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Posted on: April 13, 2017

Passaic County Freeholders Revitalize Highlands Preserve

The Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders have created a partnership with the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference to revitalize Highlands Preserve (formerly San Cap Park) in West Milford. Highlands Preserve, which overlooks Greenwood Lake, is adjacent to Abram S. Hewitt State Park and has the potential to be one of the premier hiking destinations in New Jersey. Currently, the informal trail network at Highlands Preserve has been heavily degraded with illegal use of off road vehicles (ORV), creating erosion and muddying the trails in the park.

The Freeholders will invest $100,000 into Highlands Preserve, and work with the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference to create a 5 mile network of trails, and to mitigate the illegal use of ORVs.

“The Freeholders continue to invest in our park system, and protect our county’s natural resources,” said Freeholder Director Sandi Lazzara. “A well maintained park system increases property values, creates a draw for tourists, and enriches the lives of those in our community.”

The 5 mile trail network that will be created, with the guidance of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, will be tailored for the needs of specific demographics; casual hikers, older walkers, and handicap walkers. Casual hikers enjoy moderately difficult terrain, but also expect well maintained and well mapped trails. Trails for older walkers will utilize gentle slope grades and even walking paths, while trails for handicapped patrons will be widened and conform to the requirements of the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG).

Printed trail maps and a wayfinding signage system, which will be installed in Highlands Preserve, are especially important to the safety of hikers, as they will prevent people from losing their way and will aid law enforcement to easily navigate the park in the case of an emergency.

During this project, three major natural resource management challenges will be addressed at Highlands Preserve. These challenges include trail erosion, wet tread, and invasive plant species. While illegal ORV use has eroded the trails at Highlands Preserve, the primary cause of trail erosion is the lack of trail design, which does not provide an opportunity for water to leave the trail. The 5 mile network of trails will include drainage features that will prevent further damage and make the trails easier to maintain.

The flatter trails at the park have not eroded from water flow, but severe water saturation or flooding can cause long stretches of mud that negatively impacts the usability of the trail. Drainage features on these trails will be added in conjunction with crushed gravel. Removal of invasive plant species will be managed by the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, which has a PhD ecologist on staff who will organize and train an Invasive Species Strikeforce that will periodically mobilize to remove target plants from the park.

The biggest challenge of remediating Highlands Preserve will be preventing further damage by ORVs. There are several obstacles to this goal, such as multiple entry points, most of which stem from residential properties that border Highlands Preserve. Passaic County will be proactive to combat this nuisance, and will include strategic landscaping that blocks access to vehicles, and advisories that will raise awareness of the damage caused by ORVs. Several popular access points have already been blocked by county staff, and the level of illegal ORV use has already been reduced. The county will also implement easy to construct trail designs, which will make it easier to maintain trails, and quicker to repair in the event of ORV damage.

“Highlands Preserve has the potential to be a star attraction of Passaic County’s park system,” said Freeholder Terry Duffy, who is a resident of West Milford. “We are committed to been making investments in our park system, which will provide more outdoor recreational activities for all our residents and families.  After this investment, the scenic and natural value of Highlands Preserve will be better realized, and that will lead to more responsible use of the park by patrons.” 

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