PARSIPPANY, NJ – Area residents will have eight miles of walking trails if a proposed trail around the Jersey City Reservoir is approved.
The Jersey City City Council approved a 40-year lease agreement, at the price of $1, between Jersey City and the Morris County Parks Commission for the development of the walking trail, according to the Jersey City Environmental Commission website. The trail would be constructed and managed by the parks commission, at a cost of about $5 million for construction, to be funded by the parks commission, but private fundraising and sponsorship opportunities may partially fund the trail. The reservoir provides drinking water for Jersey City, and the Jersey City City Council will be voting on the project on Nov. 25.
In order to accomplish the complicated task of protecting the security and conserving the natural resource that is the reservoir, the parks commission developed a management plan working with the Open Space Institute (OSI) and Greener by Design. OSI is a conservation land trust designed to protect land with a focus on water quality and public access, according to OSI Senior Vice President Terrence Nolan. Greener by Design will be designing the trail, being mindful of the environment, Nolan said.
“The reservoir is not a usual property,” Nolan said. “It’s a drinking water property, so we have to deal with the storm water and come up with new drainage solutions. For example, the trail will be neighboring Route 287, so we’ll have to divert storm water away from the highway, and we’ll be using natural engineering to slow it down and allow the silt and sediment to filter out, because the west side is very steep.”
The trail will be a 7.7-mile loop, and be made of natural materials like dirt, stone dust or gravel, according to the Jersey City Environmental Commission’s management plan. Only walking, running and cross country skiing will be allowed on the trail, and no dogs will be allowed on the trail, according to Frank Pinto, Principal at Greener by Design, which contributed to the management plan.
Five access points to the trail are proposed – three with dedicated parking, one designed for foot traffic only, and one auxiliary parking area that could be opened as need dictates. The trail will be marked for visitors and to guide emergency first responders, the management plan states.
The Parsippany, Boonton, and Morris Park Police Departments will coordinate on both day-to-day monitoring of the site and incident response. The Parsippany Police Department will conduct daily patrols of the property. The entire trail will be constructed so that the ATVs used by first responders will fit. For safety access, there are 10 non-public use access gates. Cameras will be installed to monitor the trails and reservoir, the plan states.
Maintaining benches, trash pickup and other maintenance will be the responsibility of the Morris Parks Commission. The trails will not be lit, so use will be dawn to dusk only, Pinto said. If funding can be obtained, a two-mile ADA-compliant trail will be constructed.
The plan says that the town of Lower Boonton is not perfectly preserved at the bottom of the reservoir, a commonly held belief, although some of the foundations of those buildings are indeed still there. The reservoir was finished in 1902 and fishing was allowed from 1996 until 2001; fear of terrorism resulted in the closing of access to the 7.2 billion-gallon body of water that year following the Sept. 11 attacks. Fishing and boating, however, will not be allowed as part of the current plan.
The organizations foresee the construction being done in four phases, with the eastern area – starting near Greenbank Drive and wrapping around the southern portion on Route 46 – the first section, comprising about three miles.
Phase II would be two miles in Boonton by the Washington Street pedestrian bridge. Phase III would be a little more than a half mile by the dam, and Phase IV would be two miles along 287, and will be the most difficult and sensitive, since construction will have to avoid disturbance of heron foraging areas and potential Bald Eagle nesting areas, the plan states. Elevated wood boardwalks will be constructed in sections of trail that cross wetland areas, mostly in the Phase IV area. Bridges and wooden walkways called “puncheons” will also be used as needed.
If the property management plan is approved, and the final trail design is approved by the winter of 2020, the entities expect Phase I construction to begin in 2021, provided state Dept. of Environmental Protection permits are obtained, and the trail to open starting in that year, in waves, with construction phases to possibly occur concurrently, Pinto said.
Pinto said the trail would also have educational opportunities, such as corporate work days, outdoor classroom learning opportunities, “Friends of the Reservoir”-type cleanup days, and there is a Jersey City Waterworks laboratory building that may be opened up for classroom learning.
For the nearly 15,000 residents who live nearby, according to the land management plan, opening the reservoir trail will provide a resource for walkers and nature lovers. The Morris County Parks Commission, Greener by Design, and Open Space Institute held information sessions at Parsippany and Boonton town council meetings, and while Pinto said Parsippany residents merely had a few questions, some Boonton residents were less than thrilled with the idea, due to what they felt would be an increased tax burden. Several residents came to the microphone at the Oct. 21 meeting and stated their concerns that their police department would be stressed by the extra area to patrol. They felt it would add traffic to the parking areas and garbage to the trail. Resident Michael Bouroult worried about property values and said, “Maybe Parsippany can afford this, but we can’t.”
Julia Summers Executive Director of the NJ Highlands Coalition said that the coalition was excited for the benefit the project would provide to area businesses. She called it an exciting project. Other residents did come to the microphone and state their support; Dave Hassett said it would bring economic and wellness benefits to the town.
At the Boonton meeting, Mayor Matthew DiLauri had a couple of questions about parking but did not seem to oppose the trail. Multiple attempts to reach Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano were unsuccessful, although Nolan and Pinto both indicated to TAPinto Parsippany that Soriano felt very favorable about the trail because the township would be effectively gaining a park maintained by the county park system.