Hillsborough joins Millstone Valley preservation effort

by Audrey Levine Staff Writer
   HILLSBOROUGH — The 27.5 miles of historic land along the Millstone Valley Scenic Byway will be better preserved through a new Corridor Management Plan, which the Township Committee unanimously pledged participation in through a resolution approved Oct. 14.
   According to Liz Palius, president of the Millstone Valley Preservation Coalition, several local municipalities and organizations came together to preserve the land along the byway, which runs through Hillsborough and several other areas in Somerset and Middlesex counties.
   ”We want to ensure the preservation of the area,” she said.
   Ms. Palius said the coalition undertook the project after the state began to be involved with the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byway Program, preserving Route 29 along the Delaware Raritan River.
   Then, Ms. Palius said, the state decided to open the opportunity for grassroots organizations to preserve land in their areas, based on the criteria of the land’s relevance in history, recreation, environment, archaeology and scenic benefits.
   ”The coalition’s program administration made a presentation,” she said. “We met all five criteria (for the Millstone Valley Scenic Byway), and we were the first in the state to become a scenic byway under this grassroots plan.”
   The Millstone Valley Scenic Byway begins in Kingston, traveling north along River Road to Rocky Hill at the intersection of Route 206 and River Road in Montgomery, before running north along River Road. It then goes across the causeway linking Millstone and East Millstone, and south on Canal Road through Franklin Township.
   The route continues on Kingston-Rocky Hill Road, south on Route 27 and back to River Road.
   Ms. Palius said that the partners participating in the coalition to preserve this stretch of land include Hillsborough, Franklin, Rocky Hill, Montgomery, Somerset County, the Department of Transportation and the Delaware Raritan Canal Commission.
   ”In 2001, we started accepting resolutions from interested partners,” she said. “Now we are asking for resolutions to accept the coalition’s Corridor Management Plan to preserve and protect the land.”
   This plan, Ms. Palius said, was funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration, and details the way to protect the land in about 14 historic districts across the bypass. The purpose of being accepted as a byway, she said, is to be entitled to additional grants to preserve the land.
   ”It is more to protect the land and be entitled to grant funding,” she said. “The hope is that whatever preservation goals (are in the plan) will be put in the partners’ master plans.”
   In the plan, Ms. Palius said, are requirements against building cell towers and constructing signs, in addition to the hope for more pedestrian-friendly areas and a possible reduced speed limit.
   ”We also want no commercial development there,” she said. “We have to do what is good for the byway. It is the ribbon that connects and encompasses the districts.”
   Aside from the grant to develop the management plan, Ms. Palius said, the coalition also received a grant to create a visitor’s center, with information about the byway, near the Griggstown Causeway.
   Ms. Palius said the coalition is also waiting for word on a third grant, which would allow the hiring of a part-time byway administrator, setting up village walking tours and creating a recording explaining the historic elements of the byway, among other actions.
   According to Ms. Palius, the coalition undertook the project initially to preserve the area. She said, at the time, zoning was already in place among the municipalities to protect the land around the byway, including Franklin Township designating much of its land as open space.
   ”We want this availability of landscape for recreation and parks,” she said. “Many people don’t realize the Millstone Valley is important and people can learn a lot about the area.”
   When it was first settled by Dutch farmers, the Millstone Valley was inhabited by Lenape Indians, Ms. Palius said. The area saw a great deal of action during the Revolutionary War, which brought several battles to the area.
   ”The byway will tell the story of the area as it was developed over time,” she said.