In photo (L to R) Mark Texel, Director – Dept of Parks & Forestry, John Trombley, Vice President – Operations, Givaudan Fragrances, Mayor Rob Greenbaum, Mount Olive Township
Mt. Olive’s “best kept secret” was unveiled recently at the official opening of The Morris Canal Greenway Braille Trail.
Just a week after Earth Day, the ribbon cutting ceremony was held 2:30 p.m., Monday, April 28, at the trail’s entrance at Plane Street Bridge in Stanhope. The first phase of the mile long trail stretches north of the Plane Street Bridge, from Love Lane in Mt. Olive along the historic Morris Canal.
While the trail provides a great walkway for all individuals to enjoy, the trail incorporates a guided system for accessibility to blind individuals and the visually impaired.
“We are very happy that we reached the end of a very long road,” says Mt. Olive Twp. Mayor Rob Greenbaum, one of five speakers at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Greenbaum was among 60 other representatives local, county and state-wide; agencies such as the NJ Foundation for the Blind; and Givaudan Fragrances Corporation in Budd Lake, corporate sponsor of the trail. “We are very pleased with the outcome.” The trail is “an excellent place to go out if in a wheel-chair, stroller, mountain bike or walk in general. It’s a great walk; two miles back and forth.”
Greenbaum who walked the trail during a guided tour led by Joe Macasek- president of the Morris Canal Society, says “it’s beautiful; it’s shaded, It’s level. You can walk into Stanhope. It’s a country trail in the middle of Mt. Olive. It’s very picturesque, one of the best kept secrets in Mt. Olive.”
Mt. Olive Council Vice President Joe Nicastro says, “I would like to thank Givaudan for the support and work on this project. When I saw the trail for the first time I was very impressed with the project. It is a beautiful stretch that people will enjoy. It is great to see the cooperation of businesses and the township working together to create a better community for all residents to enjoy today and in the future.”
The Morris Canal Greenway Braille Trail has been in the works for the past year and has been a joint project by Mt. Olive and Stanhope townships and Givaudan Fragrance Corporation.
The concept of Givaudan participating in this effort traces back to 2009, according to Givaudan Vice President of Operations John Trombley, when corporate leaders identified a platform for employees to volunteer. The fragrant side of the company was encouraged to connect to the senses; while the flavor side was encouraged to connect to health and wellness.
While Givuadan has been “a pillar to the community” by giving to the Red Cross, disaster relief funds, purchase of an ice-rescue sled, improvements to Turkey Brook Park and other town events and projects, “nothing we had longstanding stood for what we were trying to be about,” says Trombley.
Providing a trail for the vision- impaired would be a perfect fit for the company’s vision for volunteering since it was a direct link to the senses.
Trombley says the goal was to support five areas: vision impairment or blindness; sustainability; employee involvement; sensory component; and health and wellness.
Mt. Olive Township leaders, meanwhile, had a “lost trail system that needed to be regenerated,” explains Trombley. There was a “three mile stretch in the Morris Canal Greenway with no plans to resurrect or improve.”
Greenbaum says “the project started several years ago” with leaders “looking to improve the trail system. We reached out to some companies to see who would want to partner to make the town a more beautiful place to live.”
Mt. Olive township officials then approached Givaudan about a year ago with the concept to improve the trail system while accommodating the visually impaired.
From April 2013 to Jan. 2014, Givaudan worked with the New Jersey State Parks and Forest Department of Environmental Protection, as well as historic societies of the Morris Canal Greenway to determine guidelines and identify the project’s scope, says Trombley.
About 60 Givuadan employees volunteered their time along with township workers to install a firm base of crushed stone along the mile trail; provide excavation work on the width of the trail providing a level base and hardened posts; and install 160 bollards or wooden barges along the trail with rope threaded through each barge, explains Trombley.
Materials and building construction needs were supplied by Givaudan; Mt. Olive Twp. provided time and resources to excavate the project; possible state or federal grant monies are being to improve thePlane Street Bridge.
With phase one completed, Trombley says plans for phase two will be to connect to International Drive with sidewalks and voice recognition to allow trail users to cross the street with the latest technology; and phase three to re-scope the existing trail to access the woods from International Dr. to Waterloo Rd.
His hopes are for the trail to reach three miles “All the way to Waterloo” when completed in three to five years.
“We are really early on but our hopes are to connect all that, but there are no firm plans yet,” says Trombley.
Some future plans will include a Sensory Garden, picnic area, benches, and an app to allow visually impaired people to understand how they are progressing through the trail.
Although “we did it for the visually impaired or blind,” Trombley says the trail will be “used by everybody. It’s designed for the enjoyment of all. It’s an absolutely beautiful stretch of land. It’s a very surreal path.”
The bollards and rope provide a “guided system” to provide assistance with walking. “The opportunity is there if anyone needs assistance.”
Trombley mentions the importance of raising awareness and supporting the visually impaired.
“Blindness, vision impairment is a concern that spreads and effects many people,” says Trombley. The new trail raises “awareness to those challenges and encourages the aid from those who suffer from it.”
Nicastro says, the Braille trail “is huge benefit to the area. The first phase which is open now will eventually continue on to connect to Continental Drive in the ITC. With many trials that we have or that are being worked on coming on line we will have one of the best trails in the area. With the Braille Trail, it will accommodate the visually impaired allowing more people to enjoy this trail for years to come.”
As far as maintaining the trail, Givaudan and the township are on board.
Mt. Olive Twp. has agreed to provide services to clean up weeds, and repair bollards and rope if needed, says Greenbaum.
“We hope to maintain the beauty of the trail,” says Trombley. “We will organize groups to help volunteer to maintain it,” like using a leaf blower or picking up garbage.
“Through interpretive signs in Braille and other features, this trail opens up the rich historic and cultural resources of the Morris Canal to the visually impaired, including the towpath and walls of the old lock tender’s house,” Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin said in a press release. “We thank our partners for undertaking this project serving sight impaired visitors and are honored to have played a role in establishing it.”
Stanhope and Mt. Olive each received $15,000 in National Recreational Trail grants from the National Park Service to enhance the trail, according to the press release.
Enhancements include improvements to the bridge at Plane Street, installation of wayside exhibits from the Plane Street Bridge to the Netcong Train Station, and improving the Houdaille Bridge.
Although rare in nature, other ADA accessible trails are maintained by the park service throughout the state, including portions of the 26-mile Paulinskill Valley Trail in Sussex and Warren counties and theD&R Canal in central NJ; and a nature trail in Cape May’s Belleplain State Forest.
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