Changes Proposed, A Look Back at the History of Brightwood Park

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Brightwood
8-13Brightwood1 Brightwood
By LAUREN S. BARR
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD – Meetings are scheduled for today, August 13, at 6 p.m., and Saturday, August 15, at 10 a.m. in Brightwood Park, to discuss the proposed changes to the park which is located on Prospect Street, bordering Scotch Plains. According to a presentation by the Westfield Recreation Commission, the current proposal is to “Convert makeshift bike trails in the park into properly maintained trails to make existing biking activity safer while protecting the park’s ecology.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Mayor Shelley Brindle said that the meetings will explore “the possibility of adding safe bike trails in the park that would supplant and not interfere with the existing walking trails.”

The town is partnering with JORBA, which, according to the group’s website, has as its focus “to build and maintain sustainable multi-use trails, organize and encourage volunteerism and responsibility, and advocate and foster mountain biking as a healthy, environmentally sound, and sustainable activity.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, the three Pearsall brothers lived, side by side by side, on Brightwood Avenue. They owned the majority of the land along Brightwood and Prospect Street. The Pearsall Company would sell much of that land in 1935 to Brightwood Development, bringing construction of the homes along Fairhill and Sunnywood Drives. One of the brothers, Donald Pearsall, would go on to become a Westfield town councilman, a Union County Freeholder, a successful realtor and insurance broker as the owner of a longstanding Westfield business, Pearsall and Frankebach, on Elm Street. His son Everson Pearsall would remain in town, making several civic contributions, including helping to create the Miller-Cory Fund.

Everson Pearsall’s son Tom Pearsall told The Westfield Leader in a phone interview that the three brothers donated the land in their backyards for Brightwood Park back in the 1920s.

In the years that followed, Brightwood Park became what is described in the archives of The Leader as a “shantytown,” with several small homes. It also was a regular dumping ground for garbage and construction debris, often drawing people from the neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s to town council meetings to complain about the condition of the area.

In April of 1969, the town of Westfield purchased the seven shanty properties to complete the park’s 44 acres for $23,500 with money from what was then the brand-new Green Acres trust fund from the State of New Jersey.

After the purchase of the lands, a series of hearings began with proposals to develop the park with picnic areas and tennis courts. Hearing after hearing that went late into the night were held at town hall with residents speaking against the proposal. The Leader and The Courier News extensively covered these meetings. The residents prevailed and the council agreed to develop a passive park. The park was completed in 1978.

In 1982 the town council proposed soccer and baseball fields, along with a picnic area. The town had put forth the plan citing a low usage of the park, and high misuse by teenagers for drinking and marijuana use.

“How many times do we have to save Brightwood Park?” asked Carol Tag of Tuttle Parkway at a 1982 town meeting.

Behind the scenes of the purchase, lobbying for Green Acres funding was a high-school science teacher, Noel Taylor. Brightwood Park would ultimately be dedicated to Mr. Taylor, who fought tirelessly to not only see the park created, but also to keep it a natural passive home to native flora and fauna. Long after his retirement from teaching, Mr. Taylor appeared at town council meetings any time a mention was made to develop the park for recreation beyond its natural state. In 1981 Mr. Taylor authored a book on Brightwood Park’s native plants and animals.

Mr. Taylor passed away in 1992. His sons, Beryl and Mark Taylor, spoke to The Leader in phone interviews this week saying that their father would be unhappy with the idea of mountain bike trails.

Mark Taylor told The Leader that his father was not only a driving force behind the park’s creation, but developed a K-12 curriculum and ran a Saturday science program in the park to educate Westfield’s youth. “There are not a lot of quiet places to go anymore…It’s even more critical now than it was back then,” he told The Leader.

Beryl Taylor said, “these guys just don’t get it…Once you turn it into mountain bike trails you won’t get back what you’ve lost.” He said that his father feared that these types of proposals would be made in the future and worried about the park not having a champion.

In 1999 ball fields were again suggested for the park, but a coalition of concerned neighbors objected to the proposal and a preliminary study of the park, commissioned by the recreation commission, indicated that 80 percent of the park was wetlands and not appropriate for field development.

As to the current proposal, local residents have launched a website, protectbrightwoodpark.com, and as of Wednesday morning have collected more than 246 signatures on a petition against the proposed mountain biking trails.

Several of Westfield’s youth have written letters to both Mayor Brindle and The Leader asking for expanded bike trails. The teens say that during the Covid-19 pandemic, Brightwood’s trails have seen an increase in use.