NJ city cuts down dozens of trees on Earth Day to block ATVs, dirt bikers, residents say

Some West Milford residents were angry that the township sent crews into a wooded area on Earth Day last month to cut down trees and block trails that ATV riders have carved out for generations.

There is no public land anywhere in New Jersey where riding an ATV, quad, or dirt bike is legal. West Milford, with 87 square miles of mostly watershed, is cut by trails — and a favorite off-road spot has long been the town’s patch of forest on Macopin Road and behind Camelot Estates.

Camelot Estates residents say they have shared trails with trail bikers for generations. But the road-sharing relationship ended on April 22, when, without warning, the township sent a crew with chainsaws into the woods to cut down trees and lay them on trails.

“I came home from work, took a walk in the woods, and I wanted to throw up,” said Dave Mussina, who lives at King Arthur’s Court on the edge of the woods. Mussina’s wife works from home and she hears the roar of the saws as they tear through the natural playground where the couple’s six sons all play.

“I stopped counting the 85 trees they cut down,” said Mussina. “It is absolutely absurd that these trees were cut down. It hurts. And they do it on Earth Day, no less.”

West Milford Township felled these trees to block a trail used by ATV riders in the patch of forest behind Camelot Drive.

“I know the kids come back here and ride dirt bikes and stuff, but for our neighborhood, it doesn’t seem like a problem,” said Scott Kochan, 55, who has lived there for 24 years. “To cut down a tree that isn’t even dead. I think they [the township] out of control.”

The city does not agree.

West Milford purchased land from a private developer many years ago with funds provided through the state’s Green Acres program. The land bought with Green Acres money should be preserved as open space, but West Milford can’t seem to find a way to keep the dirt bikes out.

West Milford township administrator William Senande declined an interview request for this story, but is working with the police department on a press release issued Monday evening.

The township said it had taken “drastic measures to prevent illegal activities” from continuing the property, but did not say how many trees were cut, only “a few trees were cut down” to block access to off-road vehicles.

West Milford cuts down trees to stop ATV riders

Some residents are angry that West Milford Township spent Earth Day cutting 85 to 100 trees to stop ATV riders from using the forest area, seen here.

“Eliminating access to vehicles will prevent further environmental degradation in the area and the long-term benefits of reclamation of forest areas far outweigh any necessary temporary measures,” the statement said.

The township said the felling of trees was in full compliance with Green Acres guidelines which require it to retain land for public use. West Milford Police received 134 complaints about illegal ATV use last year and issued 15 summonses, the township said.

But residents say the forest – once popular with children, hikers, strollers and dog walkers – cannot be used by anyone safely. The paths became entangled in the branches and trunks of fallen trees.

“This is absolutely disgusting and embarrassing,” said Donna DeRobertis, who grew up on Camelot Drive and has lived there for 40 years. “I grew up in this forest. It’s a place where you can hike, bike, camp, do whatever you want. They destroyed it.”

While some residents are willing to share the forest with off-road vehicles, others are not. Camelot residents claimed to know one resident who lives on the edge of the forest who repeatedly complained about ATVs coming too close to his house.

“The destruction of the forest is a direct result of this man’s distaste for machines,” said Bret Jenkins, whose backyard hits the edge of the forest. “But these people don’t cut down trees. The city did it.”

Stephen Sangle, chairman of the West Milford Environmental Commission, had not heard of the controversy as of Monday morning. But he said the commission was eager to hear from residents at a meeting scheduled for Monday evening.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today for NJ.com.Richard Cowen can be reached at rcowen@njadvancemedia.com.

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