A sweeping plan to turn a nine-mile stretch of abandoned rail line into a verdant oasis for walkers, joggers, cyclists and others – a greenway that would traverse Belleville and seven other municipalities – is gaining support among township officials.
A presentation on the proposed “Essex Hudson Greenway, “which would refurbish and repurpose the old Boonton Railroad Line, is planned for the April 13 Township Council meeting.
It will come on the heels of last week’s information session by members of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, which has been spearheading support for the greenway.
Mayor Michael Melham, Councilman Vinny Cozzarelli, Planning Board member Brian Banda, Board of Education member and Green Team coordinator Gabrielle Bennett-Meany and other officials and stakeholders attended the virtual conference hosted by the Belleville Public Library.
They gleaned important details about the proposed greenway, which would wind from Montclair, past the old Benson Street station in Glen Ridge, though the world-famous cherry blossoms of Belleville and past the swampy Meadowlands conservation area before concluding in a revitalized Jersey City.
Under the plan, the rail line that hasn’t been used to transport commuters since 2002 would be cleaned of overgrown brush and debris and a 10-foot-wide path would be created in its place.
Virginia-based Norfolk Southern Railway Company last year applied to begin the process of selling the unused section of the railway to a nonprofit conservation group called “Open Space Institute Land Trust.”
The Essex Hudson Greenway would create 135 acres of new green space easily accessible to more than a half-million residents living within a mile and a half from the path in Belleville, Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City.
Besides providing a free, unique recreation alternative to the residents of Belleville and the other towns, it could be used as a carless connection for those who opt to bike to work.
Debra Kagan, the executive director at New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, said the greenway would have several environmental benefits, such as flood mitigation.
One early fan of the plan is Melham, who said the greenway would fall in line with his vision of Belleville as a greener, culturally enriched home to community spaces such as dog parks, murals and community gardens.
Like other new construction in Belleville as part of an ongoing redevelopment effort, the greenway would be another amenity that would be attractive to young professionals looking for a place to settle down.
“This is a game-changer and I don’t use that term very often,” Melham said. “I have walked the High Line in New York and I love it. That linear park is only about one and a half miles along. Imagine how many recreational, entertainment and environmental benefits there would be in a nearly nine-mile long Essex Hudson Greenway.”
Councilman Cozzarelli, who is also a member of Belleville’s Green Team, is also a strong proponent of the plan. He noted how many roads in Belleville would seamlessly connect with the proposed path.
“There will be part of Branch Brook Park that will go right into it,” he said. “The greenway will connect a lot of areas in town to each other. We can’t wait to see it come to life,”