The Essex Hudson Greenway - Connecting New Jersey’s communities from Montclair to Jersey City

In 2002, NJTransit Mid-town Direct train service came to Montclair, leaving in its wake an 11-mile stretch of unused railroad property called the Old Boonton Line. This segment of out-of-service railroad presents an exceptional opportunity to build a greenway for the residents of Essex and Hudson Counties. The potential greenway, known as both the “Essex-Hudson Greenway” and the “Ice and Iron Trail,” would offer safe, off-road recreation -- walking, bike riding -- for residents of the seven towns the line currently runs through: Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny and Jersey City. The greenway would ultimately provide access to Manhattan via the PATH train or ferries, as well as areas in northern New Jersey via the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

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Greenways connect neighborhoods with local businesses, parks, nearby communities and other destinations, as well as offer residents safe off-road options for commuting and recreation. Residents and visitors can choose to use greenways as their mode of transportation and thereby avoid driving on congested highways.

Organizations like the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the Friends of the Ice and Rail Trail are working diligently to promote awareness of this greenway proposal and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. The proposal has caught the attention of both the East Coast Greenway Alliance -- a long-distance, urban, shared use trail linking cities from across the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida -- as well as the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance -- a trail built to honor the victims of that horrible day in 2001 by connecting the three crash sites and memorials. Both of these trail organizations wish to use the Essex-Hudson Greenway as their trail alignment through northern New Jersey.

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The Old Boonton Line, currently owned by Norfolk Southern, has not been used since 2003 and was designated “out of service” by the Surface Transportation Board in 2005. The rail line is presently showing signs of neglect and decay, with mass amounts of garbage accumulation as well as evidence of crime and drug use. The property values of landowners and tenants, both residential and commercial, could begin to suffer greatly due to this neglect.

The greenway would operate as a linear park, offering safe access for all citizens to walk and bike without fear of motor vehicles. New Jersey has one of the highest numbers of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities as a percentage of all road deaths. In 2015 and 2016, more than 30% of all road fatalities in New Jersey happened to pedestrians and bicyclists, while the national average was half that, at 14-16%.

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The Essex-Hudson Greenway would profoundly influence the seven towns from Montclair to Jersey City and would provide transportation and recreation options to these communities, including underserved communities in Newark, Belleville and Bloomfield, where many residents do not own cars. There is nothing yet like the Essex-Hudson Greenway in northeastern New Jersey. Greenways contribute to the overall livability of a community and innovative, forward-thinking communities in New Jersey would be well-served by integrating greenways into their overall plans for economic vitality and future growth.

A Brave Place For Brave Girls

Women’s Wilderness’s mission is to strengthen the courage, confidence, and leadership qualities of girls and women through the challenge and support of group wilderness and community based experiences. Our goal is to help women and girls find their purpose and be confident enough to explore it. We use nature and the woods to help facilitate this goal. We also use discourse and mentorship.

How can we use mentorship and years of experience to help girls explore opportunities where they can find their authentic selves? How can we teach girls that there is a place, and more importantly a need, for them in our current climate? As an adult woman, my actions and words impact the young girls watching me. How do I show bravery, compassion, perseverance and confidence in the face of adversity? How do I convey to the girls who come after me that there is a position for them in the classroom, behind the podium, in the lab and in front of a room of board members?

The Bravery Deficit

In a Ted Talk, Reshma Saujani discusses what she calls a “bravery deficit” when it comes to educating and raising girls.

Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty. Play it safe. Get all As. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough. Swing high. Crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off, head first. And by the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it. Our economy, our society, we’re just losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave. The bravery deficit is why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look.

Women’s Wilderness teaches bravery because we believe that courage leads to personal drive in the face of fear. This, in turn, leads to strength and ultimately to the knowledge that we are capable of anything we put our minds to.

This is why we created a new model of conscious choice-based, women-specific wilderness education. We effectively teach skills crucial to building self-sufficiency, confidence and personal strength. So to you thriving, beautiful, brave, young Soul, here’s to finding your feet and standing firm as heck in them with ambition and passion bursting from your seams!

Find your footing and KEEP IT:

  1. Proclaim your aspirationsBe fearless when you tell people what you want to achieve.

  2. Determine what it is that lights you on fire and get involved with people who are doing that.

  3. Seek out a woman who is addressing issues that interest you and ask her to mentor you. I promise, it’s a huge compliment to be asked.

  4. Build a crew. Surround yourself with a network of people who believe in you and will fight for you. In return, support them in their ambitions.

When we provide strong female mentors and inspiring role models, diminish gender stereotypes in our homes, schools and communities, and create rich learning opportunities, the results are powerful. Girls will believe they are intelligent and capable, when their communities project the message every day that they ARE intelligent and that they ARE capable.

At Women’s Wilderness we teach bravery. We believe in leading by example so we fill our staff with brave, badass women. We believe in lifting as we rise so for every step we take higher we lift the young girls and women around us too. Why? Because we believe in tearing down the “bravery deficit” in our world and building up the world’s next generation of resolutely fearless Sheros!

Happy International Women’s Day 2017!

Trailblazing Women and Radioactive Bikes: Happy IWD!

I have three bicycles hanging in my home. Their names are: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (my road bike), Daisy Bates (my mountain bike), and Marie Curie (my single speed commuter). Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and I am here to celebrate the women who came before me who have been the very definition of trailblazers, the women who walk alongside me in my quest for equality, and the young women and girls watching, waiting, getting ready to lead with unrelenting passion.  

What is International Women’s Day? What does it mean and how do we celebrate and honor it? defines it as being bold for change. IWD is a:

“Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world - a more inclusive, gender equal world.” - IWD

IWD is a vehicle for change with the intention of aiding girls and women to realize and attain their greatest aspirations. It is a reminder to dispute bias whether implicit or explicit. It is a call for leadership from the youngest girl to the oldest woman. IWD can be the spark, the catalyst for birthing a revolution towards gender equality.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Daisy Bates, and Marie Curie are the women in my life who have inspired me to stand firm and tall, to speak out against the atrocities in our world, and now to prepare to run for office. These women influenced my decisions when I ran my own business back in Vermont, when I decided to take a pilgrimage across the United States, when I went back to school at 31 years old to author an honors thesis amongst 18-21 year olds, and when I finally believed that I am capable of representing my community in the political ring.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I would like to tell you about the remarkable accomplishments these three women made (and are still making) and how we can use their tireless effort to propel us forward.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was raised in Brooklyn in a working-class neighborhood to a low-income family. Her mother emphasized independence and education as key values to live by. Ginsburg took her mom’s words to heart and received her bachelor’s from Cornell University in 1954. She was FIRST in her class.

In 1956 Ginsburg went to Harvard Law while simultaneously raising an infant. At Harvard she was only 1 of 8 women out of over 500 male students. The environment was unwelcoming to say the least. But in the face of a vitriolic dean she excelled and became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

“People ask me sometimes… ‘When will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is: When there are nine.”’ - RBG

Ginsburg transferred to Cornell in 1959 for her last year of law school and triumphantly graduated first in her class, AGAIN. However, despite her truly exceptional academic career, she continued to be met with closed doors simply because she was a woman.

In 1972, she became Cornell’s first female tenured professor. At the same time she was the director for the Women’s Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Ginsburg was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980 by President Carter and was appointed in 1993 to the Supreme Court by President Clinton.

"I – try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women." -RBG

She received significant awareness in the Bush v. Gore case where she concluded with the famous words: “I dissent” (instead of “I dissent respectfully”). The point being, dissenters justify their grounds with the intent that future courts and judges will agree and the dissenting opinion will be appointed as the law.

One of Ginsburg’s greatest accomplishments thus far was in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same sex marriage across the U.S.

Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates was an African American civil rights activist and co-publisher of her own newspaper (the Arkansas State Press) in the mid 1900’s. She and her husband (L.C. Bates) documented the violent battle of ending segregation in Arkansas.

In 1954 the US Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education ruled that all segregated schools were illegal. However, in Bates’ home town of Little Rock, Arkansas the schools refused to accept African American students. Bates used her newspaper to highlight this injustice and force the local, state, AND federal government to intervene.

Bates was the President of the NAACP Arkansas branch and used her position as a public leader to guide what would be national known as the “Little Rock Nine”. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine African American students that Bates helped enroll at Little Rock Central High School in the face of mobs, violence, and hatred.

One of Bates’ greatest inspirations and supporters was her adoptive father, Orlee Smith. Before Smith passed he gave her some lasting advice:

"You're filled with hatred. Hate can destroy you, Daisy. Don't hate white people just because they're white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum—and then try to do something about it, or your hate won't spell a thing." - OS

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who later became a naturalized-French citizen. She was the pioneering scientist on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and the first person, and only woman, to win it two times. She is also the only human to have won the Nobel prize in two different sciences. And if this wasn’t enough, she was also the first female professor at the University of Paris.

Despite being an academic badass in secondary school, she was denied access to the University of Warsaw solely because she was a woman. So instead, she adapted to be even more of a badass and continued her education at an informal, underground secret set of classes.

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” - MC

Curie’s road through education wasn’t easy. She suffered through poverty, xenophobia and criticism for being an atheist in France. She often survived solely off bread and tea in order to make rent. She went to Sorbonne in Paris where she changed her name from Maria to Marie in order to assimilate more into French culture and although her health suffered greatly from her living conditions, she still graduated first in her class.

During World War I, Curie developed what came to be called petites Curies (or “Little Curies”). These were mobile radiography machines designed to assist surgeons on the battlefield. Estimates show that her x-ray units treated over a million soldiers and later on she trained other women to use them as well.

“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” - MC

Curie donated the profits of every award and scholarship she received to the community to further scientific discoveries. She gave tirelessly to the French field of science even though she was met with constant resistance and received little to no recognition.   

I have two little girls in my life, soon to be young women. Just as I owe much of my relentless drive and my passion for justice to the women before me, I also owe the characteristics that define me to my sweet little loves CD and LD. Although they are “only” 10 and 12 years old, they are a source of constant motivation for me. Whether it is discussions about politics and women’s rights over NPR on the drive home from swim practice, chats in confidence about what it means to be a “woman”, or laughter over Snapchat filters, these two girls empower me.

They inspire me to fight for what is right because I want them to grow up in a world that is better than the one I grew up in. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Daisy Bates, and Marie Curie fought for me to have a voice in the courtroom and a right to attend any school I want. And so too will I fight for the these young girls to never be ashamed of what it means to be a woman, to dismantle patriarchy, and to raise up the voices of those who have not been heard.

Daisy Bates’ adoptive father warned her about being fueled by hatred. So I ask, “What fuels you to be bold and to fight for change?” Are you fueled by anger, by love, by optimism, by hope for fairness? There is a real place for anger (read Audre Lorde The Uses of Anger) just as there is a place for passion and love. My fuel is my passion for social justice AND my anger towards our patriarchal society.

When I run for office it is because I am filled with fervor, fury, AND hope. I will run in honor of the women before me and I will run as a model for the young girls who will run behind me. Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day of celebration, a day of recognition, and most of all it is a catalyst for the women here today and for the women yet to come.


I'm Going to Mess Up...but That's Not Going to Stop ME

In the days following the Women’s March I have encountered blogs and literature expressing ways in which people have felt marginalized by the mission of the Women’s March. One image that struck me was one of a black woman, Angela Peoples, holding a sign that read, “Don’t forget White women voted for Trump.” Standing in the background of the photo are three white women in pink “pussy-hats” on their phones, smiling and posing for a selfie.

This photo is an explicit visual representation of a deep racial divide that is still very much present between women of color and white women, a distinction made unmistakably clear by the 2016 presidential election. More than 53% of white women voted for Donald, while approximately 94% of black women and 69% of latina women voted for Hillary.

There are cracks in America’s feminist movement. We are not as united as we believe.

My post’s purpose is not to examine why this drastic difference in voting occurred. Rather, I am here to address my own unanswered question:

Where is my place in all of this? Where is a white, cisgender, straight, middle class, able-bodied, privileged woman most helpful, or more importantly, least helpful or possibly even damaging for a movement whose main purpose is to achieve inclusive equality for all?

When I am uneducated about a topic, or fearful of looking ignorant when opening my mouth, my default is to read. This is a great tool. Yet it can also open the door for passivity and cowardice. By only reading, I give myself permission, in a way, to gain knowledge while remaining sheltered. I can read all about intersectional feminism, how to be a better activist, how to be a better ally, but if I don’t get out there and talk to someone about it, if I don’t get out there and do something about it, then what the heck is the point?

Here’s the truth about all of this: I am afraid. I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. I am afraid of insulting someone or coming off as callous. I am afraid of being called a racist. But guess what? My reluctance to take a stance and engage in the discourse surrounding the intersection of gender and race only perpetuates racism, my inherent racism as a white person (and if you’re white, yours as well). I benefit from systemic racism. I perpetuate racism in ways that are invisible to me. I allow it to continue living for the simple fact that I have the luxury of never having to think about it.

My hesitation to enter the conversation doesn’t keep me “safe” from being called ignorant or hurting someone’s feelings. No, it keeps me docile and reinforces my white privilege to not have to participate.

If you haven't yet, I strongly encourage you to read Saroful's How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101. The very first aspect the author addresses is how we will all be corrected at some point or another, and that is OK! And when you mess up, which we all will, guess what you say? “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’ll do better next time." Wow. That was a little more straightforward than I thought it was going to be.

No one can know everything and no one expects me to know everything, but if I don’t ever mess up because I never open my mouth, then I will never learn. Saroful goes on to discuss a seriously helpful list of ways to be a good listener, an effective learner, and an impactful activist.

One of the key points I found helpful was:

"If it’s not about you, don’t make it about you. If it is about you, do better." - Saroful

In my attempt to be an activist, I will eventually be confronted with a blanket statement about racism such as white women are racist. What I am coming to realize is that all white humans are inherently racist (see above), whether or not we are willing to admit it. But if we insist that these statements don’t apply to us personally (Saroful calls this “not me! I’m a good person!”) we hijack the conversation and erase the opportunity to discuss the real issue at hand. And by playing the part of the “innocent bystander,” educating myself, but not engaging with the issue, I am a detriment to progress. I am not speaking truth to power.

I have spent the last week reading and I decided it is time to move. I need to leave my safe place, the one inside my little head. In Saroful's follow-up article, So you think you know a thing: feministing 201she notes that in almost every circumstance, experience will outweigh education. Anything that has ever been written has invariably been lived by someone else. In other words, educate yourself with the voices of people from the relevant community. Widen your lens of perception.

The moral of my story is that I have to engage, to listen, to learn, to know I’ll mess up and to always realize that I have the capacity to do better; we all have that potential. I will mess up, I will fall down, and I will be hurt. The beauty of it is: I will grow. It is not a marginalized group’s responsibility to come to me asking for help, to “teach” me what I should know, or to coddle my feelings of white fragility. It is MY job to change and to work hard as hell in my discomfort. It is my job to figure out by asking how I can be a better ally, not by stating that I am one. It is the voices of marginalized communities that must be at the center of the conversation, not mine, or any white person’s for that matter. It is their voices that need to be lifted and magnified - again, not mine.

I now have somewhere to start. It is my job to ask where I can be helpful, not tell. It is my job to support the uplifting of POC’s voices, not my own voice. I feel optimistic about our potential, collectively, to be the change we wish to see in the world. And as Gandhi once said, this is a damn good place to start.