State Senator Steve Oroho attended the May 23 Vernon Township Council meeting to recognize Vernon Eagle Scout Maverick Brendli and present him with an award for his outstanding volunteer work and accomplishment for the Vernon Township Historical Society and the Western Highlands Scenic Byway. In recognizing Brendli, Senator Oroho called the young man’s work “outstanding” and a tremendous accomplishment of someone so young.
Brendli, 19, is currently a civil engineering major entering his second year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A Class of 2021 Vernon Township High School graduate, he designed and created as part of his Eagle Scout project a 6-by-9-foot, three-panel fiberglass sign and glass showcase that displays the map of the byway and historic farms in the area. The sign is located today at Valley Farmers’ Cooperative on Route 94.
The 21-mile Western Highlands Scenic Byway traverses from Route 23 in Hardyston, down along Route 515, and over to Route 94 to the New York State border. It then loops around Vernon Crossing Road over Route 517 and back to Route 94 past Mountain Creek. New Jersey has eight officially state designated scenic byways that are recognized for their natural, historic, architectural, recreational, and other amenities. Scenic byways are ecotourism boosts for the state.
Brendli first approached the Scenic Byway Committee around 2019 when he was a high school junior to pitch his idea for his Eagle Scout project. Western Highlands Scenic Byway Committee Director and Historical Society President Jessi Paladini said she recalls wondering at the time what the finished product would look like and if it would be professional enough to be given such a place of honor on the byway.
She said, “But Maverick’s work is simply amazing and far surpassed anything we could have ever imagined from someone so young and talented to design and create. He literally did every aspect of the project from designing it, finding an out-of-state vendor to build it, having it delivered, and erecting it at the site himself with his hand-selected work crew.”
“Maverick is a remarkable young man, and we were blessed by his generosity and his work,” said Paladini.
The Vernon Township Historical Society nominated the Western Highlands Scenic Byway and, after meeting much criteria, was successful in getting it designated. In February 2021, the society was successful in nominating the byway for national designation. Nationwide, there are only 184 National Scenic Byways. The national scenic byway program is administered through the Federal Highway Administration to recognize, protect, and promote America’s most outstanding roads. Travelers along New Jersey’s scenic byways embark on journeys through copious history, adventurous recreation, and unique natural experiences.
Paladini said she was so proud New Jersey had designated Hardyston and Vernon a scenic byway, one of only eight in the entire state, and said she was “literally ecstatic beyond words” on the day in February 2021 to learn the federal government “considered her beautiful hometown worthy to designate it a federal scenic byway.” The exhaustive nomination process, mapping, coordinates, and all other required criteria to be made eligible for national designation was only made possible in part by the pro-bono work of professional architect Shawn MaZur, who was born and raised in Vernon and graduated from Vernon High School. MaZur has national credentials and certification in architecture. “We were so fortunate to have Shawn MaZur,” Paladini said.
The historical society funded the panels, but Brendli also did some fundraising for part of the cost. Senator Oroho and Matthew Conway of Highland Lakes also helped raise funds for the panels in a volunteer cleanup day through the Clean Communities Program.
Brendli and his parents were very surprised to arrive at the Vernon Municipal Center on May 23 to learn that Senator Oroho himself was there to present Brendli with the award after Vernon Council President Patrick Rizzuto had asked the senator to attend and present it to him.
Through state funding, the Historical Society contracted with professional engineers and planners to complete a corridor management plan for the byway. Through additional state funding, they are currently working on completing a marketing plan for the byway. For information about the Western Highlands Scenic Byway and all New Jersey byways, go to njscenicbyways.com.