By Mandy CoristonBen Spinelli, principle of environmental consulting firm Greener by Design, came before the town council on Tuesday, July 2, to present an update on the status of the long-term project to evaluate and renew the town’s Open Space plan. Greener by Design was retained in November to undertake the comprehensive 18-month analysis of Byram’s many trails, parks, outdoor spaces, and athletic facilities and create a plan for the long-term growth, maintenance, and acquisition of such amenities for future. The town will also be using the analysis to fulfill the state requirement to file a new Open Space plan every ten years. Spinelli said his team has been working diligently to completely map Byram’s extensive trail system, and he expects that task to be done very soon. The consultant considers the trails to be one of the town’s biggest outdoor assets, saying he’s heard from officials from mountain biking clubs and hiking organizations during the info-gathering stage of the project. “I really believe it’s feasible to have one unified trail system, including the trails through state lands and those connecting through the Kellogg properties (Hudson Farms),” Spinelli said, “And the trails through Waterloo Village are a big draw, too.”Waterloo Village’s proximity to Byram’s business center is another asset, according to Spinelli, with the potential to bring visitors into town and creating a need for ancillary businesses like outdoor outfitters. Spinelli also drew attention to Byram’s near-halfway location on the under-construction Highland Trail. That trail, when complete, will run from the Delaware River to Storm King Mountain in the lower Hudson Valley of New York. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, thru-hikers will not be permitted to camp alongside the route. “Byram has great potential to be a host community for this trail,” Spinelli said, “It would be a huge economic boon. You could also approach New Jersey Transit and ask for Netcong (train station) to become a seasonal weekend stop- bringing the potential of the populations of both New York City and Philly being able to travel here for a weekend getaway.”NJT currently only runs weekday commuter service to Netcong. Spinelli said that similar small towns along the Appalachian Trail in New York State have seasonal weekend train service through New York Transit. As to the town’s many parks, Spinelli said his team’s analysis found that they are generally in very good condition, but maintenance and accessibility remain a problem area for CO Johnson Park, where the stairs and tennis courts will both be getting a makeover. “All these issues will be in the final report,” he said, “but most of the issues are things you’re already aware of. Accessibility is the recurring theme.”Greener by Design has nearly completed speaking to all stakeholders in the Parks and Recs plan, saying that representatives of nearby towns and shared athletic leagues all understand Byram’s undertaking and are offering their support during the process. The last groups that the firm will meet with will be the private lake associations and clubs. “Overall, we’re about a third of the way through the full project,” Spinelli said, “and we’re on track to deliver the final report in six-eight months, that’s just when we’d planned.”In the meantime, Spinelli said the online Parks and Rec survey will be available for approximately another month, and has had 1,022 respondents to date, mostly Byram residents. His next update will come within the next 6-8 weeks, he said. “We’re going to finish up stakeholder meetings, and get the trail maps completed,” Spinelli said, “ and then we’ll have another public forum for feedback. We’re also going to be taking some drone footage of the trails and lakes for our use and for promotional materials.” “Byram has the potential to lend to some pretty dramatic stuff,” he said, “The terrain, the lakes, the green spaces. If we get some really good footage, we can really wow people. We can really push ecotourism, and that plays right into the vision of the future of the town’s economy.” All information on Greener by Design’s work can be found online at www.byramtwp.org, on the main News & Noteworthy page, click Parks and Rec plan. Those who have not yet taken the survey are encouraged to do so before its closure early next month.