Summit Park Line Is Open!
Your name(s): Dr. Robert Rubino / Debra Karrat
Organization: Summit Park Line Foundation, Inc.
Location: Summit, NJ
Debra Karrat: firstname.lastname@example.org
Can you provide a bit of history about the bridge? When and how did this all begin?
In 2014 when Dr. Robert Rubino was Summit Council President, he was on his way to Overlook Hospital on Springfield Ave on a winter morning and saw the sun rising over the Manhattan skyline and thought how great it would be for the public to have a clear view of NYC. This led him to find the abandoned 1.2-mile stretch of rail land next to the hospital, soon learning that the state owned it. Rubino decided this would be a worthwhile contribution to the city that he loved. It would be the first new park in 85 years. While the City of Summit was 99 percent developed, it would add back a ribbon of green throughout the eastern portion of town and a safe passageway from east Summit to downtown. Rubino petitioned the state to give the land to the city. Over the course of a year, working with DOT and the governor’s office, the city received control of the land. The railway had a train bridge removed around the year 2000, so the rail line had to be reconnected with the pedestrian bridge.
As council president, Rubino just delivered the first tax cut to the municipal budget in over 20 years and did not want to use taxpayer funds to start the rail to trail initiative, so the Summit Park Line Foundation was ignited to raise funds privately to fund construction and a small Board was built to spearhead the effort.
Who worked on the project? Must be a big team effort, right?
Tons of volunteers helped. The Summit Boy Scouts were the first organization to really pitch in, led by Henry Lord who received his eagle wings by having his troop clear the land, saving the town over $100k. The work the scouts did was tremendous and the energy throughout the project was fabulous. Al and Lucy Lord were so happy with the results, they made a large donation to fund the future bridge.
Over the next couple of years, countless hours of volunteer workdays ensued with clean ups, creating the hiking trail, building trail fences, plantings and butterfly gardens etc. The project has unified the community – citizens from all walks of life have worked side-by-side building the Summit Park Line. Park benches were added by donors. The Tri State Rail Historical Society recognized our work and the trail’s historic rail significance and donated interactive signage to document the history. Summit Public Art helped by featuring the Park Line as an ‘outdoor gallery’ to showcase public art.
These projects are never quite that easy! And this a tremendous effort on behalf of the community! What challenges have you faced?
The first challenge was legal and political support. In 2015, the common council was very supportive and helped complete the initial legislative framework. As the council members rotated over the years, we had to continually share the efforts made and the vision, and garner new support. We worked with the county and state to develop an agreement that worked for all involved. Some neighbors near the Park Line border, previously concerned about the state of the unkept land prior to the Park Line development, were skeptical of the idea. After many public and informal meetings with neighbors we addressed their concerns, mostly centered around privacy.
Funding is always a concern, as the support ebbed and flowed. The true key to success was that we had a great board that was always optimistic and supportive. The board was truly the heart and soul of the project. We also put some aggressive marketing together including a website, email campaigns, banners and promotional materials, local events, fundraisers, and appearances at the Summit Farmers Market. Our broad-based public support and volunteers are what made this project come to fruition.
Your group must feel really proud to build such a bridge. Please share.
The bridge is really the lynchpin of the entire effort. To ‘build a bridge’ is the essence of doing something hard, yet we did it. The completion of the bridge is the pivotal event that gives us the confidence that the entire project will now be completed. A lot of help is still needed in the way of donations and volunteer support from the community and elected officials. We have been recognized by the Rails to Trails Conservancy (a national organization) as the model project for NJ, which is a state with a large amount of abandoned railway. As a 501(c)(3),
donations are tax deductible and employer matches are permissible. Donations can be made on the Park Line website: SummitParkLine.org.
Our email to volunteer is