By Jay Cook |
HIGHLANDS – Last year, borough residents observed construction crews passing through town to access the storm-battered Atlantic Highlands segment of the Henry Hudson trail to execute a million dollars’ worth of repairs.
The popular trail for bikers, strollers and runners ends at the Highlands border.
The opening of that renovated trail has revived a discussion in Highlands about the potential value of extending the route through the bay-front town.
On Feb. 7, the borough council unanimously voted to ask the Monmouth County Park System (MCPS) for assistance in connecting the 24-mile-long Henry Hudson Trail to Highlands. A detailed, Intra-Borough Bike Path plan was introduced and presented in late 2011 but was shelved in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy months later.
“It just so happens that you kind of get cut off once the bike path ends from Atlantic Highlands, which is ridiculous,” said Highlands councilwoman Rosemary Ryan, who helped oversee the report in 2011. “You can get to Hartshorne Park and Sandy Hook from here.”
Joe Sardonia, an MCPS supervising landscape architect, said talks about extending the trail into Highlands had stalled after Sandy.
“We haven’t really looked at that very closely recently,” Sardonia said, “and it’s a bit disjointed.”
The 2011 plan was generated to be both a thoroughfare for bikers and joggers who utilize the trail, as well as for residents looking for a safe way to commute by bicycle through Highlands. The small, 0.71-square-mile bayside community hopes to connect the Henry Hudson Trail to about a dozen local roadways with significance.
The report was split into four categories – the Henry Hudson Trail section, Huddy Park section, Downtown section and the Hill section – each offering its own unique amenities. Bicyclists would be able to safely access many of Highlands’ restaurants, local businesses and its numerous borough, county and state parks.
“It would be a direct benefit to our local economy,” said Carla Cefalo-Braswell, president of the Highlands Business Partnership. “It would definitely be an economic driver because people would potentially see more businesses instead of seeing the trail ending and not coming into town.”
The report also suggests bike racks, interpretive signage, informational kiosks and bicyclist-friendly roadway markings all be implemented along the route.
The most challenging aspect of the bike path, per the report, is the Hill section, where bicyclists would have to cross Route 36 and traverse up hilly roads to the historic Twin Lights State Park and to the 794-acre Hartshorne Woods Park.
At Hartshorne Woods Park, the park system has been improving Battery Lewis over the past few years. The former military outpost served as a defensive location for Fort Hancock’s protection on the New York Harbor during World War II. The site has become a refurbished, walk-through informational center set to open in the spring.
But Sardonia said connection to Hartshorne Woods Park would not be so easy.
“I think it would be a benefit,” he said, “but the question is how do you do that in a safe manner, given the existing roads?”
Ryan, the councilwoman, said she also envisioned the Henry Hudson Trail running through Highlands onto Gateway National Recreation Area and then into Sea Bright.
The Henry Hudson Trail currently runs in sections from Freehold to Atlantic Highlands, passing through Marlboro, Matawan, Keyport, Hazlet and Middletown. According to the park system, it was formerly called the Bayshore rail corridor, a 19th-century rail line serving towns from Aberdeen to Atlantic Highlands.
In 1980, Monmouth County secured a grant to acquire the property from Conrail. In 1990, the county took control of the right-of-way and began rehabilitating the trail through federal grants a few years later. New Jersey Transit currently owns the trail corridor.
The complete Intra-Borough Bicycle Plan can be found online at HighlandsBorough.org.
This article first appeared in the Feb. 15-22, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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