Plans for Greenway extension in the works

Metuchen recently awarded grant to be used for project

BY ENID WEISS Correspondent

The proverbial t’s are crossed and i’s dotted as of Aug. 10, when Metuchen officials met with a grant administrator at the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) to go over tasks and a timeline for creating a plan for the Middlesex Greenway extension.

“Dismal Swamp is the largest open space in town, but there’s no place to access it,” said borough planner James Constantine. “There’s no front door in Metuchen.”

Metuchen’s Environmental Commission chairman, Mark Herzberg, called it “a maze” to figure out how to get into Dismal Swamp.

“We’re trying to raise excitement and energy” about the project, Herzberg said.

To that end, the commission is planning games, nature quizzes and a display for the borough’s country fair in October, during which there will be display boards and comment cards for residents to learn about the plan and the Greenway, and express their opinions. The following day there will be a walking tour through the area, Constantine said. Preliminary plans are to connect the Greenway to Metuchen’s Trail Head Park.

Metuchen was awarded an $8,000 grant toward creating a plan incorporating ecological restoration, storm-water treatment, trails and recreation at a park that would serve to connect Metuchen to the Greenway. The park will be located between Middlesex Avenue and the Dismal Swamp. The council has approved spending up to another $14,000 and in-kind services toward crafting a plan.

The Greenway is 12 years in the making on the part of Middlesex County, Metuchen and other local municipalities, with the goal of converting former railroad lines into parkland. The Middlesex Greenway Coalition aims to connect Raritan Bay to Dismal Swamp. Currently there is a 3.5- mile trail from Metuchen to Woodbridge in the Greenway. Ultimately, the trail would be a link to the East Coast Greenway running from Maine to Florida.

Kerry Miller, assistant director at the ANJEC, said her organization requires the borough to make quarterly progress reports, additional meetings and notification of how the borough will involve the public in the plan. Miller said the planning process should be open and inclusive.

The town already has begun discussing with Conrail the deeding of former rail property to Metuchen, said Mayor Thomas Vahalla. And developers building new projects in Metuchen also are committed to contributing funds to the plan and its implementation as part of the approval process.

“It’s going to be a tremendous thing for the borough,” Vahalla said. “Getting funding from developers is a very positive thing.”