NJ DEP hosts virtual town hall on Liberty State Park clean up, active recreation plans

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The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) held a virtual town hall last night to continue a dialogue about cleaning up the the interior of Liberty State Park, along with possible active recreation plans.

Screenshot via the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“I understand the active recreation needs of the community that surrounds Liberty State Park. Parks are the one place where everyone can have a little of what they want,” said Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity Olivia Glenn.

Glenn also shared survey results sent after the first meeting in October.

The poll was answered by 1,300 people, 945 of whom are from Hudson County.

Potential ideas included creating a soccer field was the most popular desire, followed by basketball, volleyball, and a skate park, Glenn noted.

People also expressed an interest for creating a tennis court, an ice-skating rink, and a dog park, among others.

They already plan to create seven miles of trails in the interior, most of which will be accessible to bikes as well as pedestrians.

“We are not limited to the 240 acres of the interior. We’re open to inside and outside,” Glenn said in terms of where to build active recreational areas.

The NJ DEP is currently in the process of determining the size of the active recreation area and where it will be located in the park. They revealed sketches where it would be in one corner consisting of 35 or 50 acres.

“We’ve been calling these Crayola maps,” Glenn said, noting they are rough drafts.

The public portion of the meeting saw a wide array of opinions brought to the table.

“We’re basically going to looking to transform the park into something that’s it been lacking … that offers something for everyone,” expressed Bruce Alston.

“Liberty National Golf Course and the Fireman Foundation have been doing great work in our community for years. We should not be slapping hands away or letting one group malign another group in the overall betterment of the park.”

The nearby Liberty National Golf Course is owned by the billionaire Rebook co-founder Paul Fireman, who previously sought to privatize the Caven Point portion of the park to expand the course.

“We can do a little more than 50 acres that was sitting there. I understand after 25 acres … it’s going to take a longer time,” Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson noted after reviewing some of the designs presented.

He also defended his vote against a resolution that supported the state legislatures Liberty State Park Protection Act that passed by a vote of 8-1 back in July.

“We’re hearing the voice of the community because they feel so left out of the process,” Robinson added.

Additionally, Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin said his group supports constructing multi-use fields near Phillips Street, also noting that they supported the late Mayor Glenn Cunningham’s effort to establish active fields years ago.

He noted they have long opposed the golf course’s efforts to privatize part of the park.

“The People’s Park … means a free park without privatization,” he added.

“That’s not on the table for discussion,” Glenn said regarding privatization.

“We do have the precedent for concessionaires, but we still maintain ownership of the lands. There’s definitely a way to have a healthy balance to keep these resources under …public stewardship.”

Glenn continued that there are several funding streams available for active recreational equipment funding.

“There is a place for active rec in the parks, but it has to be balanced,” weighed in New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. He explained there’s a value to preserving parts of nature in the interior for children to enjoy.

“You don’t have to drive to Morris County to see woods then,” he added.

State NAACP President Richard Smith presented a much different point of view.

“Our communities are literally sick and dying from environmental racism. Our kids are left on the streets with little or no outlet. That can lead them to gang activity, drug, and sometimes to the prison system,” Smith exclaimed.

“We’re praying … the broken promises have ended. We believe this is a step in the right direction. We will be holding you to these promises.”

Elnardo Webster called the endeavor “a wonderful opportunity” to fulfill the potential laid out by a state master plan presented decades ago.

“It would be unfathomable to do this and not respect the master plan that said black and brown communities should participate. It’s a legacy issue. We can really do something that’s amazing,” Webster said.

Pamela Johnson, the executive director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, expressed how important the park is for underprivileged families.

“We’ve taken our kids down there to fish, crab, meditate and decompress from everything happening on the south side. Our youth lives matter. That park is a safe space for us,” she began.

“Folks are going through all types of things. Violence hasn’t stopped affected families on the south side even in the middle of the pandemic.”

Before the meeting concluded, Glenn made it a point to say that construction at the park likely won’t begin until the fall.