Groups eye a recreational Belcher's Creek West Milford. Several environmental organizations are coming together to help make Belcher's Creek available for recreational use.
Greenwood Commission Chair Paul Zarrillo and West Milford Environmental Commission Chair Steve Sangle study maps to determine access points along Belcher’s Creek as part of a recreation project.
Photo Courtesy GL Commission
By Ann Genader
Dreams of being able to paddle a canoe or kayak along Belcher’s Creek as a recreational activity are expected to come true sometime soon. Plans to clean up the creek that flows between Pinecliff Lake and Greenwood Lake, restore the waterway into a passive recreational area and seek open space funding from the township were presented at a meeting of the West Milford Environmental Commission Monday night. Aided by a grant from the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, the commission will begin to clear brush and debris from the creek in the coming months and will transform the water basin into a place for canoeing, fishing and hiking, Chairman Steve Sangle said. Present at Monday’s meeting was representation from Greenbrook Estates which borders the creek, Greenwood Lake Commission Co-Chair Paul Zarrillo, Mayor Michele Dale and Councilman Luciano Signorino. The township officials offered their support for the project. During the meeting the commission approved a motion to recommend an amendment to the township’s open space ordinance to permit the currently available one-third of the open space funds to be allocated for the acquisition or rehabilitation of open space properties along the creek. Belcher’s Creek is a five-mile tributary that flows from Bearfort Mountain through the center of town and empties into Greenwood Lake. At present, the creek is a major source of nitrates and phosphorus that dumps into the lake. The water from Greenwood Lake flows into the North Jersey District Water Supply system reservoirs in Ringwood and Wanaque. The reservoir system supplies drinking water for over 2 million north Jersey residents. “Restoring the creek to its natural state will help insure that the water running through it will be cleaner,” Sangle said. “In addition, once the project is completed it will provide an enhanced recreational area in the center of the township for residents.” The restoration project will be implemented in phases. The first phase to determine access points to public lands along the creek is underway. Under the direction of Zarrillo, this task started with a survey of public streets leading to the creek. Once all the access points have been determined the next phase will be to employ teams of volunteers to traverse the waterway and remove overgrowth and debris. The project will be supported by the New York-New Jersey Trails Conference. Environmental Commissioner Don Weise, an official with that body, has pledged to support walking paths in designated areas along the creek. Much of the land along the waterway is already publicly owned. The commissioners conduct monthly water tests of the creek. The grant will supply new testing equipment to more accurately gauge nitrate and phosphorus levels in the water. Test results are then shared with the Greenwood Lake Commission, which recently received a $90,000 planning grant from the New Jersey Highlands Commission. The bi-state group is also seeking $500,000 annually from the New Jersey Legislature to clean up the lake. Both Sangle and Zarrillo are encouraged by the outpouring of support for the project. “This is a major undertaking that will clean the water and restore the natural beauty of the area,” Zarrillo said.