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Open Space Institute Unveils Design for ‘Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project’ Together with Morris County Parks Commission and Project Partners

Photo Credit: Jack Morningstar

JERSEY CITY, NJ (October 28, 2021)—After two years of site investigations and engineering work, the Open Space Institute (OSI) celebrated the completion of a permit-ready final design for a seven-mile loop trail and water quality improvements to the 1,300-acre Boonton Reservoir property in Morris County, NJ.

A long-sought goal for Northern New Jersey, OSI’s design is a critical next step in making the land around the reservoir publicly accessible to the approximately 15,000 residents who live nearby, while providing enhanced security to the area in order to safeguard a critical clean water source. The Boonton Reservoir site has been the primary water supply of Jersey City since 1904.

The design is the culmination of the historic 40-year lease and cooperative management agreement for the site struck between Jersey City and Morris County Park Commission in 2018, and OSI’s subsequent comprehensive Property Management Plan for the Reservoir which was issued and approved by Jersey City in 2019.

Photo Credit: Tony Turner

OSI’s recent work included a site survey, archaeological assessment, geotechnical investigations, environmental assessments including habitat assessments, stormwater/hydraulic analysis, security/dam safety, structural/bridge design, and the siting of parking and trail access features.

OSI’s site investigations have informed a design that is sensitive to both the abundant wildlife that call the reservoir home and the site’s critical infrastructure, while providing for the first time a formal plan to provide well managed, passive access and improvements to address stormwater.

“OSI is so proud of the permit-ready design we have created as outlined in the Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project management plan, and appreciates Morris County’s commitment to realizing the promise of new outdoor, public access for area locals and visitors,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “We were able to outline a clear process to achieve this ambitious, but attainable plan, that will provide safe and managed access to the site, while also securing the source of clean drinking water for almost 320,000 people.”

“Throughout the pandemic, New Jerseyans found much-needed solace and recreation in our state’s beautiful outdoor spaces,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill, NJ 11. “It was wonderful to join the unveiling of the new park and trail designs at the Boonton Reservoir alongside the Open Space Institute, the Morris County Park Commission, the New Jersey Highlands Council, local officials, and project supporters from across northern New Jersey. In NJ-11, we have a long history of prioritizing the environment and protecting our open spaces. I appreciate that OSI ensured this project included environmentally-friendly construction planning and a commitment to improve water quality. I look forward to seeing the finished product in the coming months and joining our neighbors in welcoming this incredible recreational addition to our community.”

“Our administrations have worked closely together every step of the way, and this is an important step towards improving and protecting the local neighborhoods and natural habitats,” said Mayor Steven M. Fulop, City of Jersey City. “Today’s milestone is reflective of the fact that our joint commitment has never wavered to protect Jersey City’s water supply, the environment, and the surrounding neighborhoods from storm water runoff, all while simultaneously establishing 7 miles of secure access for local residents’ enjoyment.”

Photo Credit: Tony Turner

“The initiative to develop a recreational trail around the Boonton Reservoir owned by Jersey City has been a phenomenal partnership between public, private and non-profit entities which will realize exceptional hiking opportunities and ensure the continued protection of drinking water for Jersey City residents,” said Dave Helmer, Executive Director of the Morris County Park Commission.

The Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project design was developed to meet New Jersey’s environmental permitting and trail building requirements. Once the project receives its environmental permits, OSI will hand the project over to Morris County who can undertake the actual construction and management. The Morris County Park Commission expects to break ground on Phase 1 of the trail in 2022.

The heart of the design is a 7-mile loop trail, to be made of natural pervious materials, and to be constructed in phases. Also included are gateway signage for the trail, three parking areas, and a new pedestrian bridge trail across the outfall of the reservoir’s historic dam.

Public access to the site will be limited to a narrow trail corridor and permitted uses will include only passive activities such as walking, running, and cross-country skiing. For water quality, OSI’s plan includes installation of new green infrastructure to provide drainage solutions. Native plantings will help filter stormwater runoff and create additional wildlife habitat.

Allowing the public to enjoy limited use of the site will facilitate cooperation between one of New Jersey’s great urban centers and the communities that support the protection of its drinking water supply.

This project is an example of how public-private partnerships can be leveraged to increase public access to nature, especially in densely developed communities.

OSI’s work on the Boonton Reservoir Enhancement and Trail Development Project has been made possible by the following generous funders: Atlantic Health System, F.M. Kirby Foundation, the Community Foundation of New Jersey, the Highlands Council, The Luzzi Family, The Randy & Barbara Ann Frankel Foundation, S. Dillard & Adrienne Kirby Philanthropic Fund, Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Township of Parsippany, and Kim and Finn Wentworth.

About the project

The 1,300-acre Boonton Reservoir property is located in Boonton and Parsippany-Troy Hills Townships. Fed by the Rockaway River, the 700-acre reservoir serves as the primary source of drinking water for Jersey City. On its way to Jersey City, the water passes from the reservoir through a treatment facility which purifies an average of 50 million gallons a day.

The plan aims to improve the quality of incoming storm water runoff through new drainage solutions and the addition of native plantings.

The Reservoir is home to red-shouldered hawks, northern goshawks, great white herons, and American eagles. It will provide a venue for daily outdoor exercise; educational opportunities to learn about the water supply; woodland hikes with water views; leaf peeping in the Autumn; and flashes of Revolutionary and Civil War history. The path has the potential to link with new regional connections to the Rockaway River Greenway, Morris Canal and Patriots Path.

In September 2018, the Jersey City Council passed a city ordinance authorizing the execution of a 40-year lease agreement with the Morris County Park Commission to develop and manage a trail at the Reservoir. The ordinance also authorized OSI to create a master plan to determine public use of the property. While developing the project, local consultants Greener by Design and Amy Greene Environmental were instrumental in developing and conducting outreach around the initial plan.

OSI then created a comprehensive Property Management Plan for the enhancement of the Boonton Reservoir and, after a series of public meetings held in 2019, the Jersey City Council formally voted to move forward with the project. Now, OSI has unveiled the Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project permit-ready design with the goal of providing Morris County with the design details, environmental permits, and other approvals they need to implement this ambitious but achievable public amenity.

About OSI

Over the past 16 years, OSI has worked to protect more than 21,000 acres of New Jersey farms, forests, and local parkland within the Highlands, the Pinelands, the Bayshore, and the heavily developed northeastern suburbs. In addition to the Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project, OSI’s current projects in New Jersey include efforts to create the Essex Hudson Greenway.

In New Jersey, OSI has played a pivotal role in catalyzing the state’s highest conservation priorities for over 16 years with work that has spanned the Highlands, the Pinelands and the Bayshore, and accelerated the protection of farms, forests, and local parkland.

A leader in conserving land for drinking water protection, OSI has protected over 11,000 acres through easements in the Beaverkill Valley and over 20,000 acres of New York City's watershed lands in Delaware County — including around the Ashokan Reservoir, New York City’s deepest drinking water reservoir, which is also ringed by scenic, celebrated hiking, and biking trails.

Within the Delaware River Watershed Basin, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, OSI has also built upon this decade-long experience using scientific knowledge to drive on-the-ground land conservation work.

Through its Delaware River Watershed Initiative, OSI has approved grants totaling over $7.6 million to protect almost 20,000 acres of land to ensure water quality in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In addition, OSI has supported efforts to integrate watershed science in public and nonprofit planning initiatives to channel funding to protect important watershed lands.

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