An updated Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) could have potential to help boost the local economy. Don Weiss, representing the West Milford Environmental Commission at a recent township Planning Board meeting, reported that the Commissioners believe the plan will ultimately bolster the local economy and provide funding for tourism options.
When the Planning Board was working on a new Master Plan the Environmental Commission discovered that a new Open Space Plan was required. Chairman Steve Sangle contacted the New Jersey Land Conservatory and the Commission successfully petitioned the Mayor and Council to retain them to do revision work.
Founded in 1981, The New Jersey Land Conservatory is a member supported nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting vital natural lands and water resources. The members work to inspire and preserve land and to protect the environment. The group has preserved over 20,000 acres of land and helped towns secure $233 million in county, state and federal grants for their land conservation projects.
“We were fortunate enough to receive a $10,000 grant to offset the $14,000 cost to do the upgrade which was a great saving of township money,” Sangle told The West Milford Messenger. “The remaining $4,000 was paid out of the Open Space fund that is available for these kinds of expenditures.”
Sangle appointed Weiss to be the liaison person between the Land Conservatory and the Environmental Commission. The plan was for the Conservatory group to create the document and then have it reviewed by the Environmental Commission. Next was submission of the document to the Mayor and Council for approval before forwarding it to the Planning Board members for their nod.
Goals for the 2021 Plan Update
Weiss noted that The Land Conservancy has been a good partner with West Milford in various projects for a long time and was diligent with efforts in connection with many land use topics.
Barbara Heskins Davis, Vice President of The Land Conservatory was at the Planning Board meeting. She worked closely with the Environmental Commission to make sure that the goals, outlined in prior plans, were still applicable. Goals for the 2021 Plan Update include:
Preservation of a semi-rural character and unique natural features of the township;
Enhancement of quality of life and promotion of a active healthy lifestyle for residents;
Protecting land which contributes to drinking water quality and quantity; and
Expansion of the trail and bicycle systems.
Davis observed that having access to some of the already preserved lands (accounting for 70 percent of the township) was expressed by stakeholders and residents during the plan preparation.
Review of portions of the plan regarding the township parks system, that include recreational facilities, revealed that sports leagues were approached to obtain feedback for the OSRP update. Davis said the Recreation Director is very engaged and involved with the parks system.
Some of the recommendations in the plan include completing facility improvements at Bubbling Springs Park, Brown’s Point and Lake Melody; additional walking trails around lakes and inclusion of fishing access; tracking and assessing usage and future needs for additional facilities and improvement of municipal park sites; assessment and implementation of field rotation practices. It was also recommended that the plan update be shared with the Board of Education to assist in planning efforts. It was suggested to make improvements to walking and bicycle paths.
Davis provided a Recreation and Space Inventory (ROSI). She noted it was the 60th anniversary of Green Acres which was established for preservation of land for recreation and conservation. She explained that if funding for open space and recreation facilities is received from the State of New Jersey, existing parklands must be identified and included in the ROSI. The properties that are funded by Green Acres essentially require contracts between a municipality and the State. The properties are restricted with restrictions noted in the deeds.
35,927 acres of preserved lands
Reviewing the acreage of the preserved lands, amounting to a total 35,927 acres, Davis recommended that the Environmental Commission monitor properties included in this total. The Commission has promoted a Town Center Loop, incorporating some of the properties in the approved Greenway Plan that would serve as a guide for future acquisitions. The proposed loop is about four miles and would include existing sidewalks and paths, providing pedestrian bikeway and multi-use trails service, linking neighborhoods, civic, commercial areas, as well as destinations. The governing body reviewed and discussed the proposal, but a plan must be developed for the loop to be implemented. It is being documented in the OSRP plan for future potential development.
Discussing the creation of a trail along Belcher’s Creek, a tributary to Greenwood Lake, Davis advised that this would include a partnership with the NY-NJ Trail Conference. The site passes residential neighborhoods and preservation of the water body corridor would provide access for hikers and boaters, but trail easements would be needed to access the river corridor.
The Hewitt/Butler Trail passes through Norvin Green State Forest and connects to Long Pond Ironworks, the Highlands Trail and other trails. Since part of the trail falls outside the State Park boundaries, protection of the land would prevent it from being used for alternate purposes.
The Greenway highlights the Village Center
The Greenway prepared by the Environmental Commission highlights the Village Center as the business/civic area, Pinecliff Lake, Belcher’s Creek, Hewitt/Butler Trail, and various back country land. It identifies opportunities for connectivity and protection, provides a locally connected and strong system of open space, enhances visitorship and tourism, and provides a boost to the local economy.
The steps in the action plan for OSRP include adoption of the OSRP as part of the Master Plan, submitting it to the State Green Acres program, conducting on the ground review of priority parcels using field visits and aerial mapping, meeting and working with the NY/NJ Trail Conference to connect the Jeremy Glick Trail as a prelude to establishing the Appalachian Trail Connector and pursuing recognition as an Appalachian Trail community such ads Vernon has done. Davis said the plan will be good for ten years once approved by the state.
Details of the Open Space Trust Fund are included in the plan. The fund started with the adoption of the township’s trust fund in a 2001 ordinance. The fund collects, through taxes, $0.0054 per $100 of assessment and as of 2020 has amassed $2.86 million and expended $3.78 million, including additional grant money received. The township received $3.3 million in grants from Passaic County and $2.07 million in Green Acres grants. The balance at the time of the updated plan is $1.43 million. Davis said that Green Acres funding is available and she recommended that the township pursue grants either for acquisition of land or recreation. She also suggested that the township approach Passaic County regarding funding for land for agriculture (City Green for Urban Gardens). Davis said there are several smaller communities that might benefit from this funding for small farms or community gardens.