Read this article as it originally appeared in TAPinto Westfield on July 29, 2021
Brightwood Park is one of Westfield’s only natural parks—replete with historical significance, original forest, native flora, migratory birds and walking and biking paths. It was also a favorite Saturday classroom location of beloved science teacher, Noel Taylor, who is memorialized in the Park.
Our 2019 Parks’ Master Plan included the idea of establishing mountain biking paths in Brightwood. Given Brightwood’s Ward 1 location, I took steps to engage residents in person to learn their reactions to this idea. Specifically, I set up two community meetings in the Park last July (with masks and distancing required), and I asked JORBA (Jersey Open Road Biking Association) to attend and talk about what their organization might install free of charge.
Both meetings were extremely well attended, a testament to the attachment that we have to this treasured Park. I fielded emails and phone calls from passionate and concerned residents for many months afterward. I listened, considered options, researched ideas raised by my neighbors and worked with my council colleagues to determine a best way forward.
The meetings and ensuing conversations made clear that many residents believed that new mountain biking paths In Brightwood were pre-ordained. In actuality, nothing had been decided. With the help of Councilman Jim Boyes, Councilman Scott Katz (the Council liaison to the Rec Commission), and Rec Commission Chair Jennifer Gilman, I worked to assure everyone that no plans would be recommended to the Council for a vote or decision until all views and options had been carefully considered.
So where do things stand? The Recreation Commission has decided not to recommend to the Town Council the installation of new mountain biking paths in Brightwood Park. Instead, the Finance Policy Committee, which I chair, and the Rec Commission are working on a 3-year capital improvement plan that includes all our parks.
In Brightwood, we will make investments that honor the park’s history as an early Black neighborhood in Westfield and that comport with its wondrous natural beauty. Investments made by the Town of Westfield are expected to be complemented by donations made by the newly formed Friends of Brightwood Park (FOBP), a vibrant community group fully engaged in protecting and celebrating the Park.
Undertaking a democratic process for Brightwood was not the easy route, but I am pleased with the many positive outcomes. The meetings drew attention to the Park and its importance to the Town, and to Ward 1 residents in particular. They resulted in the appointment of Recreation Commissioner Ron Feldman as Brightwood Park liaison, the establishment of FOBP, and much concerted community work to learn the history, clean up trash, and halt the spread of invasive species.
There is now environmental and historical educational programming occurring in the Park, thanks to a joint effort between the Recreation Department and FOBP, as well as more birdwatching, cycling, walking, and hiking. Soon you will soon see repairs to the pond aeration system and to the damaged fence enclosure as well. Check www.friendsofbrightwood.org and www.westfieldnj.gov/parks so you don’t miss out on the fun!
Ward 1 Councilwoman