Former Mayor Dick Plambeck and two of the borough's summer interns, Andrew Holloway and Charles Ross, presented a new web-based walking initiative to the Chatham Borough Council Monday.
Plambeck, a member of the borough's Environmental Commission, said it was the commission's vision to "make a web-based series of maps that would encourage people to walk around Chatham Borough and learn about their community while getting healthy exercise."
The trails and narratives will soon be available on the Chatham Borough website under the "Living in Chatham" section.
Using current trails, many of which were created and maintained by local Boy Scout troops, Holloway and Ross worked with the Geographic Informations Systems (GIS) staff at the Morris County Planning Department to build walking maps.
"We were just trying to get people to get out and see the natural sites and historical sites throughout Chatham," Ross said. "These are some beautiful sights that a lot of people in Chatham, even if you've lived here for how many years, may not have seen."
Ross, a rising senior at James Madison University majoring in Geographic Science, described features the Explore Chatham page will have once it goes live, including a photo reel, interactive Google maps, a photo blog and a page to send in comments and suggestions.
Holloway, who studies Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behavior at Rutgers University, and Ross walked the trails that will be present on the website. The first trails to go live will have minimal impediments, and the two men have also compiled a list of suggestions for future trails, which will need some additional work before they can be added to the website.
The website will also have preparation tips for the walks and hikes, including safety precautions, what to pack and detailed descriptions of the trails. The descriptions include:
- the distance of each trail
- the walking time
- where to park
- whether the trail is bicycle/child/pet friendly
- history and nature along the trail
- whether the trail is made of wooded paths, urban paths or a hybrid of the two
- the difficulty of each trail, from "Easy" to "Strenuous"
Plambeck said the Environmental Commission may also install QR codes for smartphones at important landmarks along the trail, such as historical sites or at a particularly significant nature site. "There's a lot of technology out there that we can use," he said.
The site will also include a page describing the health benefits of hiking. "While me and Charlie were on the trails, we would hike for about an hour and not realize we were hiking for that long," Holloway said. "Time flies, because you're distracted by all the beauty and historical aspects of the town."
Holloway also said outdoor activities are important for creating healthy exercise habits in children. With that in mind, he added a section to the website called "Getting Children Out in Nature."
"By incorporating this into our website, it creates a bonding experience between a child and a parent to do something fun and create memorable moments other than just playing video games and eating junk food," Holloway said.
The walking initiative is in the same spirit of the Rose City Steppers in Madison and Hike Mendham in Mendham. "Those two actually made some good starting points for the hybrid model that we created," Plambeck said.
Council President James Lonergan said the program's biggest challenge will be awareness. "This absolutely should be in league with , and ," he said. "We should go through the schools and work with the Board of Ed to get the kids out and onto the trails."
Plambeck said he has already spoken with Superintendent Michael LaSusa about taking students along the trails. Two trails include Milton Avenue and Chatham Middle schools, and some future trails will include land in Chatham Township that will be appropriate for and students.
Plambeck also said he has been in contact with the Environmental Club at Chatham High.
Councilman Len Resto said, "This also lends itself well to giving out maps a the Farmers Market and the Green Fair."
A PDF of Ross and Holloway's presentation before the borough council may be found in the Photos & Videos section of this article.