As reported this week by Micromedia Publications’ Berkeley Times, the Berkeley Township Council unanimously approved measures toward transferring land to the county that would be used for the further construction of the Ocean County Rail Trail to the southeast Beachwood border.
As reported in previous articles here, this countywide connection will soon translate to thousands of annual patrons that can potentially aid in revitalizing downtown Beachwood, in addition to increased pedestrian patronage of the Beachwood waterfront including Beachwood Beach, Mayo Park and the boat slips, community center and Beachwood Yacht Club. The Beachwood Historical Alliance is currently working on applications and plans that would see state programs and other improvement directives to aid the downtown property owners, business owners, residents and general area. The Alliance is also developing ideas for joining with borough and county officials in rebuilding the borough train station as a rail trail visitor center and heritage site. Volunteers and aid are needed for these and all other Beachwood Historical Alliance projects. Those interested in helping and/or formally joining the BHA can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Berkeley may soon be added to the list of Ocean County communities that contains a park based on the path of local history. County officials were in town during last week’s Berkeley Township Council meeting to pitch an idea to the governing body that would continue the Barnegat Branch Trail County Park through Berkeley. The park, which already runs from West Bay Avenue in Barnegat north to Wells Mills Road in Waretown, is slated to be extended north to Beachwood.
Eventually, said Andy Strauss, an engineering consultant hired by the county to work on the trail, the park may be further extended to run from Long Beach Island to Brick.
The county purchased the remnants of what was once known as the Toms River and Waretown Railroad in two parts in 2003 and 2006, and has been planning a walking path through the natural, pine tree surroundings of the railway ever since. According to Strauss, who addressed the council, current areas of the park include a resurfaced walking area, interpretive signs to explain the plant and wildlife of the area and parking lots at “trail heads,” which are built in certain locations to allow access to the trail. In order to begin work on the phase of the park which runs through Berkeley, the council would have to authorize the transfer to some land to the county so work could begin on the trail heads and adjacent infrastructure to support a park. County officials would improve crosswalks on local streets that pedestrians would have to cross to continue on the trail, and construct security bollards and other measures that would prohibit motor vehicles from accessing the walking path. Emergency vehicles, however, would be able to access the trail by way of the trail heads.
“We construct what we like to call ‘safe havens,'” said Strauss. “They are islands in the middle of the road that allow a trail user to cross one directional lane and wait in the middle for the traffic in the opposing direction to clear.”
One of the safe havens would be installed at Serpentine Drive, Berkeley, one of the busiest roads in town that the path would cross.
Some members of the council said they were mainly worried over potentially new responsibilities being assigned to the Berkeley Police Department as a result of the trail, specifically the mission to curb the use of ATVs in the area. ATV use, said Mayor Jason Varano, has been a problem in the township’s wooded areas, and combined with a walking trail, could pose a possible safety risk. Township police would have to devote man hours and resources to patrolling the trail area, though Strauss said Ocean County Sheriff’s officers and other agencies may also pitch in. “Once the trail is built, and the signage goes up, neighbors begin to recognize it’s an asset, and the bikers and ATVers begin the move somewhere else,” said Strauss.
Generally, he said, an enforcement blitz once the trail opens will get the word out that ATVs are no longer allowed in the area. Varano said he is in support of the project. “I think this is going to be a beautiful improvement to the township,” Varano said. “I think it will benefit the homeowners and residents and get people out there to exercise and enjoy the outdoors.”
According to Township Attorney Patrick Sheehan, the final property transfers from the township to the county would have to be undertaken by ordinance. The council voted unanimously after the presentation to authorize Sheehan to begin the paperwork to get the transfer ordinances underway.