Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Monday, September 10, 2012

Seeing the Forest for the Tax-Ratables

I may be wrong, but I believe in the office of every New Jersey county, town or state person in charge of creating or maintaining a park there is a manual.

Its title is something like “How to Get State Funding.”

Somewhere in the first chapter it probably says the following:

“To be able to maximize the greatest number of limited resources, the park shall be created to have the broadest number of uses.”

That means, if you want a park it can’t just have trees and perhaps a path or two. It must have an area for ball fields or a playground or a basketball court or soccer area.

It must be a “multi-use facility.”

That brings me to the Central Park of Morris County, and the clear-cutting of the trees.

Ever since the county (for $1) bought the land New Jersey no longer needed when the state was forced (by bad publicity) to close the old, hulking Greystone mental hospital and build a smaller, modern facility at the western-most end of the property, the county has been making improvements. 

One of the first things the county did was take down the abandoned stone buildings that used to house the inmates on either side of Central Avenue.

That was good. Those hulking buildings were dark and creepy, ghosts watching from the barred windows of the upper floors.

The buildings down and with all this land at its disposal, and all the time, effort and money expended to prevent trespassing, Morris County couldn’t just leave fields full of trees.

It started with a dog park, or “canine center“ as the county parks commission website calls it. I understand -- when you have a townhouse or condo or even one of the McMansions that have sprung up in the 20 years I've lived out here and your dog doesn’t have a big, fenced yard, you want a place to bring it.

Here’s what else is there, according to the website:

Two lighted, regulation-size, in-line skating rinks (that can be converted in summer for other sports). A baseball field for wheelchair activities. A 5K cross-country course.

That’s a lot of noisy activity on the south side of Central Ave., or “multi-use facility,” as it would be called in my hypothetical book. Not exactly the advertised “passive recreation” -- or hiking, as I call it.

Now the trees are down on the north side of Central Ave.

The north side of Central Ave. seen from Cottage Rd. The old hospital can be seen at the back.
I had hoped, fool that I am, the land would be left alone. The long grasses and very old trees had drawn wild turkeys, redtailed hawks, chipping sparrows, bluebirds, goldfinches, Eastern kingbird and others. I know because I hiked through that land and found them.

Now the trees are gone. The county has been cutting the trees for weeks. I’ve heard the sawing. I’ve seen the mountain of mulch.


What could the county NOW possibly be putting on that land between Cottage Rd. (the one that runs in front of the old administration building, which is state land) and the old hospital (currently under development; you can see it in the back of my photo)?

Soccer fields? A swimming pool? Maybe a condo village?

Who knows? I saw no notice of the county’s intentions anywhere.

I get it -- money is tight. If Morris County, one of the most built up in the most congested state in America, is going to create a park, it wants to get more bang for its buck. I think it did so.

I also think it should’ve created more hiking trails and left the trees alone.

But trees don’t pay taxes. Neither do the birds that nest and feed in them. It’s the same thinking that allows Parsippany to approve Whole Foods tearing down woods for a new store when there are half-empty storefronts throughout Morris County. In Livingston (Essex County) there is a completely deserted mall where the Borders used to be. Whole Foods could’ve had the whole thing to itself. But it wouldn’t have been paying taxes in Parsippany.

Or take Hanover, which allowed a developer to clear-cut property along Hanover Ave. for a shopping center, even though the nearby Cedar Knolls Plaza (formerly the Morris County Mall) and the Pine Plaza Shopping Center along Route 10, both also in Hanover, are half-empty.

You get the idea. Leaving woods alone is considered a “waste” of resources. Even my small borough is allowing 70 town homes to go up where a school used to be, which will make the Route 202 rush-hour traffic even worse since no one put in a traffic light for the residents to get into or out of the site.

Those park planners think they are giving us breathing room, and I suppose they are if you look at the over-development going on around us.

For those of us who think trees are important, there are still places to go. Some of these places are called National Wildlife Refuges.

They were created by the federal government with your tax dollars to protect the birds and animals that would otherwise be hunted to extinction.

To my thinking, they are also protectorates for trees, which in Morris County are also an endangered species.