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Who Owns the water?  We all do.

Photo by Teresa CeleminOur nation’s laws are based on the Magna Carta, under which the rivers and shores were held by the monarchy to serve the needs of the general public and the common good. In other words, everyone has the right to go to the river and catch a fish—and eat it. Or swim. Or just wade in and feel the coolness on a hot summer’s day. However that right was difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy in New Jersey along the Hudson River for over 100 years.

After the boom years of the Industrial Revolution in the 1860s, public access to the Hudson shore became nearly impossible due to the industrial uses that crowded the water’s edge. In fact, by the mid-1960s, almost half of the 18.5 miles of riverfront were consumed by industry. Only 700 feet south of the George Washington Bridge was accessible to the public. By the 1970s, abandoned factories, rotting piers and weed-strewn rail lines littered the shore.

This decline did not go unnoticed. The Regional Plan Association, a private tri-county planning organization, performed an in-depth study of the Hudson River shoreline and in its 1966 report entitled “The Lower Hudson,” recommended a “bicycle-hiking path and maximum public access to the river... on the New Jersey side from the George Washington Bridge to the Morris Canal Basin in Jersey City."

In 1977, community groups urged that the proposed hike-bike path on top of the Palisades be relocated to the river’s edge and a park in each community be built instead. Within the next two years Governor Brendan Byrne empanelled The Hudson River Waterfront Study, Planning and Development Commission. The Commission’s report in March 1980 recommended “a linear path along the entire waterfront” and that “the pathway from the George Washington Bridge to the tip of Bayonne should be able to accommodate bikers, walkers and joggers.” The pathway could be developed in segments as new developments are built and later effort should focus on connecting these segments be working with owners of existing waterfront facilities.


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