This letter is in response to the editorial by Jennifer Popper, titled "VIDEO: Hikers Give Feedback on Mountain Biking in Watchung Reservation at Public Meeting". The editorial is largely biased and contains many false facts and should be considered fake news.
Firstly, to identify the opposition as hikers is misleading. Many of the proponents of open access are hikers as well. That moniker gives the impression that the “hikers” are the only stakeholders that have respect and care of our natural resources. That’s not reality. Many of the opponents were not self-identified hikers but were homeowners with property adjacent to the public land that oppose usage of that land. They are the “not in my back yard” contingent that selfishly worries about their property value decreasing as if the land or the views of the land behind their back yard belongs only to them.
Megan Stanley, PP, AICP of Consulting & Municipal Engineers or CME Associates, who drafted the Master Plan, was in attendance and presented a number of facts prior to the open mic session of the evening. Ms. Stanley informed the attendees that the environmental impact of the trails including wildlife, wetlands, and trees were studied prior to the drafting of the final plan. Yet, many in attendance chose to ignore the facts as she stated them and continued to make up their own to bolster their opinion.
For example: The editorial begins by referencing a presentation by Charles Weltner of Plainfield. He falsely claims that "the engineering firm only interviewed mountain bikers for their input. They did not interview adjacent land owners, hikers, trail stewards, nature students, environmentalists or birders.” There were, in fact, quite a few opponents that routinely attended the Freeholder meetings and very clearly and quite often voiced the same reasons presented last evening for their opposition. Those same points were the very reason that the plan was amended from shared trail access to this plan. He also questions the wildlife and environmental impact of the trails and used a billboard prop for a visual component to his presentation. Ms. Stanley had already spoken to this but Mr. Weltner chose to disregard her professional statements in order to further a pre-planned agenda.
This happened for most of the evening. Many opponents cited the lack of communication even though this was a very open and visible process from the beginning. Freeholder minutes are posted on line and are available to everyone. The Master Plan has been published, amended and republished for some time now. In fact, on January 3rd, 2016 Chairman Bergen, gave a speech in which he states; “Residents have also asked for new bike paths. I am pleased to announce we will be working to create unique paths for cyclists, hikers, and horse riders in the Watchung Reservation. This plan will be unveiled soon.”
Other presenters continued with false facts throughout the evening. One such presenter argumentatively insisted that trees will be cut down even though Ms. Stanley confirmed multiple times to the contrary. Many presenters insisted that wildlife and wetlands would suffer, even though Ms. Stanley said that wildlife and wetlands were taken into consideration and studies reviewed before this amended Master Plan was proposed.
It was clear that the prefabricated agenda to oppose any bike pathways in Watchung Reservation is not amenable to the facts as they are presented by professional engineers and city officials. The facts are conveniently disregarded to suit one particular agenda. It was embarrassing to watch our city officials and consultants lambasted and disrespected in a verbal cacophony of hysterical claims. After decades of being bullied by one user group who consistently reference the same argument, don’t you think the politicians and planners have done their homework before presenting such a plan? Isn’t it insulting to purport that a professionally trained environmental engineer working for one of the top engineering firms in the area hasn't considered these points?
It’s time to work together for what is in the best interest of our community as a whole and that begins by identifying each other as we are. We are not happy bird-watching hikers vs Red Bull guzzling adrenaline junkies. We are all stakeholders who care for and enjoy access to the outdoors. We value the environment and want our children and grandchildren to enjoy outdoor play. Through working together over the past year, listening to the input of opponents and proponents, the plan has moved from shared trail access to a separate trail system for children and families to ride their bicycles off-road. This plan is a fair plan.