Many communities buzz about going green but in Franklin Lakes it's about staying green. The culmination of many years — and many hands — came Saturday as the borough dedicated the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve.
The man-made lake, formerly known as the Haledon Reservoir, and its encompassing 140-plus acres of pristine nature was purchased for $6.5 million in 2006 and is now forever preserved.
It was a dream of many, most notably perhaps Alan Slepp, former chairman of the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve Advisory Committee, who was given the honor of cutting the ribbon. After years of speaking out to preserve the property, Slepp’s response to the day is muffled from post-stroke aphasia. “It's such a beautiful spot, he wanted to save it. We’re very glad,” his daughter, Michelle, translated for him.
Despite the soft weather, dozens of supporters and enthusiasts came out for the opening, which was made possible due to a long list of collaborators: Former Mayor Tom Donch and the council from the time of acquisition through to today, Former Borough Administrator Bob Hoffmann, Former Mayor County Freeholder Maura DeNicola, Tom Lambrix and the Environmental Commission, The Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve Advisory Committee, The Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve Executive Committee, the Shade Tree Commission, Brian Peterson and the DPW, Ann Swist and the Public Events Committee and most importantly the New Jersey Green Acres program and Bergen County Open Space program.
“This is an open space preservation success story,” Borough Administrator Greg Hart said. “Acquisition of this property was feasible only with substantial contributions from the New Jersey Green Acres Program and the Bergen County Open Space Program. Very few parcels of this size, particularly in northern New Jersey, have been preserved. This vast property is forever deed restricted for passive recreation use in accordance with Green Acres and County Open Space regulations.”
The passive recreation at the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve is actually quite active, compared with other nature preserves in the area. Fishing, picnicking, dog walking, bird watching and frolicking are all encouraged.
“We want everyone to enjoy it,” Mayor Frank Bivona said, noting that residents all have a stake in it. “We have to thank the taxpayers for this, too. I like to think of this as a happy tax. We all get to enjoy it, forever.”
The reservoir came into existence in 1919, with a damn built along the Molly Ann Brook, a tributary of the Passaic River that snakes through Paterson, Haledon, Prospect Park, North Haledon and Franklin Lakes. The lake served as the water supply to Haledon, North Haledon and Prospect Park, until about 10 years ago, when water quality issues arose.
“As is common with surface water supplies, the decomposition of organic matter, such as leaves, affected the taste of the water which also reacted with chlorine during the disinfection process to produce other compounds which are regulated by the NJDEP,” Engineer Kevin Boswell explained. “The Borough of Haledon determined it was more cost-effective to bulk purchase the water from the Passaic Valley Water Commission (PVWC) than to treat it for these compounds. The taste of the water from the PVWC was also better. Consequently, it was both an economic as well as a water quality decision.”
After years of negotiations, the borough faced another long road getting the property ready for the public. There were substantial improvements to the Lower Dam roadway, environmental remediation of the old Haledon DPW site, replacement of fencing on Ewing Avenue and High Mountain Road, repair of valves on main dam, countless reports on our two dams, maintaining water quality; more recently, fencing, clearing and expanding the parking area (which is the foundation from the old building), removing hazardous trees, improving drainage along the pathway, setting up a picnic area and sinage.
“The DPW, under the guidance of Supt. Brian Peterson, has been working non-stop in recent months to get this park ready for the people,” Hart said. “We are there, ready to share our park, our Nature Preserve. Walk it, go fishing, check out the wildlife and go birdwatching, try a picnic in the picnic grove, or just relax and enjoy the quiet.”
It's out there, even if it's not always so easy to spot.
Born and raised in New Jersey, having spent some time elsewhere, including western New York and South Korea, the author has always come back to the place of his birth, the place he loves, the Garden State. There is a lot to love about New Jersey, not least of which is some of the most beautiful, plentiful, awe-inspiring farmland and open space. But, being the most densely populated state in the nation, some of that space can be hard to find. So, he takes great pride in finding it and thus sharing the knowledge of its existence with others.
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