FREEHOLD – It could soon be possible for bikers and hikers to travel along the Henry Hudson Trail right up to the county’s landmark Hall of Records, in the heart of Freehold.
At a Jan. 24 meeting, the Board of Chosen Freeholders agreed to spend $2.37 million to buy approximately 20 acres of land adjacent to the railway to extend the paved trail that begins in Highlands and continues through Marlboro on the way to Freehold.
“This isn’t something that will happen overnight, but there is a commitment from the county,” Freeholder Lillian G. Burry said. “The important thing is that we’ve acquired the land. Now we can prepare it for proper use.”
The three lots in question include two owned by Joseph & William Stavola Inc., a 9.9-acre Hudson Street lot and a 3.5-acre Ford Avenue lot, and a third 6.4-acre lot on Otterson Road owned by WHS Acquisitions of Freehold.
The Stavolas have agreed to demolish their concrete plant and clean up the lot for $200,000, which has been folded into the county’s cost of acquisition.
According to Andrew Coeyman, the Monmouth County Park System land preservation office supervisor, a parking lot included in the acreage will be subdivided and sold.
Burry said the longstanding goal of the park system is to connect the 12-mile-long northern section of the Henry Hudson Trail, which runs parallel to State Route 36 along the Bayshore to Matawan, to the trail’s southern extension.
The southern extension runs from Church Street in Matawan for 5 miles up to Station Road in Morganville. The trail then resumes at Big Brook Park in Marlboro and stretches 4 miles to the intersection of Route 537 and the beginning of East Main Street in Freehold.
Sean McGregor, who manages The Bicycle Hub, a bike and accessories shop on Route 79 near the Marlboro portion of the southern extension, said the acquisition will be substantial for the growth of the biking community and the expansion of the trail.
“The questions I get constantly are about making (the trail) longer and filling in the gaps so people can ride it end-to-end,” McGregor said. “Expanding it and connecting it to a place like downtown Freehold is a big positive that will only help promote the trail more, help grow business and help grow the community.”
McGregor said cyclists are currently forced to ride along a portion of Route 79, a well-trafficked county highway with a lack of directional trail signage.
Denise Vesce, an avid rider of the trail and the administrator of the Facebook group Henry Hudson Trail, NJ, said inexperienced riders and families with young children aren’t willing to take the chance on that section of the trail.
“It’s a huge deterrent. Unless you’ve ridden the trail a bunch and you know its ins and outs, it’s not the safest place to enjoy a ride. Better signage would help because it’s not clear. Families with children aren’t going to do that,” said Vesce, who grew up in Middletown and now lives in Keyport.
According to Burry, this property acquisition will allow the county to bridge the gap between the trail’s current end point and Freehold’s downtown business district, which Vesce said will make for an attractive destination at the end of a long ride.
The purchase of the acreage could also allow for a multitude of park system uses, including a potential skate park.
Currently the county operates a skate park at Seven Presidents Ocean Front Park in West Long Branch, about 22 miles and a 35-minute drive from the Borough.
“A project like this in Freehold would give the kids another site in the western part of the county,” said Burry. “But whether this is a little ambitious or if it’s even possible in Freehold has yet to be determined.”
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