Hosting almost 70 parks and playgrounds, the Jersey City Parks and Recreation Department has its hands full every year tending to the recreational needs of not only 240,000 residents, but those from out of town as well.
It is for this reason that Jersey City has one of the most ambitious parks programs in the state.
"You have to be open to the needs of the people of the city," said Director of Jersey City Recreation Bob Hurley. "With a population as diverse as ours, you have to have an open mind and try your best to cater to the needs and desires of everyone."
Certainly, this is a weighty task, one that Hurley is proud to tackle. "It is a challenge, but it's worth it," he said. "We really have no choice but to address the challenges that are presented by such a large population. And I think we do a fairly good job of it."
The city's summer programs attract more than 2,000 children between the end of June and the middle of August. "And the numbers keep growing every year," Hurley noted.
The issue of space
Like most towns in urban Hudson County, open space is always an issue.
"Soccer is the most popular sport in Jersey City," Hurley said. "And that presents a real challenge to us because it takes up a lot of space."
But Jersey City is taking a proactive role in utilizing what open space it does have. Currently, the Parks and Recreation departments are lobbying to have what is known as the "Dog Patch" area on the southern end of Liberty State Park designated for four soccer fields. As of press time, it was not known exactly when or if this would happen, but Hurley and his staff were fighting hard for it.
"It's very important to provide the youth of Jersey City with an outlet for recreational activities in a park environment," said Jersey City Public Relations representative Mark Albiez. "It's definitely a challenge to provide activities for a diverse population, but we're really branching out this year with more diverse programs. This year we have a cricket program, and with the $7,000 grant from the PGA [Professional Golfer's Association] that we recently received, our summer golf program will be as big as ever."
Two of the biggest summer programs in Jersey City are "Summer Fun" and "Project G.L.A.D." The first is open to Jersey City children between the ages of 8 and 13. According to the city's recreation literature, the Summer Fun program is "a free day camp-style experience with summer recreational activities for boys and girls, held at various parks and gymnasiums throughout the city."
The applications for the program will be available at Jersey City schools and various municipal locations, including the Jersey City Department of Recreation at 1 Chapel Ave. Completed applications must be submitted approximately one month prior to the camp's start date. The program will begin in early July and conclude in mid-August.
The second, larger program is Project G.L.A.D., geared toward special needs children of Jersey City. G.L.A.D. is an acronym for "Gifted, Learning and Disabled," and the program pays special attention to a disadvantaged population that might be otherwise forgotten. Though the program takes place mainly at various Jersey City public schools, according to Albiez, "The special needs kids go on field trips quite often, sometimes to amusement parks, but mostly to parks in Jersey City."
This program accepts special needs individuals from Jersey City between the ages of five and 18. Project G.L.A.D begins in early July and ends in mid-August. Interested parties must register by calling (201) 547-5003.
Liberty State Park
Though there are many summer programs geared toward residents of Jersey City, almost 70 parks are open for everyone to enjoy. According to Hurley, Jersey City's municipal parks are used by residents "about 80 percent of the time. Liberty State Park is the first choice for people that live outside of Jersey City. Folks that don't live in Jersey City aren't used to being so close to Manhattan, and especially the Statue of Liberty."
Jersey City resident Mona Rivera knows which park is her favorite. "Liberty State Park," she said. "We love it here. It's the presence of the water. Also, we love to picnic here."
And picnicking is just one of the many activities that can be enjoyed here.
Liberty State Park caters to the weekend athlete and the serious sunbather, the Rollerblader and the barbeque aficionado. Virtually any outdoor activity can be enjoyed here. The park features miles of bicycling and walking paths, a river walk promenade that offers what may be the greatest view of New York City anywhere, bird watching, kite flying on the Great Lawn, and a hands-on Interpretive Center that kids especially enjoy.
Families can pack up the car and spend the day at one of the three picnic areas with provided barbeques. Tents can also be reserved.
Also available for those with a more educational bent is the historic railroad station, which multitudes of immigrants took to start their new lives in the new world.
Another park that is very popular with residents and non-residents alike is Lincoln Park on the southwestern end of the city. Recently completely refurbished, the park is an expanse of open fields and twisting trails, a haven for joggers, bikers, hikers and - in the winter - sledders of all ages who take advantage of the park's long hills.
Lincoln Park also features football fields, basketball courts, and a running track, in addition to a decorative fountain that for years was inoperative - but not anymore. The fountain has been totally refurbished and acts as a wonderful welcome for those who choose to visit the park.
On a recent day in early spring, new Jersey City resident Rosie Edeh and her 10-year-old daughter Micha were enjoying the slowly warming temperatures in Lincoln Park.
"This is our first time here," said Edeh, a volunteer at the Liberty Animal Shelter. "We usually go to Liberty State Park because it's close to where we live and we like to go to the Liberty Science Center. In fact, that's how we found Liberty State Park. We were like, 'Oh! There's all this as well?' It's great."
Formerly from Montreal, Edeh admitted to not yet exploring all of Jersey City's parks or programs, but she promised to do so. "We'll definitely try to make it this summer," she said.
More great open spaces
Pershing Field in the Jersey City Heights section also has much to offer. The park boasts tennis courts, basketball courts, a running track, a baseball field, an indoor swimming pool (available for free to Jersey City residents) that is open year round, and playgrounds with sprinklers to delight young people.
Two noteworthy Jersey City parks can be found downtown and are used frequently by local residents. Van Vorst Park and Hamilton Park may be small, but they pack a good time into small areas. These historic parks feature beautifully tended gardens that are ardently protected by local residents.
The Friends of Van Vorst Park, a group of 550 city residents, actually went over the city's master plan as it pertained to open space.
"It took over three years to get that done," said Dr. Cliff Waldman, president. "But eventually we came to be in charge of all parks and public places."
Both parks also have small playgrounds and basketball courts. Waldman noted that festivals of all kinds, dance recitals, and Shakespeare in the Park events are held every summer.
"We have major spring plantings," he said. "The Farmers Market happens in Van Vorst Park every Saturday starting on the third Saturday in June to the end of November, and runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m."
For more information about Jersey City's parks, call the Jersey City Department of Public Works at (201) 547-4449. To inquire about summer programs, call the Jersey City Department of Recreation at (201) 547-5003.