HAWTHORNE, NJ - Saturday morning Rayna Laiosa, Environmental Commission Chairwoman and Councilwoman for Ward 2, welcomed a crowd of supporters to the grand opening of the Gateway to the Passaic River in Hawthorne. Among those gathered were contributors to this project, including the commissioners of The Green Team, designer Matt Leconey from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Resources Program, Boy Scout Troop 30, and Jason Usnick of Downes Tree Service. Laiosa also recognized Pat MacDonald and Carol Robertson of their commission, Mary Mahon who designed the new Gateway Trail Sign and Paul Whelan who constructed it from wood donated by John Minicozzi.

Leconey discussed how the Rutgers University program he worked with focused on extending learning outside the university and into local communities. Their main focus was water resources, such as streams and rivers. To control the runoff that will occur due to the parking lot's existence, he explained the part that the beautiful rain gardens would play. "What we've done is create these shallow depressions in the ground so that when it rains, the runoff from the parking lot will go into these rain gardens and the plants will allow for the rain to go into the ground and naturally treat it." Form meets function as the rain gardens also help to beautify the space. 

Located just beyond the ball fields and recycling center on Wagaraw Road, the Gateway to the Passaic River is a project that had been underway for over two years due to a variety of obstacles that arose along the way. One of the many challenges that planners were faced with was the scope of the presence of poison ivy. The decision was made to focus on the removal of poison ivy from the main walkways and posting educational signs on poison ivy trees, complete with informative QR codes. 

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Another obstacle that arose was on April 11, 2019, with the discovery and rupturing of a chemical canister in the ground, which stirred up a full investigation by the Hawthorne Police Department and the Department of Environmental Protection. Due to the public safety issue it presented, the project was immediately halted until the investigation came to a close. After the area was deemed safe by all investigating parties, the project was cleared to continue.

Additionally, there was recent damage to Gateway caused by Tropical Storm Isaiah, which ravaged through New Jersey. Thanks to the emergency work from Downes Tree Service, the path was able to be cleared and the project to be completed.

The biggest hurdle that organizers had to overcome was arguably the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as the project was moving along, the restrictions put forth by Governor Murphy halted the project yet again. Rain gardens that had started to be developed earlier this year were put on hold. There was a community event planned for residents to add plants such as milkweed to the pathway which had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Downes Tree Service was brought in again to complete the planting plans safely.

During her speech, Laiosa said, "It's been a really long road, but you know what? There's really all positives that came out of it; we cleaned up this area, and we made it beautiful." She went on to share what a great contribution the gateway will be making on the community during a time where people need more outlets. Because of the rise in the search for activities to keep residents occupied during the pandemic, Chairwoman Laiosa is confident that there will be even more interest in the Gateway. Fishermen, boaters, and kayakers have already been reaching out for details on opening dates and information about the boat launch access. It is clear that families are seeking out new ways to explore the great outdoors now, more than ever, and this addition to Hawthorne is sure to provide that.

Mayor Goldberg shared a few words before his ribbon cutting and the unveiling of the gateway trail map and entrance sign. He was proud of the councilwoman's drive throughout this process, as she secured a $50,000 grant which was only afforded to four projects in the entire state. "This will really put Hawthorne on the map as a sustainable city," Goldberg said. "Rayna has taken something that was an eyesore and turned it into something that is beautiful and sustainable." Goldberg added that there has been a lot of work towards taking Hawthorne to the next level, and creating a place that is "environmentally friendly, business friendly, and friendly to its residents" is exactly what the community needed.

A new Green Infrastructure website has been rolled out by the borough, which can be found by clicking here.  The site provides further information about the Gateway and other Green Team projects.

The community is encouraged to bring their families down to the Gateway to the Passaic River and explore the newest addition to the town. Boaters and kayakers alike now have the ability to utilize the boat launch, and fishermen are encouraged to stop by and enjoy the open access to the Passaic River. 

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