Letters to the Editor

Response: Watchung Mountain Biking Plan


In response to the Watchung Reservation Mountain Biking letter by William Toth. 

Mountain biking is a healthy activity the whole family can enjoy. It benefits the body & soul. Something hikers can relate to. There is no trail user group that devotes more time and energy into protecting and sharing the trails we all love. 

The letter authored by Mr. Toth contains many inaccuracies and misconceptions. There's an obvious misunderstanding of what recreational mountain biking is all about. It is NOT a dangerous extreme sport. 

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See responses in [brackets] below:

A proposal is working its way to the Union County Freeholders to cut almost 13.5 miles of new trails in the beautiful and historic Watchung Reservation, to be used exclusively for off road mountain bikes. These bikes are designed for rough terrain and stunts. [This is not a proposal. It's a PLAN that has been studied, debated & adopted. Resources have already been committed and work has started.]

Mountain biking and hiking are incompatible.  A bike might be travelling 30 miles an hour down a narrow winding path when it meets a family.  So the plan’s proponents propose a system of separate paths. There are numerous problems with this proposal. [Not true. Biking and hiking have been compatible for many years on multi-use trails in parks all over NJ and around the world. 30 miles an hour on a cross country (XC) trail is ridiculous, if not impossible. Even a mountain bike on a paved road downhill would have a hard time achieving this speed. Mr. Toth is possibly confusing downhill racing at ski resorts on TV with cross country riding that is done by everyday folks all over NJ and what will be done in Watchung. The speed of recreational XC mountain bikers is much, much slower. Regardless, the bike trails in Watchung will be BIKE ONLY. So hikers need not worry.]

The proposed bike-only trails would develop most of the undeveloped forest preserve areas of the reservation, resulting in the loss of all the un-trafficked natural habitat areas. They would destroy the forest vistas and woodland solitude.  They would disrupt wildlife habitat. An environmental impact study needs to be performed. These undeveloped areas around the perimeter of the park present a forest wilderness to the hikers in the reservation and provide privacy for the homes at the perimeter. [Absolutely false. These claims lack any data to back them. On the contrary, studies have already been done. Plans are being implemented. Bikes are for the most part silent. Barking dogs are much more disruptive to wildlife. Are dogs banned? Biking trails are no more visible than hiking trails. Homes adjacent to the reservation are granted no special privileges simply due to proximity.]  

Who will patrol the paths to keep bikes and pedestrians separate?  Who will patrol to keep bikers from cutting new trails?  Union County Police have no bike unit so it will not be them. [Wrong, Union County Police is already patrolling the park on ATV's] 

Banning pedestrians from the 13.5 miles of new trails take away our right to public space and give it to the few who can afford these expensive bikes. [Hypocritical at best. Mountain biker's have the same rights to public space as hikers and equestrians. Hikers (pedestrians) have actively taken away bikers rights to public space for decades. It's the hikers who forced the county to keep the trails separate.

As to "the few who can afford these expensive bikes", bikes come in all price ranges. New & used. You can even get one for FREE in Plainfield at the Dairy Queen. A garage sale bike can be just a few dollars. Access to biking trails benefits everyone. ]

Off road cycling is a dangerous extreme sport.  The proposed bikeways include an elevation change of almost 200 feet in one area. There will be injuries.  Who will provide and pay for rescue operations? [Gross exaggeration. Mountain biking is NOT an extreme sport when recreational XC riding. Again, there seems to be confusion with sporting events seen on TV. Injuries are possible in any activity or sport.] 

Who will bear the cost of defending lawsuits and paying judgments when Union County is sued by injured cyclists claiming improperly maintained or constructed trails? [This has already been addressed by the county. Nationally recognized IMBA trail building and maintenance standards will be used. ]

Who will be using these trails?  Off road cyclists will come from all over the region.  The Summit train station provides easy access to these proposed trails, meaning New York City off road cyclists may show up in large numbers to use the park.[The same can be said for hikers & equestrians coming to Watchung. Does it happen?].  

Where will those who come by car park? The current lots are often filled to capacity on weekends. [This is addressed in the master plan]. 

Much of the proposed off road cycling trails run behind and close to homes in Summit, Berkeley Heights, Mountainside, Springfield and Scotch Plains, raising issues of privacy, tranquility, security and property values. Have the adjacent homeowners, police departments and neighborhood associations in these municipalities been notified or consulted? [This implies mountain bikers are criminal in nature and hikers are not. Insulting at best. Again, homes adjacent to the reservation are granted no special privileges simply due to proximity.]  

The proposed trail is not a loop, more like a U.  When a biker starts at one end and travels to the other, they will be inclined to cut through hiking paths to return to their point of origin. [Hikers may also be inclined to use a bike path for a shortcut. Should hiking be banned? This concern may be eliminated by more bike trails to connect the U.]

The natural undeveloped areas of the Watchung Reservation should not be turned into an off road bike amusement park. The environmental impact would be very destructive. Visit Washington Valley Park in Somerset County which allows bikes: footpaths have become wide characterless bikeways and hikers have mostly abandoned the park to the cyclists. [Untrue, thanks to the MTB community the trails are among the best maintained trails in NJ. In fact, trails are extremely well maintained wherever the MTB community is involved. Hikers benefit from thousands of documented JORBA volunteer hours on multi-use trails ]

This extensive overdevelopment of the Watchung Reservation will destroy the natural beauty of this preserved landscape and diminish its appeal for all other users. It will harm the animals and plants that thrive in areas which are currently inaccessible and undeveloped.  It will do irreparable damage to this rare and precious jewel of protected wilderness. [False, the MTB community will enhance the appeal of the park by being good stewards helping to maintain a much neglected and underutilized county asset. The health and sustainability of the reservation was considered when developing the master plan and has been adopted by the UC Freeholders. ]  


The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor.

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