The Advertiser News (South) - December 20, 2001 issue
Area Officials Trying to Keep Trail Plan on Track
By Pat Mindos
Franklin - Frustrated borough officials and residents
are working to get the state's Rails to Trails project back on track
since very little progress has been made since the borough backed the
plan more than 18 months ago.
The vice-chairman of Franklin's ad-hoc committee, which
reviewed and recommended the plan, stressed why the project needs to
move forward before it's too late.
"We seem to have a situation akin to closing the gate
after the horse has left," said Phil Crabb, also president of the Franklin
Historical Society. "We seemed to have missed an opportunity. We need
to impress upon the important parties how much this project is significant
to the borough. We need to move forward as a council and champion this
cause. This is the key to all of the other initiatives, such as the
revitalization of Main Street as it ties them all together. The important
thing is that this trail should be built. We need to come up with solutions,
creative or otherwise."
The committee recommended two proposals: converting
an abandoned railroad bed into a biking, hiking, and walking trail;
and permit the state to purchase the property for open space preservation.
As of December 18, no closures are imminent, but the
state continues to negotiate with property owners. The state also hopes
to make the trail barrier-free.
"We are only willing to deal with willing sellers,"
said Richard Osborn, of the New Jersey Green Acres Northwestern Team
for acquisition projects. "We would like to see the other areas preserved
and there are a number of ways, which that can be done, such as by the
state, the local municipality, or non-profit organizations, like historical
During a three-hour meeting, Lou Cherepy, Northern
Regional Superintendent of State Park Services, Osborn and other New
Jersey Green Acres officials, met December 11 with Mayor Edward Allen;
Marianne Smith, Planning/Community Development Director for Franklin/Hardyston;
and Borough Clerk/Administrator Rachel Heath. Since then, the mayor
urged the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad Corporation,
of Cooperstown, to sell a portion of the rail bed to the state.
"We wrote a letter to the railroad, and included again
the documentations of the ad-hoc committee, and public support for the
project," said Allen. "I am urging the railroad to sell the rest of
the rail bed from Ogdensburg to Franklin for the Rails to Trails Project."
Councilman John Sowden is one borough resident that
has misgivings about the project but he said he remains open to compromises.
"If we all sit down and listen to people, I think the
trail is a doable project," said Sowden who owns property near the trail.
"Certain members of the ad hoc committee need to be more receptive to
the taxpayers who will be directly affected by the project."
The proposed trail will eventually include approximately
120 miles in Sussex and Warren County of which about three miles will
be in Franklin, and five miles from the Sterling Hill Mining Museum
to north Hamburg.
The council unanimously endorsed the plan, which eventually
won awards on the county and state level.
The state's Green Acres Program is also using the plan
as a template for other municipalities making application for green
Councilman Sowden and Jim Williams abstained from voting
because they own property, which adjoins sites recommended for state
The Green Acres initiative includes several parcels
of land for historic, botanical, and wildlife preservation, which the
council approved for state preservation.
Despite the awards, conflicts remain including how
the trail will impact its neighbors, such as the Immaculate Conception
Church, its school building; and industrial sites.
Parents and school officials expressed concern about
school safety and lack of building space.
The committee responded with recommendations including:
the installation of buffers by using fencing and landscape to provide
privacy for residents who live along the proposed sites; trails will
not cut into residents' properties; and the state must assume responsibility
for law enforcement on the trails.
The church recently purchased property from the New
York Susquehanna & Western Railroad Corporation, of Cooperstown.
Eventually, the church plans to expand to a portion of this property,
which would limit public access along the trail and divert the path
on to traveled roads.
Cynthia Collins, Hamburg-based attorney for the church,
could not be reached for comment.
In addition, Sowden spoke of industrial sites located
along the rail bed, which could be hampered by the trail. "My real concern
is we have a group of taxpayers who pay a lot of tax money but the committee
did not address their concerns," said Sowden. "Certain industrial sites
could be prevented from future development if the trail went through
along their property."
But Judy Williams, vice president of the Franklin Historical
Society and a resident of Wildcat Road, urged the mayor and council
to continue to pursue the project.
"This is an excellent project and it will benefit the
young and old alike and that is rare that everyone can benefit," said
Williams. "I commend the mayor and council for taking such quick action
for a job well done in a very short time in getting this program going
again. I urge you all to continue open talks and pursue the project."