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, with22 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


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 ...

'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 ...

Proud to Support Tom Malinowski for Congress

March 7, 2018

Every single day, whether I want to be or not, I am reminded how important it is that Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in November and check Donald Trump. Fortunately, there is a terrific candidate in New Jersey's 7th Congressional District who can beat incumbent Leonard Lance. That candidate is Tom Malinowski.

I'm a lifelong New Jersey resident -- including ...

Upcoming Events

Tue, March 20, 7:30 PM

Cranford Community Center, Cranford

Free “Organic Vegetable Gardening” Presentation

Green Health & Wellness Home & Garden

Fri, March 23, 8:00 PM

Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood

Strollers Present John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt"

Arts & Entertainment

Sat, March 24

Black Diamond Billiard's, Union

Ladies 9-Ball Pro-Am by the Garden State Pool Tour

Other Sports

The Life and Writing of James Baldwin

March 20, 2018

Join us on Monday, April 9 at 6:30 pm at the Union Public Library for a discussion on The Life and Writing of James Baldwin. 

The influence of writer and social critic James Baldwin reached far and wide. In this unique exploration of Baldwin's groundbreaking literary and social justice work, actor/comic Grant Cooper and scholar Dr. Lindsey Swindall engage participants in an ...