Japanese knotweed? What IS that? And how could the bamboo-like plant with the nice white flowers be so bad?
There it was, looking all innocent and lovely, growing profusely around the Brightwood Park parking lot. It looked blameless to me, and kind of pretty, besides.
Then I learned about its somewhat alarming habits.
Phil Round, one of Friends of Brightwood Park's resident experts, summed it up to our group of volunteers, gathered for the cleanup at the park on this bright sunshiny morning. I also looked it up on Google:
- Japenese knotweed is native to East Asia
- Some lenders will decline all mortgage applications for properties where knotweed is present
- It is classified as an aggressive, destructive and invasive pest
- It spreads rapidly, forming dense thickets, crowding out and shading out native vegetation, reducing species diversity
- There is very little other growth underneath it, so the bare soil is susceptible to erosion
OK, OK, I was convinced. A thoroughly bad actor. But it was, maybe, 10 or 15 feet tall! And besides, there was so incredibly much of it! What exactly were we going to do about this thing?
It turns out that cutting knotweed is not difficult. Your lopper or shears cut right through the hollow stem. Problem is there are so many stems. So MANY millions of stems! And then you HAVE to drag the long stems into a pile in the parking lot for the Dept. of Public Works to cart away.
Actually, well, you DON'T really have to do any of this... No cutting. No dragging.
But for some reason, our band of volunteers was committed to doing it.
As we were hacking and slicing, cutting, whacking and dragging, I pondered this: here is a group of people who presumably have other things to do on a beautiful Saturday morning. And yet, here we are, young and old, in our old jeans and garden gloves, slick with sweat and bug spray, working like our lives depend on it.
Did our lives depend on it? Assuredly, no. But our way of life does.
It's a way of life that values something precious: a nature preserve that belongs to us all. A place like no other in Westfield. A place that our children can enjoy because we worked hard on it.
A place that needs us now.
We were amazed at the extent of the trash, in piles both deep and wide. We walked forward into the woods, crunching glass underfoot, over piles of thousands of liquor bottles, mostly broken. Possibly this was a gathering place for drinkers who then threw their bottles against the tree trunks...maybe for fun, or vying for distance...? We also saw smashed dishes, cups, furniture, garden hoses and plenty of plastic refuse in this rubbish heap. There was a variety of shoes, and several pairs of ancient "nylons" to accompany them. Hoping to possibly find something valuable, like a diamond ring, we were also anxious we'd discover something worthy of Forensic Files. When someone unearthed a leg (see photo), there was a collective intake of breath, but it was a mannequin's leg.
Some of us wrestled out larger items; a water heater, tires, a bed frame, lawn chairs, a broken couch... with the help of a pickaxe and a wheelbarrow which someone had the foresight to bring. But most of the Friends of Brightwood Park volunteers sat or knelt on a cleared spot among the struggling undergrowth, gathering shards and various pieces of multicolored glass for hours, dropping them into our sturdy Home Depot buckets, using heavy work gloves. The more we collected, the more we found, in layer upon layer. We took turns carrying or passing along the heavy, full buckets down the trail to the awaiting dumpster, rented for the occasion.
Among us, someone said loudly: "I never knew working could be so much fun". Surprisingly, there were assenting comments all around, in the woods, among the toiling volunteers. We probably sensed the atmosphere of friendly teamwork. And we additionally may have felt the rush of satisfaction found in striving towards a goal larger than ourselves, that of improving the environment for everyone.
But most of all, there was a feeling of delight. For it was obvious to all our eyes that this area of Brightwood Park hadn't looked THIS good in many, many years.
My interest in Brightwood began in the mid 80’s when I received my first copy of Noel Taylor’s book about the park. As an avid nature photographer, after reading the book I said to myself “no way are there that many different types of wild flowers up there”. I took this as a challenge to find as many of the different wild flowers that were mentioned in Noel Taylor’s book. For the next few years, and to date, I began searching the park in all four seasons for as many of the different wild flowers I could find. With my camera loaded with Kodachrome, I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the flowers mentioned in the book. The park at that time was in a “very natural” condition; it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the town decided to make “minimal imposing improvements” to the park. Those improvements involved clear cutting of habitat, and mowing down of many wild flowers along the narrow footpaths. In 2001 I sent a letter to the recreation department stating the improvements being implemented by the DPW was in fact eliminating the natural environment. At that time, 2005, I got involved with a group we started called B.I.G, Brightwood Improvement Group. We, at the time, met with the mayor and DPW manager several times to discuss our concerns for the park. I had worked with my employer and the Rahway River Shed Association, 2009, to get a grant to make the suggested improvement to the park around the pond area only. These improvements would eliminate the invasive plants and be replaced with deer resistant and native to the area plantings. The town DPW manager at this time decided his people could maintain the park. That was the end of outside involvement to correct the park and keep it as a natural sanctuary. To date, many of the wild flowers I had photographed over the years are now no longer to be found. Much of the habitat has been removed or trampled. Much of this is due to not having knowledge of the parks natural environment during the“maintaining”of the park. The park is still a great place to visit any time of year for a peaceful stroll or viewing the wild life. The spring and fall are my favorite times of year.
As of September 16, 2020, the link to the Final Draft of the Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan that appears on the Westfield Parks Plan page has been broken for several days. We hope this is a temporary technical problem, not an attempt to hide the detailed survey results of Westfield households that should have driven the planning process.
J. Gotrocks, a childless resident of Westfield passes away, and leaves a grassy city block to the city for use as a park. The Parks and Rec Department is delighted (by the newly available space, not by Gotrocks' demise), and they turn to the survey of Westfield households to guide them in what to do with this property.
(Please turn to
Most browsers offer the option to open a new page in a separate tab, often by right-clicking on the URL. Having fables and tables side by side will make this blog entry easier to understand.)
The final table at the survey page is of considerable value to Parks and Rec, since it explicitly prioritizes facility choices, but all three tables are similar. Working down from the highest priority facilities to lower priority facilities, the Gotrocks property is too small for walking and hiking trails. Paved bike trails don't make much sense outside of the context of a linked trail system. It's too urban to be regarded as a nature park, and for that reason, looking ahead a couple items, also not a good fit for a dog park. It can be a small, not a large, neighborhood park, but maybe it can also be something else. There's not enough parking to support a neighborhood pool. It could be a soccer field, but let's assume there's already a soccer field nearby, so there's no need for another. A playground! Lots of young children in the neighborhood; perfect!
Disc golf enthusiasts ask why their children didn't get a disc golf course. The council and Rec Department pull out their laminated copy of the survey results, which they always carry with them. "The people who conducted the survey bear your children no ill will. They had no reason to favor one set of families over another. But disc golf won't benefit as many Westfield households as playgrounds will."
So the disc golf households don't get a course, but they understand that the decision was a fair one, not made out of malice: A storybook ending.
But the fable continues. Fred's Fabulous Frisbee Firm is a business that gets wind of the available property. Several city officials have kids who enjoy disc golf, or live next to Fred, or play pickleball with his employees. Fred offers to install disc golf holes on the property at no cost, and thereby save the town the cost of playground equipment. Fred gets appointed to the committee that is deciding what to do with the property, and, somehow, it becomes a disc golf course instead of a playground. In fact, a couple other playgrounds have their playground equipment removed and replaced with disc golf courses. The city doesn't bother to post a notice at these playgrounds, because the Rec department and council meetings are open to the (unknowing) public.
OK, the fable isn't an exact parallel to what we are seeing in Brightwood. But it's very close. It boils down to the question of why JORBA, an advocate for a low-priority recreational activity, found its way onto the "stakeholders" who converted the survey results into a Park plan. Once that happened, the Plan veered away from objectivity. How can you look at the results of the priority table and conclude, as Section 7.3 of the Plan does, "Stakeholders indicated a need for mountain bike trails in Westfield"? If the stakeholders include JORBA, that could happen. Based solely on the priority table, it makes no sense. The surveyed residents of Westfield indicated the exact opposite of such a need.
Are the stakeholders utterly bound by the priorities from the survey? Not at all. Gotrocks Park skipped over some higher priority activities based on local realities, like suitability of the space to a given activity, available parking, and needs already being served. You don't need a playground advocacy group. The Parks Commission can make decisions based on local knowledge and common sense. Even the disc golf constituency might find a place in Gotrocks Park, if it doesn't interfere with playground activities.
Things got out of hand when an advocate for a low priority activity got a place among the stakeholders, while none of the high priority activities had such representation. Then you get stuff like section 3.7.1 claiming Brightwood Park is "Underutilized". What does that mean? Is there some measure of "Utilization" that Brightwood failed to meet? What is that measure, who took the measurements and where are they posted? The word has been repeated by many city officials, but to me it means "JORBA is looking for an excuse to make unsolicited changes to Brightwood." How about "Something for Everyone", cited as a most discussed stakeholder topic on executive summary page vi?This looks like another JORBAism for "We know mountain bikes had a low priority, but maybe we can sneak them in under this guise." The original Brightwood Park Concept Plan takes this to almost comical levels. A Fishing Dock/Boat Launch? These activities don't even appear on the priorities list. But if we can do something for them, surely we can something for the mountain bikers. And, by the way, don't blame us for referring to Mountain Bike trails rather than Multi-Use Trails. That's how they appear in the Concept Plan. JORBA appears to regret this branding, accurate though it was. They now favor Multi-Use. But calling something a Nature Trail, or a Multi-Use Trail doesn't make it one. Nobody pushing a stroller or walking a dog wants to encounter a fast-moving bike on a narrow trail, and vice versa.
Meanwhile, back on executive summary page vi, we see another most discussed stakeholder topic of "Connectivity throughout Town/More Trails", and improvements most households wanted to see including "Bike Trails (32%)". Another JORBAism: citing "More Trails" or "Bike Trails" as though Mountain bike trails were included. When the survey draws a clear distinction between Mountain bike trails, paved bike trails and hiking trails, buried rather deeply on page F-52, Mountain biking fares very poorly. Selectively ignoring these distinctions is disingenuous at best, but what we have come to expect.
If I were to design the Parks Planning process, I would start with the same statistically significant survey they did. But I would disallow any advocate for a low priority facility, and I would ensure that every high priority facility is represented among the stakeholders. This would be entirely consistent with the wishes expressed by the Westfield households, and nobody would have to feel like their interests aren't being represented fairly.
Does this totally dismiss low priority items? No. If Gotrocks had bequeathed the park on condition that it be turned into a disc golf course, that would override any survey results. I doubt there would be any public pushback. If there is no such limitation, low priority items will have a tough sell getting integrated into Westfield parks, but that's the nature of democracy. And if a low priority group bought space for a private park, who could complain? I'd be happy to take up a collection to support such a private mountain bike park, if only to avoid future conflicts over Brightwood.
With apologies for an overlong posting, let there be no doubt that many of us are unhappy with having JORBA among the stakeholders, suspicious of JORBA's motives, and negatively impressed by their tactics. That will explain much about the sentiments expressed on this site. But we're willing to listen to explanations why JORBA's elevation to stakeholder is consistent with the wishes of Westfield households.
And, please, stop the JORBA-speak about a "win/win". Many residents, particularly those who support this website, do not consider the replacement of natural areas by mountain bike trails a "win". Natural areas are important to many more Westfield households than are mountain bikes, and their children deserve representation too.
I, John Linderman, am the owner of the friendsofbrightwood.org domain. I live a couple blocks from Brightwood Park. I walk past the Park almost every day and I often walk into it. You don't have to go very far into the Park before the sound of leaf blowers is overtaken by the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves. If you're not in a hurry -- and Brightwood Park is a good place to not be in a hurry -- you can plunk down on a bench and listen to the birds and the bullfrogs. If you're lucky, you might spot a heron who has quite a different interest in the bullfrogs. You could encounter a jogger, or a dog walker, or a stroller, perhaps the kind that wears comfortable shoes, perhaps the kind with wheels and a baby on board.
Neither I nor the people who have registered here own Brightwood Park. The Park is owned by Westfield, which is a tiny bit unfortunate since it borders Scotch Plains too. Scotch Plains residents don't elect Westfield town officials, so they have less influence over the Park owners than Westfield residents do. But anyone who enjoys the quiet, unspoiled nature of the Park is welcome to this website, and our Westfield members can nudge our officials when the occasions arise.
The creation of this website was occasioned by discussions of inviting a state-wide off-road biking association, JORBA, to create and maintain off-road bike trails in the Park. You can find out more about this elsewhere on this site. It was something that I, and many of the neighbors we contacted, felt would adversely affect the Park and the neighborhood. Most of the registrants of this website signed on because they agreed. You can see a letter I wrote to the July 2 2020 issue of the Westfield Leader here But this is not a single-issue DON'T TOUCH OUR PARK website. We're interested in changing the Park by helping to get rid of invasive species, enhancing learning about nature and the history of Westfield, and maybe doing some fund raising to assist the Town in paying for improvements. We're very much sympathetic to calls for making the greater Westfield area more bicycle friendly and safe for all cyclists.
John Linderman, Tom Mann, Nicole Chartrain, Denise Ricci