Summit Trails Better Than Ever–Take A Hike!

View of the Passaic River from the Summit trail, September 2015

View of the Passaic River from the Summit trail, September 2015

Twelve months after we began, the Summit Passaic River  Park Trail Project is nearing completion. The trail has been mapped by City Engineer Rick Matias and the user-friendly product  placed in a wonderful new kiosk at the trailhead and on the City website under the Environment tab.   Volunteers have installed a sturdy bench at the trailhead, marked the trail with blazes and positioned stepping stones for surer footing where a brook interrupts the trail.

Later this fall, we will begin to plant the native trees and shrubs selected
by B.W. Bosenberg & Co., Landscape Architects, with input from Betty Ann Kelly, the Union County Environmental Specialist.  A rain barrel will be set up  which the City will fill, enabling volunteers to water the plantings.  Finally, the City will furnish and install a bike rack near the gravel parking area on New Providence Avenue.

Blazes mark the
Blazes mark the “Yellow Trail” in Summit

Incredibly, fifty-five individuals donated hundreds of hours to this project, including thirty first-time trail volunteers. Volunteer trail workers have become trail enthusiasts, spreading word about our lovely trails.   In fact, the improved  and more prominent trails are  increasingly popular with Summit residents.

One of our most exciting accomplishments was attracting seventy new hikers to guided trail walks led by Jackie Kondel of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum. We are working with other community groups to implement guided hikes on the trails to replicate this success.

Jewelweed on the trail, September 2015
Jewelweed on the trail, September 2015

In addition to valuable volunteer labor, the original $10,000 grant from the Overlook Medical Center Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative generated over $4,000 of in-kind donations to our project from the City of Summit, B.W. Bosenberg & Co., Union County, Cording Landscape Design, and the Reeves-Reed Arboretum. The project also renewed  interest in the trails among local Boy Scouts. Two Summit Scouts are currently at work on more  improvements to earn their Eagle Scout awards.   These Scouts  will be adding another kiosk, stepping stones and more blazes.

The Passaic River trail in Summit is better than ever. Go take a hike!

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Summit Trails Project: It’s All About the Volunteers!

View of the Passaic River from the trail, June 2015

View of the Passaic River from the trail, June 2015

When my good friend Jonathan Sacks mentioned that he was looking for a service project for the Men’s Club of the Summit JCC, I jumped at the opportunity to enlist this talented group in our trails project. So it came to pass that at 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, Jonathan led a group of sixteen able bodied men on major trail construction and renovation work at the Passaic River trails in Summit.   Armed with

Volunteers from the Summit JCC Men's Club

Volunteers from the Summit JCC Men’s Club

assorted rakes, shovels and wheel barrows, this determined group tackled most of the “heavy lifting” of our project. Over the course of the morning and into the early afternoon they labored, digging out invasive bushes, hauling and installing hundred pound stepping stones, erecting a kiosk and installing a bench. By 1 p.m. work was winding down and most of the group had left. As I finished cleaning up and thanking the last of the volunteers, an incredible thing happened.   A minivan pulled up to the gravel parking area and out stepped Brian Deutsch, one of the Summit JCC volunteers, together with his son Jacob aged 7 and daughter Ava who is 9. In the next ten minutes, Matt Cohen, another of the  volunteers, arrived with his family to join the Deutsch’s.  It turned out that Brian, who lived minutes from the trails but had never used them before, had rounded up his kids and their friends for an impromptu hike. Of course, he also showed off the impressive improvements he had just helped to create.

Families explore the trail on June 14, 2015 at the Party at the Dump

Families explore the trail on June 14, 2015 at the Party at the Dump

As Brian explained, “I actually did not know that you could access those trails from Summit. Now that we have discovered these beautiful and serene trails so close to our home, we absolutely plan on using them. They are easy to get to. You can go out and do a twenty minute hike because they are so close, and bring the dog and the family. The trails are manageable for younger kids. It wasn’t too difficult or too steep. The kids loved running ahead of us and we had fun trying to teach them to skip rocks.” Sunday, April 19th was a resounding success for our project.  Meaningful work was done by a new set of residents who have become champions of Summit’s wonderful trails,  dedicated to improving them and excited to use and share them too!

We Partied at the Dump and Took a Hike!

Jackie Kondel of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum leads a hike at the

Jackie Kondel of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum leads a hike at the “Party at the Dump”

Work on the trailhead is ongoing, but the number of party at the Dump posterhikers is multiplying!  Guided hikes on the trail were a highlight of the lively “Party at the Dump”  hosted by the City of Summit and The Summit Conservancy on Sunday, June 14th.    Jackie Kondel, Reeves-Reed Arboretum Director of Children’s Education, led three hikes at the event, exploring the trails with seventy hikers ranging in age from five to seventy-five.  The groups identified duckweed, may apple and skunk cabbage as they listened for the distinctive  “chickadee, dee, dee” of the tiny black-capped chickadee.   Participants  appreciated the easy access the trail provides to a peaceful stretch of the Passaic River, hidden so close to well-traveled roads and NJ Transit railroad tracks.

When our project began last August, the most requested improvement was a trail map. City ofUntitledSummit Assistant Engineer Rick Matias executed this challenging assignment, designing, producing and installing an informative map  in the fantastic new kiosk.  The map is available online on the Environment page on the City of Summit website.

Volunteers also built and installed a  sturdy bench at the trailhead, arranged hefty stepping stones and painted blazes to

On the trail on Sunday, June 14th

On the trail on Sunday, June 14th

mark the trail.    To date, a total of thirty-two individuals have volunteered their time and talents to the project, twenty-seven of whom were complete novices who had never worked or hiked on the trails before.   Our first-time trail workers became first-time hikers, excitedly sharing the trails with friends and family. Since August of 2014, invasive plant species have been mightily battled by the volunteers.  Even so, at least for now,  the invasives seem to be winning.  As a result, we’ve postponed our  plant and tree installations at the trailhead until the fall of 2015, at the earliest.  In a happier development,  the next few weeks will see the installation of a bike rack courtesy of the City of Summit. The trail is beautiful at this time of year.  Come out and enjoy it!

Summit Tackles Trail Project

 

Summit JCC Mens' Club Turns Out for Trail Work

Summit JCC’s Mighty Mens’ Club Turns Out for Trail Work

We were so excited last August to get a $10,000 grant to improve a neglected Passaic River Park trailhead in Summit, but our elation quickly dissolved into apprehension.  While we had experience with parts of the project like communications, planning and publicity, construction was way beyond our expertise.  Using power tools, digging deep holes in rocky soil, building kiosks and pouring cement  were not in our repertoire.   Lucky for us, where our knowledge foundered, Summit City staff and dedicated volunteers filled the breach.

City Employees Helping Out: Gus Reyes digs while Rich Caputo and Rick Matias look on

City Employees Helping Out: Gus Reyes digs while Rich Caputo and Rick Matias look on


A key contributor,  Summit City Assistant Engineer Rick Matias,  ably answered all our building-related queries and frequently met us at the site  to  work through construction issues.  Rick explained when it was appropriate to secure a structure with gravel (in our case, the bench) and when cement was required (for the
kiosk).  When it seemed that a task would be near impossible for our team of volunteers (like digging four foot deep holes in rocky soil), Rick arranged with Summit’s

Dan Chomuk of Cording Landscape Design at the trailhead

Dan Chomuk of Cording Landscape Design at the trailhead

Superintendent of  Public Works Paul Cascais and Director of Community Services Beth Kinney for City employees to help.  Rick supervised while Foreman Rich Caputo and Senior Maintenance Worker Gus Reyes dug in challenging conditions with a mechanical auger.

In the days before the holes were dug, Union County Environmental Specialist Betty Ann Kelly revisited the site when  Cording Landscape Design Project Manager Dan Chomuk carefully marked the holes’ locations.  Dan graciously returned early the following Sunday morning with a donation of 10 eighty pound bags of Quikrete for the kiosk installation.

The construction of the kiosk required a dedicated volunteer who knew his way around a tool box.  Here we were so fortunate to

Dr. Jeff Hankinson works on the kiosk in his garage

Dr. Jeff Hankinson works on the kiosk in his garage

have Summit resident Dr. Jeff Hankinson step forward.   Dr. Hankinson built the fabulous kiosk in his garage and disassembled it for transport to  the  site.  There, with help from the spirited Mens’ Club of the Summit Jewish Community Center, the kiosk was  set and the Quikrete poured.

The kiosk takes shape as Dr. Jeff Hankinson and Peter Eliot constructing the  roof

The kiosk takes shape:  Dr. Jeff Hankinson and Peter Eliot constructing the roof

The flurry of  activity at the trailhead and our blogging  has created a buzz around the trails.  Many other volunteers have stepped forward to help, including father and son team Jason and A.J. Bernstein, who are painting  yellow blazes to mark the trail.  Residents will appreciate these  blazes on Sunday June 14, when the Summit Conservancy hosts guided hikes at its family-friendly Party at the Dump. While our project is still a work-in-process, we can’t wait to show off all we’ve accomplished!

Trout lilies bloom on the trail in April 2015

Trout lilies bloom on the trail in April 2015

Enthusiastic Partners Propel Trail Project

Fall 2014 on the Trail copyright: Betty Ann Kelly

Fall 2014 on the Trail
copyright:
Betty Ann Kelly

Last August, when the Summit Environmental Commission  and The Summit Conservancy won a $10,000 grant from Overlook Medical Center’s Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative to improve the Passaic River trails, we knew that we had our work cut out for us.  For one thing, these trails are owned by Union County, so they would have to be a key player in the project.  In addition, the scope of the proposal, including creating a plan for the trailhead, building and installing a kiosk and bench, planting native species, grading and blazing the trail, required expertise and manpower beyond our capabilities.  Therefore, we recognized that our first step to realizing our ambitious proposal was crucial:  we needed  a meeting of key stakeholders, including experts who could help accomplish the plans.

Our meeting on August 6, 2014, included representatives from Union County, Betty Ann Kelly, Dept. of Parks and Recreation Environmental Specialist, and Daniel Bernier,  Director of Division of Park Planning and Environmental Services, who would

BRRR-UC Environmental Specialist Betty Ann Kelly and Judy Mandelbaum discuss plans at the trailhead

BRRR-UC Environmental Specialist Betty Ann Kelly and Judy Mandelbaum discuss plans at the trailhead

have ultimate decision making authority on our plans.  Also in attendance were representatives from the City of Summit, Paul Cascais, Superintendent of Public Works, Aaron Schrager,  City Engineer and Rick Matias, Assistant Engineer, who were crucial to facilitating our plans.  Finally, volunteers Katrina VanDeusen, Senior Project Manager for environmental consulting and remediation firm EWMA, and Judy Mandelbaum, representing the Environmental Commission http://cityofsummit.org/Environmental-Commission and The Summit Conservancy http://summitconservancy.org/ , rounded out the group.

The Fight is On:  Summit Mayor Ellen Dickson Battles Knotweed

The Fight is On: Summit Mayor Ellen Dickson Battles Knotweed

At our first meeting, Betty Ann Kelly quickly provided leadership and direction.  Our project was burdened by the presence of Japanese knotweed over much of the area.   Betty Ann explained  the County’s experience with the invasive nuisance and best practices for combatting it.  She also agreed to supply plans for building the kiosk and bench as well as suggestions for appropriate native plantings.  City staff offered their support for the project, agreeing to revisit the proposed trailhead and contribute expert advice in engineering and construction.  The meeting generated consensus and excitement for the project, with Betty Ann declaring,  “Our partnership with Summit will continue to be an exceptional one.”

After our initial meeting, we proceeded on three main paths.  First, Beth Lovejoy, Environmental Commission chair, took on the role of publicizing the project and enlisting volunteers.  Then knotweed removal began.  Betty Ann arranged a demonstration of the knotweed injection technique by local expert and retired chemist Larry Murrell, and work ensued to eradicate this destructive weed.  Next, we reached out to professionals for advice on planning the trailhead installation.

Trailhead Plan developed by  Bosenberg & Co.,  Far Hills, NJ

Trailhead Plan developed by
Bosenberg & Co., Far Hills, NJ

Brain Bosenberg and Meredith Carman, landscape architects at Bosenberg & Co., meet with Judy Mandelbaum at the trailhead

Brain Bosenberg and Meredith Carman, landscape architects at Bosenberg & Co., meet with Judy Mandelbaum at the trailhead

When we explained our project to esteemed landscape architects Meredith Carman and Brian Bosenberg of Bosenberg & Co., whose  landscape architecture clients include Summit’s Reeves-Reed Arboretum, they quickly offered to help.  With input from Betty Ann Kelly, Bosenberg & Co,  developed and donated a wonderful  plan.  In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be hard at work carrying out this ambitious plan and refocusing our efforts on the final stage of our project: raising  awareness and usage of our lovely trails.