Jungle Habitat 'not the right spot'

| 07 May 2015 | 02:11

The township council took another step forward to a possible ATV park in the township. And that has some residents concerned and a bit angry about having to deal with an issue they thought was put to rest.

Two weeks ago, the council authorized spending $11,000 for two feasibility studies to be done by Paul Ferriero of Ferriero Engineering, for ATV tracks in the township. One location is Jungle Habitat; the other is a site recommended by the West Milford ATV Committee. Residents of Mountain Circle, just off Morsetown Road and adjacent to the Jungle Habitat site, are not pleased with the site even being considered for an ATV park. They've been there and done that.

Twelve years ago, an ATV park was proposed for Jungle Habitat, said Jeff Simmers, a resident of Mountain Circle. Residents were concerned with the impact it would have on the neighbors. The state, county and town agreed with us back then, Simmers told the council Wednesday night. And now the issue has come up again.

"It's not that we're against an ATV Park," said Simmers. "It's just not the right spot."

Simmers said people ride ATVs there now and his neighborhood can hear it quite clearly.

"It echoes up there," he said.
And, he said, Jungle Habitat is now home to many bike and hiking trails that have been built by volunteers for quiet, passive recreation. It's not just the residents of Mountain Circle that will be impacted, he said. It's all the people who go to Jungle Habitat biking, hiking and walking their dogs.

"We're concerned we have to go through this again," he told the council. "We went through it already. We want the council to remove Jungle Habitat as a potential spot for an ATV park."

Crackdown prompts discussion of ATV park

The Jungle Habitat site is owned by the state of New Jersey and consists of 800 acres with 26 miles of paved roads. It is adjacent to Norvin Green State Forest. The Jersey Off Road Bicycle Association (JORBA) built several miles of trails for bicyclists, equestrians and hikers

In the state of New Jersey, it is only legal to ride on your own property or on someone else's with their permission. Last May, police were cracking down on ATV riders who were riding illegally at the Random Woods property, a 99-acre tract owned by the township and purchased with open space funds. It is accessible from trails off of Ridge Road, Mickens Road and Macopin Road. That sparked the discussion amongst the council to consider creating an ATV park where riders could come and ride legally.

"I think people should consider public property as 'their' property," said Councilman Lou Signorino at the time. "I would like to consider having a piece of property where the kids can ride. It is public land. I'm open to more than just having the trees grow there."

He added that people who ride ATVs should not be treated as criminals.

Since then, the council appointed at ATV Committee, of which Signorino is chairman. In April, he said the committee has talked about between 10 and 20 acres of land for the proposed park.

"We're not looking for Disney World here," Signorino said.

Problems with siteMembers of the public Wednesday night suggested the size of the land being considered for an ATV park - between 20 and 30 acres - won't be sufficient to sustain riders' interest.

Don Weise, director of membership and development for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, said he appreciates the council's desire to find a safe, legal place for ATVs, but this isn't the right fit because of its proximity to mountain bike and hiking trails and the residential areas.

He was also concerned with the size of the property. He said the council should try to find a property larger. A small track might have people trying it out and riding a few times, but they will get bored with it, he said. Riders who come up to West Milford for the ATV park might then find other illegal places to ride.

Jonathan Durant, a 14-year resident of Mountain Circle, is an avid cyclist. He said he brings his family and friends back on the Jungle Habitat property all the time.

"This is the best place on earth," is their reaction, he told the council.

Giving this property to just one group of people when so many enjoy it, he said, is something the council needs to rethink.

Feasibility study, not designIn April, the council's original resolution was for the engineer to design an ATV park, not do a feasibility study. Some residents were quick to condemn that. Tom Hennigan of Hewitt said the township should not pay for this, especially if a third party is to build and manage it. The township didn't pay for the design of the pump track or the hiking trails throughout the town. He called it "fiscally irresponsible" and said he hoped they'd vote it down.

Weise called it a "bad precedent."

The council changed the resolution to what it was originally intended - a feasibility study - and moved forward.

What do you think about the idea of an ATV park at Jungle Habitat? Or anywhere else in the township? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and tell us what you think.