Township of Westfield, NJ

Somerset County Park System

Parks and Recreation News Articles

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  • 25 Apr 2019 9:39 AM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    LIVINGSTON, NJ — For the second time this year, Livingston’s Senior, Youth and Leisure Services (SYLS) has achieved one of the highest honors that a municipality’s recreation department can achieve. Jennifer Walker, director of the department, recently became the second person in New Jersey to be named a Certified Park and Recreation Executive (CPRE).

    Walker’s family, including her three children, Elizabeth, Emily and Zachary, attended Monday night’s township council along with a group of enthusiastic staff members who carried photos of Walker and congratulatory signs while Mayor Al Anthony presented her with a commemorative plaque from the township recognizing this accomplishment.

    “You’re one of only two people in the State of New Jersey to hold this certification, making you the pinnacle of your profession,” said Anthony. “This is terrific. It’s the highest level that you can achieve. It recognizes leadership in all aspects of managing a Parks and Recreation Department, master of policy development and the management of fiscal property and personnel resources.”

    Walker, a New York native and a resident of West Caldwell, joined the Livingston Township family in 2009 and has sat on various committees that involved finance, programming and fundraising. Her department, which functions out of the upper level of the Senior and Community Center on Hillside Avenue, oversees all community programming for the township, including operations of both aquatic facilities, the township's summer camp, the Shining Stars program for special needs individuals and much more.

    Speaking on behalf of Walker’s staff, Liliana Branquinho, Senior & Adult Enrichment and Special Events Supervisor, said she asked the township to acknowledge this accomplishment because she “thought it was important for Livingston to know that we have the pinnacle of recreation professionals in Livingston. ”

    In addition to thanking the council and Township Manager Barry Lewis—stating that her department would not be able to provide all of the services it currently does without their support—Walker also thanked her family members for all they sacrifice in order to allow her to be successful. She then recognized the members of her SYLS staff, whom she described as being “by far the best work family that anybody could ever ask for.”

    “The Township of Livingston is unbelievably lucky to have this team working for them,” said Walker. “They put in so many hours and they are so innovative and progressive, and they are constantly pushing and pushing and pushing to offer the residents more and more and more. I could not be prouder of them and I am very grateful.”

    Anthony expressed his thrill in seeing the SYLS department back at Town Hall again so soon after being acknowledged for receiving the Daniel M. Gasalberti Award for Excellence in Recreation Programming for the department’s 30th Annual Intergenerational Prom. On behalf of the township and all its residents, Anthony said it was an honor to recognize the department for yet another accomplishment and thanked Walker for her service to the township.

    According to the National Recreation and Park Association, the CPRE is a “mastery-level credential” that focuses on the practical knowledge and current real-world skills that are “necessary in today’s changing park and recreation environment.”  The certification “establishes a national standard for managerial, administrative and executive parks and recreation professionals.”

    Some of the career advantages that comes with achieving this level of professionalism include:

    • Demonstrating leadership in all aspects of managing a park and recreation department;
    • Mastering policy development and the management of fiscal, property and personnel resources;
    • Gaining an edge over other candidates when a promotion opportunity pops up or his/her dream job calls; and
    • Joining an elite group of nearly 250 CPRE's who have committed to advancing the field of parks and recreation management.
    Please click here for the original article.
  • 2 Apr 2019 3:28 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    (19/P020) TRENTON – New Jersey will be the first state in the nation to sell annual state parks passes through a public lands pass website, giving visitors the opportunity to save gas, time and money by avoiding daily walk-in costs and parking fees, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today.

    The online purchase program through YourPassNow takes effect on Monday, April 1 and stems from an existing partnership between the DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry and the New Jersey Division of NICUSA Inc. YourPassNow is a digital marketplace that makes it easy and convenient for visitors to purchase online electronic passes, permits and tickets to public lands.

    “This partnership benefits the public in a variety of ways and is another example of New Jersey’s environmental leadership on a national level,” Commissioner McCabe said. “Instead of driving to a park office to buy an annual pass or mailing an application, visitors can order an annual state parks decal online at their convenience and affix it to their vehicle’s windshield. Using this method will allow visitors to save transportation time and costs and help reduce fuel emissions.”

    YourPassNow.com offers online purchase of passes to approximately 22 federal and state sites, most of which are in the western half of the United States. With New Jersey’s entry into the program, residents and non-residents have the option to buy a decal to affix to their vehicle’s windshield that will provide entrance for one calendar year to state parks, forests and historic sites. Fees vary, and a $3 per-pass surcharge will apply to every purchase.

    “The Division of Parks and Forestry is excited to offer a new and convenient way to purchase a New Jersey State Park Pass through YourPassNow,” said Olivia Glenn, Parks and Forestry Director. “We hope to attract more state park pass holders who enjoy our forests, beaches, historic sites and the 1,000 miles of trails in the state park system.”

    Visitors can order one or more passes, including discounted household passes, for other members of their household, or as gifts for family and friends.

    The State Park Service includes 47 state parks, forests, recreation areas, battlefields and marinas. Camping is available at 19 sites ranging from Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in the Pinelands to Stokes State Forest near the Delaware Water Gap to Parvin State Park in Salem County. Visit www.camping.nj.gov to reserve a camping site.

    The New Jersey Division of NICUSA, Inc. is the official digital government partner of New Jersey, assisting governmental entities with web-enabling their information services.

    NICUSA, Inc. has partnered with the DEP on other information services projects, including development of the award-winning campground reservation system NJ Outdoors at camping.nj.gov and WARN NJDEP, a smart device app that allows the public to report non-emergency environmental incidents. WARN NJDEP is available in the Google Play store and the Apple App Store.

    For a list of fees and to purchase an annual pass to New Jersey’s Parks, Forests and Historic Sites, visit https://yourpassnow.com/parkpass.

    To learn more about New Jersey’s Parks, Forests and Historic Sites, visit www.njparksandforests.org.

    Like the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/newjerseystateparks.

    Follow the New Jersey State Park Service on Instagram @newjerseystateparks.

    Follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP.

    Please Click Here For Original Article

  • 24 Jan 2019 5:27 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    In the summer of 2017, the mother of a teenage male child with special needs approached our staff asking for help. She could not enter the men’s locker room to assist her son with changing into dry clothes at the township’s municipal pool facility. The pool manager or a lifeguard would help as best as he could.

    This prompted our administration to approve a temporary family changing area on site that included privacy screening and a portable sanitation system for this past season. It prompted the Parks and Recreation Department this off-season to review the existing amenities in the facility to determine if there was room for improvement.

    The pool facility is more than 40 years old and has never been renovated, albeit areas of the locker rooms and restrooms were retrofitted over the years to conform with progressing ADA and state building regulations.
    In 2005, the township undertook a major renovation of the outdoor pool and grounds. This included demolition of the existing 10,000-square-foot, “L”-shaped pool, concrete pool decking and walkways. They were replaced with a 15,000-square-foot pool that included a zero-depth entry area, spraypark amenities, a drop slide and a 20-foot-tall looping flume slide. At that time, it was determined that the facilities were satisfactory and would not be part of the scope of work.

    After an inspection of the facility over this past summer, we realized that there were large areas of both gender locker rooms that were underutilized and could be configured for greater use by our members.

    We hired an architect to redesign these areas to maximize usable member space, while also updating the existing amenities. We proposed the addition of three family changing rooms that will include showers, sinks and toilets. We are also exploring the opportunity to increase our off-season storage capacity by re-designing the existing large, underused locker room and lounge areas that currently inhabit the facility. Existing sinks, showers, and lockers also will be replaced and their locations reconsidered.

    Our goal is to enhance the overall pool facility experience for our membership. The pool itself is a welcoming feature on the property, and we want the building to be equally as inviting.

    LESSONS LEARNED

    1 Listen to your members and staff. They are the individuals who walk and utilize the facility on a daily basis during the season. They may be able to offer sound advice about what works, what doesn’t, and what is needed.

    2 Think creatively. We need to renovate this building, yet at the same time, keep it within an accurate budget and remodel it so that it appeals to the current membership. Barriers to participation often are not only the pool: The environment is just as important.

    3 Determine a realistic time frame. When we began talking about building renovations, I believed it could be completed before the next swim season. After getting more involved with the intricacies of the design and construction, I might have to revisit my initial belief.

    Original Article: https://www.aquaticsintl.com/facilities/be-open-to-new-ideas-and-changes_o

  • 3 Oct 2018 2:55 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    The parent of a camper who attends a half-day summer school program explained to me one day that she had never learned to swim and has regretted it ever since. Mrs. Lopez implored me to find a solution so that her son, and other campers who were missing swim instruction due to their summer school schedules, could learn this critical life-skill.

    We were immediately interested.

    Providing swim lessons to as many Princeton residents as possible is a top priority every summer at Community Park Pool in Princeton, N.J. We offer many group lesson options, as well as lessons to our entire day camp program, which includes approximately 300 campers in grades 1-6. Swim instruction and all aquatic programming historically have occurred each morning prior to the pool opening for public swim.

    Approximately 100 summer campers participate in the half-day school program each morning, which leads to them often missing the opportunity to participate in swim lessons. After exploring possible scheduling and transportation adjustments with our local school district, it became clear that it was going to be up to our staff to find a way for these campers to participate in swim lessons.

    Many summer-school students who attend camp are African-American and Latino — and many families also qualify for free or reduced lunch based on household income levels. The USA Swimming Foundation reported in 2017 that results from a study by the University of Memphis and the University of Las Vegas found 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Latino children have no/low swimming ability. The study found that children in a free/reduced lunch program are 63 percent less likely to have good swimming abilities and 79 percent of children in households with less than $50,000 of income have no/low swim abilities.

    Representing a very diverse community, these statistics keep me up at night.

    Despite scheduling, transportation and other logistical barriers, my staff “took the plunge” to create an afternoon swim lessons program for the summer-school campers, held twice weekly in 30-minute blocks between 1:45 and 2:45 p.m.

    Thanks to precise coordination by our staff, my concern about bucking our own history and attempting to conduct lessons during a busy public swim time slot became a non-issue. The afternoon swim lessons provided twice-per-week instruction to nearly 100 children, and by moving the summer-schoolers out of the morning lessons, it allowed us to staff both sets of lessons more efficiently, maintaining our preferred instructor/student ratio and also avoiding being over-staffed.

    Many campers graduated from Level 1 to 2, or higher, and some even reached a proficiency level that allowed them to use the diving board and slide! Due to our staff’s vision, flexibility and commitment to being solution finders, we turned a loss into a win for our community. Oh, and we convinced Mrs. Lopez to enroll in adult swim lessons and she is now a regular slide user!


    Lessons Learned

    1. Turn barriers into opportunities. What we perceived as barriers became opportunities to provide additional services — and to provide them more efficiently.

    2. Don’t talk about — be about it. Everyone agreed that a solution was needed. After many meetings discussing the issue, we stopped participating in meetings and mapped out a solution.

    3. Don’t allow history to dictate the future. Our pool users are territorial about their time slots and pool spaces. My hesitancy to upset the apple cart by introducing a large-scale programming option during a busy public swim time is something that I wish I’d abandoned much sooner in this case.

    Click here for original article.

  • 28 Sep 2018 4:23 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    Union County residents interested helping to conserve local natural habitats can join the county's new Watchung Reservation Invasive Plant Strike Force.

    "Our Strike Force volunteers will help create a more welcoming, healthy habitat for native wildlife including birds, butterflies and other valuable pollinators," said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados. "Volunteering in our County parks is a very satisfying way to give back to the community and make a real impact on our local environment."

    The Watchung Reservation is Union County's largest park and nature conservation area. Members of the Strike Force will be trained to identify and eliminate invasive species that have been encroaching into the park. Invasive plant species are not challenged by natural foragers or competitors. As they spread, they displace other plants. Invasive species have a destructive ripple effect that displaces wildlife as well as other plants.

    The Strike Force training is offered through the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation in partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. The training session will take place on Sunday, Oct. 7 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Trailside Nature and Science Center, located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. Light refreshments will be provided.

    The session will be led by Michael Van Clef, stewardship director for Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and a co-founder of the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team. Participants will learn about the problem of invasive species, and learn how to identify the biggest and newest offenders. They will learn monitoring and eradication methods through hands-on demonstrations. Volunteers who sign up for the Strike Force will be assigned specific sections of the Watchung Reservation to monitor. The training session is free but registration is required online at tinyurl.com/y9xzlezr.

    Original Article

  • 18 Sep 2018 2:16 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    If the region wants to extend its season, it needs more events, better marketing, and improved transportation — and the state to stop siphoning off hotel-room taxes.

    The state’s lucrative tourism industry could get a significant bump if it stretched out its prime shore season past the summer months. But in order to do so, it would have to invest in better event planning, more marketing and a renewed focus on public transportation, according to experts.

    Lawmakers took testimony at a hearing yesterday in Atlantic City on how to boost one of New Jersey’s largest tourism sectors — the Jersey Shore. The timing of the hearing coincided with the end of the traditional summer vacation season, when shore resorts typically experience an economic slowdown as kids go back to school.

    But several of the experts said good weather in New Jersey typically extends well into September, meaning the season could easily be extended to keep tourism dollars flowing. A longer season for visitors is one way to grow the market, but it might entail providing interesting events year-round.

    “We now have visitors coming 52 weeks a year, and we need things for them to do,” said Cape May developer Curtis Bashaw.

    The hearing, which was held at Stockton University’s new campus in the resort community, was the latest in a series convened by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee as it looks for ways to build upon the 100 million visitors that tourism already draws to New Jersey each year. Earlier hearings looked at ways to support the state’s burgeoning wineries and emphasize its colonial heritage in the run up to the U.S. Semiquincentennial in 2026.

    Other states gain advantage

    Tourism is one of New Jersey’s top industries, generating nearly $5 billion in state and local tax revenue from $43 billion of total spending by tourists, according to a recent study released by the state Division of Travel and Tourism.

    But for more than a decade, the state has been shortchanging its marketing of tourism; a large share of revenue raised from hotel-room taxes that is supposed to support arts, history, and tourism has been instead diverted into the state general fund to plug budget holes. Several experts said yesterday that those budget raids have allowed other states that compete with New Jersey to gain an advantage by using more sophisticated — and better funded — branding and marketing campaigns. So even when the state hosts concerts and other events outside the prime season that would be appealing to visitors, the word doesn’t always get out because of the limited marketing budget.

    “I will tell you, without a doubt, New Jersey is losing market share to competing states,” said Vicki Clark, president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association.

    Another self-inflicted wound, she said, is the state’s education calendar, which allows some schools to resume classes before Labor Day. Other states, like nearby Maryland, don’t send their students back to school until after the holiday, which allows more families to take vacations through Labor Day and beyond. “It’s something to really take a look at,” she said.

    Bruce Deifik, owner of the recently opened Ocean Resort casino, (the former Revel), urged lawmakers to make better use of Atlantic City International Airport, especially since it doesn’t face the kind of overcrowding that makes it difficult to fly into other places, including Philadelphia and Newark Liberty airports. That would also provide a boost to the region’s convention industry, which can operate year-round and it would keep hotel rooms filled in the colder months. “We already have the airport, it’s already there,” Deifik said. “It’s in very good shape.”

    Atlantic City airport underused

    The airport was also highlighted as an underutilized asset by Stockton University president Harvey Kesselman, who spoke of ways that a more focused transportation strategy could better serve the region. He held up Asbury Park, which is undergoing its own economic renaissance, as an example of a community with good train service that has become more than just a summertime destination for tourists.

    But in South Jersey, New Jersey Transit has just shut down the Atlantic City Line for several months as it works to comply with an end-of-the-year federal deadline to install positive train-control safety equipment. And unlike Newark Liberty airport, which is served by an NJ Transit station, the AC line doesn’t connect to the sprawling Atlantic City airport even though it runs right by it.

    “We need public transportation (and) we need airlines to further enhance what we have to offer,” said Kesselman, whose new Atlantic City campus is designed to provide a year-round economic boost to the still-struggling seaside resort.

    “The rail lines, again, are really important,” added Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May).

    One thing the region does have going for it is a general spirit of cooperation, something that was displayed several years ago as various groups there mobilized to block an effort to establish casino gambling in north Jersey, including in the Meadowlands. A ballot question that was put before voters in 2016 was ultimately rejected by a wide margin.

    On that occasion, several regional business organizations “all worked together with one common goal” to help defeat the referendum, which they believed would have crippled the region’s economy, said Debra DiLorenzo, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.

    “We continue to work together,” she said.

    Even with its marketing dollars raided to plug budget holes, the state is continuing with an ambitious public-relations campaign that now reaches into places like Ohio and Canada to draw visitors, said Anthony Minick, the director of marketing for the Division of Travel and Tourism.

    If more dollars are needed to support marketing efforts, one suggestion that came out of yesterday’s hearing involved taxing summer rentals, which currently are not subject to any state fees or taxes as hotel rooms are. A new tax signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy will start hitting accommodations booked using online services like Airbnb starting next month. That means only short-term or transient rentals will be left untaxed in New Jersey, giving them a competitive advantage.

    “That leaves hundreds of millions of dollars off the table,” said John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwoods Tourism Authority.

    Click here for the original article.

  • 10 Sep 2018 10:47 AM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    Looking for America's best state park? Then you need to head to Ocean County.

    Island Beach State Park is the best state park in the United States, according to a new ranking released by vacation planning website HomeToGo.

    The Ocean County park, home to white sandy beaches and the Governor's beach mansion, topped a list of 18 state parks that included destinations from Hawaii to New York.

    To make the rankings, HomeToGo created an initial list of the 100 most popular state parks in the U.S., based on the website's own search data. From that group of 100, a shortlist of 18 parks was created by rating the parks with a formula that combined Google ratings, cost of entry and parking, number of activities, number of bird species and average price of nearby accommodations.

    That formula awarded Island Beach State Park 42.61 out of 50 possible points.

    Though no other New Jersey state parks cracked the final list of 18, Liberty State Park was included in the top 100. The Appalachian Trail, which runs through multiple New Jersey state parks, also made the top 100.

    National parks in New Jersey, like Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Gateway National Recreation Area, were not considered.

    Island Beach State Park isn't exactly a hidden gem. The park attracted 773,156 visitors in fiscal year 2017, making it the sixth most popular in the New Jersey state park system.

    In it's ranking, HomeToGo called Island Beach State Park a "gorgeous state beach" and touted the park's "10 miles of undeveloped paradise."

    Visitors to the park can spend their time simply chilling on the beach, or they can spend time more involved activities like kayaking and surf fishing. Birding is also popular at the park, which is recognized by the Audubon Society for its "incredible diversity of birds." Endangered species like the Piping Plover and Least Tern are known to be found at Island Beach State Park.

    The New Jersey state parks service announced on Tuesday that Island Beach State Park will remain staffed with lifeguards and open for swimming on weekends through the end of September.

    Click here for original article.

  • 27 Aug 2018 11:48 AM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    Playgrounds are a time honored tradition and a beloved part of everyone’s childhood. Research shows that the benefits of playExternal Link: You are leaving health.gov are enormous on childhood development and physical activity levels, not to mention playgrounds are just fun.  When I ask my two-year-old if she wants to go to the playground, her face immediately changes to one of pure delight.  We all want to bring our kids joy and support their health; however, including my entire family in this activity may not always be an easy thing to do – especially in our neighborhood.  The reason?  Accessibility and design.

    You see, my husband uses a wheelchair, and the closest park is far from accessible.  In order for him to be able to join us, we have to drive to another part of town to enjoy an accessible playground.  Even with accessible playgrounds, it’s not always a given that families will be able to truly play together and share experiences. Many playgrounds merely provide access, but don’t fully embrace universal design or consider the safety features that are located around the playground. For example, if my daughter can access an area that is not accessible to my husband such as parts of the parking lot, play area, or restroom, then my husband can’t take her there regardless of the accessible playground space provided.

    Creating Inclusive Playgrounds

    PlaycoreExternal Link: You are leaving health.gov has created the 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design called Me2External Link: You are leaving health.gov based off of the 7 Principles of Universal Design.  The principles include standards like being fair; providing equitable opportunities for play, and being included and allowing access flexibility so children can choose how and where they want to go. When thinking about building a playground, universal design is certainly where you should start… but you can’t just stop there.  Hoover, Alabama, located just outside of Birmingham, found that checking the box and addressing each of those 7 principles did not guarantee that they met the mark when it came to providing access and inclusion in a playground setting.  Hoover learned that there are other steps that must be taken to ensure true universal design so that all individuals can be physically and socially active through playground use.

    Practice Makes Perfect

    In 2015, Hoover Parks and Recreation designed and built Hoover East Playground using the Me2 Principles of Inclusion.  They worked with the playground equipment company and architect to make sure that they addressed each of the 7 principles.  Once they opened the gates, they quickly found a list of things to avoid and others that had to be changed immediately.

    One immediate concern was the placement of the play structure access ramp.  The ramped structure exited behind a bay of four swings, creating a safety concern.  “On the ribbon cutting day, we watched children play and held our breath. Within a week, the swings were changed from belt swings to toddler swings because of the smaller safety zone required,” stated Dee Nance, former Superintendent of Hoover Parks and Recreation.  The department then needed to provide belt swings somewhere else, requiring additional space, construction time, and financial costs.

    Going Beyond the Checklist

    Despite using an inclusivity checklist, Hoover Parks and Recreation created a play environment that did not provide equal opportunities for all.  Luckily, their story doesn’t end here.  Hoover recently broke ground on a new development with the goal of creating the largest local universally designed inclusive playground to date.  To make sure Hoover addressed every inclusive aspect, the Parks and Recreation department worked with local experts and various disability groups to note what individuals look for in inclusive playgrounds.  Including organizations and individuals with a disability from the beginning ensures that the final product will work for everyone.

    Set to open in early 2019, Hoover’s new universally designed inclusive playground will boast a large play area that includes an accessible splash pad, playground, walking path, and changing rooms unmatched in this area.

    Frank Brocato, Mayor of Hoover said, “This park will become a destination location because of its inclusive amenities. Children and adults alike will be able to play and interact with others regardless of their ability.  Located at a large multi-sports complex, this new playground and splash pad are sure to attract thousands because here everyone will be able to come together and play.”

    Inclusion Benefits Everyone

    Universal design is the way to go when designing outdoor spaces.  It allows for welcoming, inclusive, and fun environments where all individuals can participate and enjoy the outdoors.  Including people with disability on the planning process is the icing on the cake. The new play space in Hoover will allow my family to play together while building memories for years to come.  All communities should seek to do the best they can when providing access and not just what checks the box. Consider going beyond the checklist to ensure a barrier-free and safe place for all community members to enjoy.  As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us.”  Be sure to invite everyone, disability organizations, people with disability and/or their caregivers, to the conversations when designing pieces intended for their use.

    Spread the word! Share this post with your network using this sample tweet: Go beyond the checklist to ensure that EVERYone has access to play. Learn how practice makes perfect when designing an accessible playground environment, in this Be Active Your Way blog post from @NCHPAD. https://bit.ly/2MQqrWeExternal Link: You are leaving health.gov

    Original Article

  • 22 Aug 2018 12:39 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    CAMDEN, NJ—On the corner of Copewood and Davis streets, hidden behind overgrown bushes and weeds, lies the abandoned Camden Laboratories site. It sits caddy-corner to one of the city’s high schools, Brimm Medical Arts Academy, and is near the baseball fields, football fields and playgrounds of Whitman Park.

    Abandoned since 2008, the former medical bio-tech facility has also been the largest illegal dumping site in the state.

    However, on Wednesday, federal, state and local officials announced plans to transform the abandoned and contaminated complex into an open, recreational space that will serve as an expansion of Whitman Park.

    The project is being spearheaded by the Camden Collaborative Initiative [CCI], a partnership between more than 70 governmental, non-profit, private and community-based agencies working to improve the environment and the quality of life for the city’s residents, and Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash.

    “One day they are going to write a book about how to revitalize a struggling urban community, and that book is going to be written about the great City of Camden,” Nash said.

    In 2016, the CCI removed over 500 tons of debris from the site. Now, with over $1 million in total grant money from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the six decrepit buildings on the site will be demolished, and an estimated 1,000 tons of soil contaminated with mercury will be removed.

    In April, the city received a total of $400,000 in federal funding through two United States Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grants for the cleanup of hazardous waste at two sites within the city — one being the Camden Labs site. The EPA has also provided over $500,000 in assessment and cleanup grants for the almost four-acre site, and $200,000 for the Camden Redevelopment Agency to work with the community on developing an area-wide plan and strategy.

    “Camden has been overburdened for too many years by environmental and public health hazards, from pollution and contamination that has threatened the city’s air, water and land,” Catherine McCabe, acting commissioner for the NJDEP, said. “We all recognize that cleaner environments promote stronger communities and that’s what we’re here for.”

    Officials expect the transformation to be one of the many examples to come of one of the CCI’s main goals — to put and end to illegal dumping in the city. Cooper’s Ferry Partnership President and CEO Kris Kolluri called illegal dumping one of the single biggest social justice issues in Camden.

    “Nothing is more harmful to a person’s health, to a person’s environment and to the general image than illegal dumping,” Kolluri said.

    Mayor Frank Moran said that in addition to transforming blighted properties like the Camden Laboratories site, the city is also planning on raising the fines for illegal dumping and posting signage at main entry points into the city’s neighborhoods warning illegal dumpers of the consequences. The end goal, he said, is to redevelop the land where the illegal dumping takes place.

    “What good of it is for us to remediate this property and leave it an open lot where it just becomes inviting,” Moran said. “We’re going to continue working on remediating and going after grants because we don’t the resources or the bonding capacity to go after real dollars, and then subsequently we’re going to sell the properties for redevelopment.

    The city is also one of 14 finalists nationwide for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge 2018. If selected, the city receive up to $1 million in funding to convert vacant lots in Camden from illegal dumping sites into public art spaces.

    The proposed project is a collaborative effort between the City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership [CFP] and Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts to turn vacant lots along the northern side of PATCO transit line — often used for illegal dumping —  into community gathering sites centered around public art.

    Kolluri said that depending on if the project is funded and the amount that is awarded, five to seven lots of different shapes and sizes could be transformed from blighted, empty lots into community gathering spaces.

    The CCI has an online reporting tool, Camden Reports, for residents to anonymously report incidents of illegal dumping, and also has an illegal dumping task force.

    Once the demolition and site cleanup is complete, Whitman Park will be expanded to 10 acres and have facilities for football, baseball, basketball and more.

    “The end chapter of that book of revitalization is the story of the children of this community playing on this lot. We know that the end of the book will be a happy ending, and we are greatly looking forward to that,” Nash said.

    The CCI is led by the City of Camden, NJDEP, USEPA, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, Camden County Municipal Utility Authority and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. It is comprised of seven working groups that focus on air quality, environmental justice, brownfields, waste and recycling, health and wellness, stormwater management and environmental education.

    Original Article

  • 17 Aug 2018 1:43 PM | Richard Lani (Administrator)

    In less than a decade the nation will celebrate the 250th anniversary of its founding — the U.S. Semiquincentennial — and some state lawmakers and historic-preservation advocates want to make sure New Jersey will be able to take full advantage of its rich colonial history.

    A bill that lawmakers sent to Gov. Phil Murphy several weeks ago seeks to establish an American Revolution anniversary program in New Jersey in the run up to 2026, with a $500,000 annual appropriation as part of the bill.

    Meanwhile, lawmakers held a lengthy discussion during a recent legislative hearing in Trenton that focused on other ways the 250th anniversary could generate recognition for New Jersey’s role in the nation’s founding, as well as some much-needed economic activity. The envisioned effort would include putting up more signs to highlight historic sites and investing more in the upkeep of those sites to make sure they are prepared for more visitors.

    The hearing was held inside the Old Barracks, a building located around the corner from the State House that dates to 1758. Used to house soldiers during the American Revolution, the barracks is one of a number of sites across the state that could be used to recognize — and cash in on — the state’s revolutionary heritage.

    “We are steeped in history here in the capital, as well as in New Jersey,” said Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer). “We should capitalize on it because it has so many economic benefits, as well as historical benefits.”

    More battles in NJ than in any other state

    Historians have determined that there were more American Revolutionary battles fought in New Jersey than in any other U.S. state. Gen. George Washington — who would go on to become the first U.S. president — spent much of his time during the American Revolution lodged at different locations in New Jersey.

    Yet Dr. Maxine Lurie, chair of the New Jersey Historical Commission and professor emerita at Seton Hall, suggested much of New Jersey’s colonial heritage is not well known as the state hasn’t tried to spread the word as aggressively as its neighbors. For example, she said both Pennsylvania and New York have signs dotting their landscapes that highlight the roles they played in the American Revolution. New Jersey could do the same with its own signage, Lurie said.

    “State history is important because, among other reasons, it helps give residents, young and old, born here and immigrants, a sense of place and belonging,” she said during the hearing. “Now is the time, as the Legislature has wisely recognized, to start planning for the 250th anniversary,” she said.

    Patrick Murray, who serves on the board of the nonprofit Crossroads of the American Revolution Association said that, in addition to having so many historic sites, New Jersey had been the scene of many events that could be recognized over a number of years before and after 2026. By contrast, places like Massachusetts have only a few major events to recognize.

    “You come to New Jersey, we have years more of incredible commemorative events to talk about,” Murray said. “But what that means is that we need to create a heritage-tourism infrastructure that’s equal to bringing folks here and keeping them here — and that will benefit local communities for generations to come.”

    Good business opportunity

    Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, will rightfully be a center of semiquincentennial activity given the historic sites that have been well-preserved there. Murray said New Jersey could take advantage of its location to lure visitors to Philadelphia to come see what’s in the Garden State, including the place where Washington famously crossed the Delaware River near Trenton in 1776.

    “Get them across the river and keep them here,” said Murray, who also serves as the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

    Dorothy Guzzo, executive director of the New Jersey Historic Trust, reiterated the idea that the state’s colonial heritage can be a source of economic development. She pointed to a recent economic-impact study that estimated the state’s heritage tourism attracted 11 million visitors and generated $335 million in state and local tax revenue.

    “That’s without much state investment, little or no marketing, and it was measured as we were coming out of a recession,” Guzzo said.

    While her group is funded with $3 million in revenue that’s generated annually by the state corporate-business tax, Guzzo suggested the state should be spending up to $10 million annually to properly keep up all its historic sites. “We know from our tourism partners that there is a huge return on investment from marketing and promotion, and we know that our capital grants leverage just as much, if not more, in private philanthropy,” Guzzo said. “In short, an investment in New Jersey’s history is a good business opportunity.”

    Tax credits for Trenton homeowners?

    In addition to providing an annual appropriation to support a state-based semiquincentennial effort, the bill awaiting action from the governor would also allow the New Jersey Historical Commission to enter into public-private partnerships with outside organizations.

    Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who was among those to testify during the Old Barracks hearing, said the upcoming 250th anniversary could also give a boost to the ongoing push to revitalize his city after years of economic struggle.

    The state could provide tax credits to homeowners who restore the exteriors of their colonial-era homes, said Gusciora, who is a former lawmaker. He also envisioned cooperating with the state to create a “historic pathway” along the Assunpink Creek, which was the scene of the decisive Second Battle of Trenton in 1777.

    “We should be promoting our historic battlefields and the historic places in this state, and it will go a long way to attracting visitors from outside the state for many years to come,” Gusciora said.

    “New Jersey should not be taking a backseat to any state when it comes to history,” added Turner.

    Original Article

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