Union County residents asked for input on future of county park system
Should Union County’s parks have more baseball fields or soccer fields?
Is there a need for a Frisbee-style golf course? A model boat basin? More picnic areas?
Union County is updating its master plan for the county park system and wants to hear from residents and get their sense of what they would like to see in the parks, said Alexander Mirabella, chairman of the Union County Board of Freeholders.
The 6,600-acre Union County park system stretches from Mattano Park in Elizabeth west to Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield; from Milton Lake Park in Rahway north to the Passaic River Parkway in Summit. The system includes the Watchung Reservation, Echo Lake, Green Brook, Nomahegan and Lenape Parks, along with a myriad of others, including some, like the Ash Brook Reservation, that have been left in their natural state.
The master plan will also set the course for the county’s newest park, Oak Ridge, a former golf course.
“This may well be the most exciting aspect of the master plan because we are starting with such large open spaces at Oak Ridge,” said Freeholder Deborah Scanlon, who chairs the board’s Open Space Committee. “But that is also why we need to hear from residents--to get a sense of what they would like to see in their parks.”
The county hired Birdsall Services Group to prepare the master plan. As part of the process, a questionnaire was developed for residents to complete. Copies are available on-line at http://www.ucnj.org and will also be available at county events this fall, such as Four Centuries In A Weekend, or by calling 908-527-4344, and requesting a copy be mailed.
The questionnaire asks residents to give their sense of what the priorities should be for the county parks system. Is it more important to have parks left in their natural state or developed with recreation facilities? Is it more important to preserve land along scenic roadways or the areas surrounding historical sites?
The questionnaire also asks residents whether there are any local properties they think the county should consider acquiring and preserving. More generally, residents are asked whether the county has gone far enough in acquiring open space, or whether it should still pursue other opportunities to preserve open space.
Once the parks master plan is drafted, there will be public hearings where residents will be able to appear before the board of freeholders. Dates for those hearings have not been scheduled.
“As large as the county park system is, there are many diverse opinions as to how it should be used,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “Parks evolve with the times, and needs change. Residents can help improve the parks by letting us know how those needs are being addressed.”
The Union County parks system was designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm in the 1920’s. In addition to the larger parks, plans also called for an integrated system of narrow riverside greenways leading to open fields, lakes, conservation areas, and recreation areas.
The parks system has more than tripled in size since its inception. The most recent acquisitions and improvements have been made possible through the Union County Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, established by public referendum in 2000.
A jogger makes his way along the perimeter path at Oak Ridge Park in Clark. Union County is updating the master plan for the county park system and is asking residents for their input as to what they would like to see at the various parks. Questionnaires are available online at the county website, www.ucnj.org, or by calling 908-527-4344.