HIGHLANDS – It may soon be possible to take a hike through Hartshorne Woods on a trail connecting Battery Lewis to the Twin Lights Museum, thanks to a deal between Henry Hudson Regional Board of Education and the Monmouth County Park System (MCPS).
The school is selling 14 acres of unused and undevelopable school property to the county for $2 million. The deal, announced at the Jan. 16 Henry Hudson Regional Board of Education meeting, is expected to close in 4-6 months.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity because our parks here in the northern portion of Monmouth County are so tough to add to,” said Andrew R. Coeyman, supervisor of county parks/land acquisition services. “There’s usually so much development around them that adding land is an impossibility. But this partnership not only allows us to add land, but add to the historical experience of the area.”
Hartshorne Woods Park is a 794-acre wooded area with 16 miles of walking and biking trails and historic military bunkers, with views of Sandy Hook, the rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. Trails also lead down to the river’s edge where an observation dock extends out into the waterway, offering views of Sea Bright and Rumson.
Plan for a New Path
The county parks system plans to use this newly purchased land to install a 5-foot wide walking path from the Battery Lewis to the Twin Lights, which are approximately one mile apart. The path would wind northward from the World War II-era coastal artillery site, around Henry Hudson Regional’s dirt baseball and softball fields, to the pair of beacons which date back to 1862 and overlook Sandy Hook Bay and New York Harbor.
“One of our big initiatives is to connect people with parks,” said Gail L. Hunton, chief of the MCPS acquisition and design department. “It’s not enough to just have parks in isolation. People really want to be connected to places of importance, and being able to have residents walk out of a school or come up from a nearby community and have immediate trail access to these facilities is something we’re very excited about.”
Hunton served as the project manager for the restoration of Battery Lewis and said that more than 2,270 patrons visited the site this past summer during limited openings for guided tours. She envisions offering Tri-District students access to educational programs about the military installation on the site.
“You are our neighborhood schools. So we would love to coordinate with you and your social studies departments to work out a partnership between your schools and our historic site,” Hunton said.
According Coeyman, a title search showed the targeted land was owned by the United States government and given to the school board at some point in the 1960s. He added that the county had expressed interest in purchasing the land since it first acquired a stake in Hartshorne Woods back in 1973. A year ago the discussion was revived.
“The land we’re looking to acquire is not currently being used by the school board because of its topography,” Coeyman said, noting that most of the land has at least a 20 percent upslope toward the peak of Mt. Mitchill’s scenic overlook, which is not conducive to development.
The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders authorized the land acquisition at its Jan. 10 meeting, to be paid for using the county’s Open Space Preservation Trust Fund with $2 million, subject to adjustments for acreage, taxes and other closing costs.
The figure was derived from calculations made MCPS planner Paul Gleitz, who said, based upon the standard 7,500-square-foot lot sizes in the area, a developer could conceivably disperse 16 to 20 homes on the 14-plus acres.
But if the deal goes through no homes will ever be built on this land, because with its acquisition by the county park system, Coeyman said it will be added to the county’s Recreational and Open Space Inventory (ROSI), forever protecting it from any future development. On the Borough of Highlands tax map, the land is described as Block 13, Lot 1 (P/O); Block 14, Lot 1; Block 17, Lot 1 (P/O).
Jon Crowley, the Atlantic Highlands Borough Council liaison to the school board, asked if, excluding the ball fields, there existed room for expansion of Henry Hudson Regional High School if there was a need in the future.
Henry Hudson Regional School Board business administrator Janet Sherlock said no such land exists for outward expansion and the development of the land under discussion would not have been an option.
“Before the county parks came into the picture, we looked into developing some of this land and it was cost-prohibitive, because of the sloping, the retaining walls that would be needed, and because of what the ground is made of. The material is so hard it’s difficult to build on,” Sherlock said.
This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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