By: Jillian Risberg
It was the brainchild of Councilwoman Stephanie Lyden, who hatched this committee idea with a few friends seven years ago. She explained her vision to environmental consultants, Greener by Design in Randolph that handles trails throughout the state.
“We came up with a master trails plan and it’s finally off to a running start,” Lyden says.
The goal is to implement a trail system that runs from the North side of town to the South side of town so people can bike and hike and walk the trails.
“Randolph has an extensive trail system as does Mendham and Roxbury; we’re just trying to connect over there,” the councilwoman says.
Starting on the side of town near Randolph and then connecting to Jonathan’s Woods, which is on the South side of Denville.
“That’s our ultimate goal,” Lyden says. “We’re starting at Openaki Road —- and that’s the first trail people can enjoy. There’s a bridge and a trail that goes through there; it’s about two miles long and connects over to a playground. We’re having a dedication in early summer.”
According to Lyden, the first trail was at Muriel Hepner, the path around the park there.
“We’ve had to get council approval so we did a presentation — actually we’ve done about three presentations to the council to get open space funds from the county each year that we’ll dedicate towards making this happen,” the councilwoman says. “We do have $20,000 in open space money and hopefully next year we’ll have some more.”
They also apply for grants every year but have not yet received any.
“From what we understand, when Randolph did this there was so much grant money out there and now there’s not unfortunately,” the councilwoman says. “The county doesn’t give as much as they used to. We did apply again this year, so we’re hopeful.”
There are lots of folks who love to hike the trails, especially Patriot’s Path in Randolph and if they could connect to that, Lyden says it will be everything.
“People in the community have come forward to say they want to help but it’s very hard to get volunteers to do this,” she says. “It takes professional people because it’s a huge undertaking, heavy work and we need a lot of equipment.”
So this is going to be done by the DPW because it has to be.
“You can’t just go and make a trail,” the councilwoman says. “We actually tried a little bit on our own; myself and my committee and it was ridiculously hard.”
She spoke to the town of Randolph; that’s how she first got involved with Greener by Design and their expertise has been priceless.
Community reaction to this upcoming venture has been nothing but positive, according to Lyden.
“People can’t wait for it to happen; unfortunately these things take time,” she says.
“From year to year we’ll have more and more trails done, but you’re talking overall to connect north to south that’s a 10 to 20-year project,” the councilwoman says. “It’s a huge undertaking.”
Ben Spinelli and Frank Pinto of Greener By Design were hired as private consultants to create the Trails Master Plan for Denville and they finished it in summer 2018.
After a yearlong process of doing public outreach and evaluating the conditions in the township they came up with a proposal to create a township-wide trail system for Denville’s residents.
“Denville is a geographically dispersed community. It’s a long way from the South end of town which is south of Route 10 all the way up to the North end of town, which is north of Route 80,” says Spinelli, an expert in land use issues who spent 20 years as a trial attorney handling litigation matters as well as representing clients in the areas of municipal law, land use, real estate and planning.
He also was also a three-term mayor of Chester Township, where his accomplishments included the permanent preservation of more than 3,000 acres of environmentally important open space and farmland.
Being able to provide a unified system where one could travel by foot or bike throughout the township would be a major benefit by providing healthy recreational opportunities.
“Get people outside, let them experience the natural assets that Denville has to offer by connecting the community to area facilities and provide those accessible opportunities,” Spinelli says. “Those are all longterm goals of the trail plan.”
The project is still in its infancy and they don’t currently have a lot of existing trails but that could always change.
“They certainly would take advantage of the existing trail network, as limited as it is now,” Spinelli says. “To build upon that as the seed of being able to expand it into a much more ambitious and compressive trail network.”
“Probably looking at a segment that’s already partially built that connects Casterline Road to Mount Pleasant Turnpike through to Den Brook Park. There’s a trail there and a right of way that they can take advantage of,” he says.
“If they reach the Randolph border they’d be able to connect the two towns trail networks down in that part of Denville. That would give added benefit to residents in both communities.”
When it comes to the price tag of such an enormous endeavor like the Paths and Trails Systems, Greener laid out a cost estimate in the plan and it is charged by linear foot.
Denville’s plan proposes creating 23 trail segments throughout the municipality totaling more than 18 linear miles of trails. It would link to such key destinations as the NJ Transit Denville Station, St. Clare’s Hospital, town and county parks, schools, lakes, rivers and ridgelines, neighborhoods, surrounding town trail systems and the vibrant downtown business district.
“What it would be for me to construct a trail and those costs differ based upon the type of trail that you’re building,” Spinelli says. “Obviously if you’re building a natural foot path it’s far less expensive than if you’re building a paved multi-use trail.”
According to the consultant, what they envision is that the Denville trail would be a combination of unimproved trail, of lightly improved trail or very improved trail depending on where it’s at and what type of terrain it’s crossing.
“What the usage is anticipated to be,” Spinelli says. “And those costs vary depending upon the type of trail that you’re constructing.”
He says they tried to take advantage of land that was already publicly held so that future land acquisitions would be at a minimum.
“Because that certainly factors into the cost as well,” he says. “You might have to buy a small parcel to make a connection and that factors into the cost. What we did was provide the base information necessary for the governing body of the township to make responsible fiscal decisions for the longterm.”
If they take a look and say this is a priority connection and it’s going to cost them $100,000 to do, Greener can then make the decision as to whether or not they want to invest that money this year.
“And whether or not we have the financial wherewithal in our budget to be able to do that because it’s important,” Spinelli says. “That’s kind of the framework that we provide with our report so they can make an informed policy decision on when and where to make those investments.”
For Lyden, this is personal.
“When I started with the council I wanted to make a difference,” she says. “I wanted to find something to dig my heels into while I’m here and this is what I came up with.”
For Pinto, a land use expert with 25 years of experience in the public sector working for the County of Morris assisting local and county governments with issues related to farm management, policy and open space planning — it’s really gratifying that not only were they able to get these lands acquired, now they can get people out and enjoying them.
It’s about what you want your town to be like when your kids live here. Pinto says they just keep instilling that notion into public officials so they realize that what they’re doing today can have a long-term impact.
According to the consultant, Morris County towns were under siege in the 80s and 90s with development so the real push then was to acquire the lands before they became developed so they could retain the character of their town.
“They‘ve basically completed that work, there are parcels here and there that everybody still wants to acquire but the vast majority are acquired,” he says. “Now let’s see what we can turn them into as green assets for the town.”
Being involved in land acquisition work for years, the consultants say now this is the next evolution of the open space process.
“The investment that’s been made with all this public funding is paying off,” Pinto says. “And in this day and age of political turmoil it’s nice to focus on what is best for a town, for their park system, for the next two or three generations of residents. We’re not looking at things from the next election.”