A proposal is working its way to the Union County Freeholders to cut almost 13.5 miles of new trails in the beautiful and historic Watchung Reservation, to be used exclusively for off road mountain bikes. These bikes are designed for rough terrain and stunts.
Mountain biking and hiking are incompatible. A bike might be travelling 30 miles an hour down a narrow winding path when it meets a family. 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. They would disrupt wildlife habitat. An environmental impact study needs to be performed. 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.
Who will patrol the paths to keep bikes and pedestrians separate? Who will patrol to keep bikers from cutting new trails? Union County Police have no bike unit so it will not be them.
Banning pedestrians from the 13.5 miles of new trails take away our right to public space and give it to the few who can afford these expensive bikes.
Off road cycling is a dangerous extreme sport. 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?
Who will bear the cost of defending lawsuits and paying judgments when Union County is sued by injured cyclists claiming improperly maintained or constructed trails?
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.
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 proposed trail is not a loop, more like a U. When a biker starts at one end and travels to the other, they will be inclined to cut through hiking paths to return to their point of origin.
The natural undeveloped areas of the Watchung Reservation should not be turned into an off road bike amusement park. The environmental impact 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 irreparable damage to this rare and precious jewel of protected wilderness.
There is a community meeting to receive input on this proposal at the Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation.
452 New Providence Road
Mountainside, New Jersey
Tuesday March 7 at 7 p.m.
The plan can be viewed at: http://ucnj.org/watchung-reservation-trails-master-plan/
-- William Toth - Union County NJ