August 6, 2018
Sarah Burroughs, Board Member of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance
On July 30, 2018, an article published in the Jersey Journal stated that Jersey City officials are “at work on a plan to create a walking trail around its 1,300-acre reservoir in Morris County.” This plan would involve working with the Open Space Institute, and according to a statement by Mayor Fulop on social media, the goals are to use the site for educational field trips, increase security at the site using Morris County Parks patrol and Parsippany law enforcement, and to “finally develop a plan for Reservoir #3 located in the Jersey City Heights.”
We at the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance agree the Boonton Reservoir has great potential for public use and we encourage making green spaces accessible, but how does this directly benefit Jersey City residents? Boonton Reservoir is, on average, just under an hour away by vehicle from Jersey City, and over two hours away by public transit with a transfer in Midtown Manhattan. Such a long trip would not be easy for most Jersey City residents, who are more likely to be without a vehicle. Why is the active 1,300 acre Boonton Reservoir taking priority when there is a decommissioned 13 acre open-air reservoir in the heart of Jersey City?
Jersey City Reservoir #3 has not been used for public drinking water since the 1990s when the city drained it. It was then neglected and used as a dumping ground until nature finally reclaimed it. The 13 acre space now boasts a lake, woodland trails, and historic 1874 Egyptian revival architecture. In 2005, the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance (JCRPA) nonprofit was formed and a “Save the Reservoir” campaign grew. In 2006, the Healey administration backed the JCRPA and committed to preserving the Reservoir as open space. Then, in 2009 the JCRPA partnered with the City to hire a team led by John Milner Associates to produce a historic structures report and cultural landscapes study. The site was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2012. The Fulop administration continued to work with the organization but plans to find funding never materialized.
Working with few funds and little City support, the all-volunteer run JCRPA has: maintained the Reservoir #3 trails; monitored the historic structures and petitioned the City for renovations and repairs; provided supervision of the Reservoir during public seasonal hours; organized cultural and recreational events such as Jazz at the Reservoir and kayak days; led tours and educational programming to public and private groups; and offered access to schools for field trips utilizing the Reservoir as an outdoor classroom. Countless studies have demonstrated a quantifiable physical and mental health benefit to those who spend more time in nature- an investment in Reservoir #3 is an investment in the public health of Jersey City residents. An investment in Reservoir #3 also provides closer thus more affordable access to school students for field trips, which would ease the burden on teachers planning out their field trip curriculum and on the City in the long term with regards to funding spent bussing students into a neighboring county.
If the JCRPA were given the City’s full support, we could work together to rehabilitate Reservoir #3 in tandem with the Boonton Reservoir project. This way, Jersey City residents could reap the rewards of having access to a unique piece of nature as can Morris County residents. We strongly believe that focusing solely on Boonton Reservoir first, followed by Reservoir #3, would be a detriment to all involved. The historic structures of Reservoir #3 are deteriorating without renovation and repair costs. Every year without Reservoir #3 being made a truly open green space is another year that residents are deprived. The opening of Boonton Reservoir alone will not change that for us. If the Reservoir projects occur simultaneously, we can better keep residents of both Morris and Hudson Counties engaged in the progress of the twin Reservoir projects, and encourage Morris County residents to visit Jersey City at the completion of Reservoir #3.
We are asking residents of both Jersey City and Morris County to contact their representatives in support of moving forward with a tandem approach to the Boonton Reservoir and Reservoir #3 projects should Boonton Reservoir be approved. The vote is expected to take place at the Jersey City Council caucus on Wednesday, September 12. We also ask that everyone share their stories and photos of Reservoir #3 on social media using #SaveJCR3.
Sarah Burroughs is a conservation educator specializing in urban environmental education and has been a Board Member of the JCRPA since 2016.
Update: A version of this article has been featured in the Jersey Journal on August 15.