Mountain biking and hiking are incompatible. Too many hikers and bike riders have been injured sharing trails - particularly in heavily used parks in densely populated areas - The IMBA - International Mountain Bike Association also takes this position.

So the plan’s proponents propose a system of separate paths. There are numerous problems with this proposal. The proposed bike-only trails would develop most of the undeveloped forest preserve areas of the reservation, resulting in the loss of all the un-trafficked natural habitat areas.

They would destroy the forest vistas and woodland solitude. These undeveloped areas around the perimeter of the park present a forest wilderness to the hikers in the reservation and provide privacy for the homes at the perimeter.

These mountain bikers would disrupt wildlife habitat. There are threatened and endangered species in some of the areas marked for trails – the Barred Owl and Woodland Turtle among others.  An environmental impact study based upon this trail proposal needs to be performed.

I am a Mountain biker myself and I can attest from experience that most off road bikers are courteous and abide by the rules – but there are plenty of bikers who will be ‘bombing the woods’ going off trail and be on the equestrian and hiking only trails – they are constantly on these trails now. How can these trails be policed to keep bikes and pedestrians separate and keep bikers from cutting new trails?

There are mountain bikers beside myself who are opposed to this plan and are content riding in the 21 other New Jersey parks listed on the JORBA - Jersey Off Road Biking Association website that are in lower density population areas and are not as heavily used. Off road cycling is a dangerous activity.

Bikes were allowed for a trial period in the reservation in the 1990’s but was stopped after a few months due to trail damage and serious injuries.

The proposed bikeways include an elevation change of almost 200 feet in one area. There will be injuries. Who will provide and pay for rescue operations and the cost of defending lawsuits and paying judgments when Union County is sued by injured cyclists? Who will be using these trails?

Off road cyclists will come from all over the region. The Summit train station provides easy access to these proposed trails, meaning New York City off road cyclists may show up in large numbers to use the park. Where will those who come by car park? The current lots are often filled to capacity on weekends.

Who will pay for these trails? The Watchung Reservation Trails Master plan specifies that the cost to construct these trails properly will cost $11 per foot x 13.5 miles = $784,080.00.

Much of the proposed off road cycling trails run behind and close to homes in Summit, Berkeley Heights, Mountainside, Springfield and Scotch Plains, raising issues of privacy, tranquility, security and property values. Have the adjacent homeowners, police departments and neighborhood associations in these municipalities been notified or consulted?

The natural undeveloped areas of the Watchung Reservation should not be turned into an off road bike amusement park. The environmental impact of this and illegal bike use of the hiking and equestrian trails would be very destructive. Visit Washington Valley Park in Somerset County which allows bikes: footpaths have become wide characterless bikeways and hikers have mostly abandoned the park to the cyclists.

This extensive overdevelopment of the Watchung Reservation will destroy the natural beauty of this preserved landscape and diminish its appeal for all other users. It will harm the animals and plants that thrive in areas which are currently inaccessible and undeveloped. It will do irreversible damage to this rare and precious jewel of a protected wilderness.

William Toth - Union County NJ

DOWNLOAD MASTER PLAN REPORTpdf