A lengthy process to create public open space around Jersey City’s water supply took a big leap forward last month, which paves the way for the first section of the project to open sometime in 2022.
An effort to revamp a 700-acre reservoir Jersey City owns in Morris County goes back over two years. The facility, located within the towns of Boonton and Parsippany-Troy Hills, has served as the water source for Jersey City and Hoboken since 1904 following the decommissioning of Reservoir #3 in The Heights.
In September 2018, Jersey City’s council passed an ordinance executing a 40-year lease agreement with the Morris County Park Commission to develop and manage trails at the Boonton Reservoir. That move gave the Open Space Institute (OSI) authorization to create a master plan for public use of the property, which was later drawn up by consultants Greener By Design and Amy Greene Environmental.
The scheme, dubbed the Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project, sought to protect the water supply and add passive recreational access to the space. Formally approved by Jersey City’s council at their December 4 meeting, the plans will create 7.7 miles of hiking trails and other amenities at the facility that will be open to the public for the first time.
Under the overhaul, signage will inform visitors about the unique history of the site. The reservoir was initially built in the late 19th century where a village known as Old Boonton existed, and remnants of that town are still submerged below the water’s surface and sometimes visible when the reservoir falls below certain levels.
The project will also install new fencing and cameras to prevent trail users from accessing critical infrastructure and the water body itself. Wayfinding elements, improved stormwater management, and three parking areas will also be added. The maintenance of trails will be the responsibility of the Morris County Park Commission.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop lauded the news in a statement. “We’re grateful to OSI for creating a plan to preserve the environmental integrity of the entire area,” Fulop said. “Increasing quality to the environment and to the drinking water is of top priority, but this plan additionally provides our Jersey City students a new opportunity with future educational field trips — similar to our plans underway for Jersey City Reservoir #3 in the Heights.”
The importance of the Boonton Reservoir is noteworthy, as around 15,000 people live nearby and a treatment facility at the site purifies an average of 50 million gallons of water a day that supplies Jersey City and Hoboken residents.
According to documents released by OSI, the project is expected to cost just over $4.9 million and is being funded through grants. Phase one of the overhaul is the longest portion and will add 3.1 miles of trails to the eastern and southern portions of the property.
OSI will now work to secure permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for the project and coordinate with engineers to lay the groundwork for the buildout. The Morris County Park Commission will undertake the actual construction of phase one, which is expected to begin in 2021 and be completed the following year.