Union County News

Union County Freeholders Vote Not to Approve Mountain Biking Trails in Watchung Reservation

Summit's Mayor Nora Radest asks the board for a compromise to be reached following an engineering study and environmental impact study. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
The board amended a previous resolution approving the Watchung Reservation Master Plan to reflect the board's disapproval of recommending and providing for mountain biking in the Watchung Reservation. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna

ELIZABETH, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders voted not to approve mountain biking trails proposed in the Watchung Reservation Master Plan at Thursday night’s meeting. The passing of Resolution 2017-412 effectively put an end to a months-long debate by county residents about the merits and hazards of creating mountain biking trails in the Watchung Reservation.

Forty-six people spoke before the board in an attempt to persuade a freeholder’s vote, with 22 people speaking in favor of mountain biking and 24 people speaking against it. In compliance with fire safety codes, a 125-person limit was in place for the meeting. As people left the meeting, those waiting in the lobby came in to take their place.

“I don’t want anyone to think that we take what you say lightly,” Freeholder Linda Carter said. “We hear what you’re saying and we have to take a look at the total. Sometimes, in order to have a win-win, you have to take a step back.”

Sign Up for E-News

Those in favor of mountain bike trails frequently argued that the trails would have a minimal impact, would allow schools to create mountain biking teams and would bring in more county residents to the reservation, among other reasons. Those opposed often questioned how the trails would impact the environment, worried about the proposed trails’ proximity to their homes and the dangers of mountain biking, among other reasons.

The vote passed 5-3, with Freeholders Wright, Granados, Bergen, Kowalski and Carter voting “yes.” Freeholders Hudak, Estrada and Mirabella voted “no” and Freeholder Jallon abstaining.

Before the vote, Chairman Bruce H. Bergen gave an impassioned speech explaining his vote, stating that he believed the addition of mountain bike trails would harm the environment, the reservation itself and the county.

“We as a county are not doing enough to maintain the trails that already exist,” Bergen said. “For now, we must concentrate on maintenance, repair and, as appropriate, re-commissioning current trails. I disagree with the statement that the Watchung Reservation is under-utilized. I believe just the opposite.”

Fellow freeholders agreed that the reservation needs more maintenance and that an environmental impact study must be done before expanding trails inside the reservation. Freeholder Granados said that the current vote does not mean mountain biking cannot be put back on the agenda or that a compromise cannot be reached in the future.

The vote was met with jubilation by some, who cheered and congratulated one another and the board. Those who were in favor of mountain biking in the Watchung Reservation left quietly.

“You can’t be upset the teacher didn’t give you an ‘A’ because you didn’t do the book report yet,” Scotch Plains resident Eric Larnick said, using the analogy to explain why he believes the trails cannot be built without an environmental impact study being done beforehand. “The reservation is Union County’s last standing nature preserve. We have to put the work in.”

Mayor Nora Radest of Summit and Mayor Paul Mirabelli of Mountainside also spoke before the board, asking for a compromise to be reached between the differentiating parties.

“Surely, with a thoughtful discussion, a thorough engineering report and an environmental impact study, a compromise among all of these important constituencies will be possible,” Radest said.

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders will hold an agenda setting session and a regular meeting on May 25 at 7 p.m.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Free Citizenship Workshop to be Held This Saturday in Elizabeth

March 19, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - A free Citizenship Workshop will be held this Saturday, March 24, at the Santa Isabel Lutheran Church from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. located at 908 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth.

The Citizenship Drive is an annual event that assists eligible residents to apply for naturalization. Immigration attorneys will be present to screen eligibility and trained volunteers will assist in the ...

Teacher Training at Trailside

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ  - Teacher Training programs at Trailside will be offered this spring for teachers of students in Kindergarten through grade twelve starting March 15.

Project WET, a teacher training program for teachers K – 12 will be offered on Thurs. March 15 from 9 a.m.. to 3 p.m.  This workshop will provide the necessary tools, resources, and lessons for teachers ...

Daylight Savings Time Begins this Weekend - Remember to Turn Your Clocks Forward

ELIZABETH, NJ - The winter months are about to come to an end. You know spring is definitely around the corner when Daylight Savings Time begins. A reminder to everyone to turn your clocks forward one hour tonight when you go to bed. Daylight Savings time officially begins at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. 

While many will dread losing that hour of sleep, that extra hour of daylight will be ...

Elizabeth Rotary to Hold “Pancakes to the Beat” Fundraiser

ELIZABETH, NJ - The Rotary Club of Elizabeth is holding their 44th Annual Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, March 24 from 8 a.m. to noon in the cafeteria at Victor Mravlag School #21, located at 132 Shelly Avenue, Elizabeth.  

Entertainment will be provided by School #21’s, Third Grade Recorder Ensemble. Tickets are $8 and include a full pancake and sausage breakfast. The ...

Union County Students to 'March for Our Lives' Saturday in Union

March 19, 2018

UNION, NJ – Students from all over Union County will be walking from Burnet Middle School to Town Hall on Saturday morning, March 24, in an anti-gun violence march.

Led by steering committee chairman Colin Sumner, the march, which has the support of Senator Joseph Cryan, Moms Demand Action, Union County Chapter, and the Union County Freeholders, is not aimed at taking away guns, but ...

Hillsborough: Suspended HS Athletic Director Charged with Theft

March 20, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Suspended Hillsborough High School Athletic Director Michael Fanizzi has been arrested and charged with the theft of $10,704 in athletic event receipts over a four-year period from 2013-2017, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson.

Fanizzi, 53, a resident of Conover Way in Hillsborough who had been athletics director for 14 years,, had been suspended ...

'Trying' explores age, youth and points of history in poignant production

‘Trying’ explores youth, age and points of history in poignant production

By Liz Keill

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The George Street Playhouse presents an engrossing, two-character play based on the real life of Francis Biddle, former Attorney General.

Biddle, a Harvard educated lawyer, served under Franklin Roosevelt and later Harry Truman during the Nuremberg Tribunal. His ...

Union County Celebrates Arbor Day 2018 with Free Trees for Schools

March 20, 2018

In recognition of Arbor Day 2018, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is once again partnering with the Union County Shade Tree Advisory Board to sponsor the annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Program, which provides free trees for participating schools.

“The Arbor Day tree planting program is a Union County tradition that provides students with important hands-on lessons about the ...