Liberty State Park in Jersey City is slated for a major environmental restoration, with planning for a multi-million-dollar investment to rehabilitate 234 acres of the park’s interior underway. Now space for active recreation is being considered.
Residents weighed in on what types of active recreation is needed and where it should be located during a virtual public meeting hosted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Jan. 21.
NJ DEP Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Justice & Equity Olivia Glenn updated the public, discussed potential sites for active recreation, and released recent survey results.
Roughly 1,300 people responded to the DEP’s online survey.
The majority lived in Jersey City and within zip codes near the park. The highest concentration lived in Ward E.
34 percent of respondents lived outside of Jersey City.
When it came to active recreation suggestions, 321 people suggested soccer fields, 279 suggested basketball courts, 278 suggested volleyball courts, 278 suggested track and field facilities, 271 suggested a skate park, 198 suggested baseball fields, and 88 suggested football fields. 298 people didn’t respond, and 479 people suggested other types of recreation.
Of that 479, 167 wrote that they didn’t want any active recreation, 86 suggested passive recreation amenities, and 63 recommended tennis and other racket sports.
Other suggestions included swimming, exercise equipment, cricket, kayaking, and ice skating.
Glenn presented several possibilities for where active recreation amenities could be located.
Within the interior, locations were concentrated in its southwest section near Philips Street, ranging from 12 to 50 acres.
Outside of the interior, were two possibilities: a two-acre parcel in the park’s south section near Parking Lot #3, and a roughly four-acre parcel near the Jersey Avenue Bridge currently under construction in the park’s north area.
For perspective, a soccer field is about twp acres, a baseball field about three acres, and a football field about 1.5 acres.
According to Glenn, while active recreation space in the park’s interior would be larger, it would also take longer to provide it to the community because the DEP must first remediate the interior. The other two smaller locations could be constructed more quickly.
She also said, that while the interior of the park is only at 30 percent design completion, if the community sought to have more than 25 acres of active recreation space in the park’s interior, the design team and engineers would have to re-do the plans, which could further delay the process.
The majority of attendees said they supported implementing more active recreation.
Coach Bob Hurley, a lifelong resident, said active recreation space is much needed, noting that the population has changed and “now sports like cricket have a tremendous interest here, as does soccer.”
He said this space could help meet the needs of a growing and diverse population.
He also suggested volleyball courts with sand would be a good fit, noting that in a city of more than 100,000, the DEP should consider expanding the footprint of active recreation in the interior beyond 30 acres.
Other residents suggested an interior water feature for ice skating and boating similar to Central Park in New York City. Mayor Gerald McCann said the city desperately needs a running track, noting that as a coach, his athletes run through the park weekly.
“I don’t think we can minimize how important wild space is to all the citizens of Jersey City,” said Anthony Sandkamp, noting that 23 acres is approximately 20 football fields. “A balanced approach allows people of all walks to enjoy the park.”
“There is a place for active rec in the parks, but it has to be balanced,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. “You don’t have to drive to Morris County to see woods.”
Others stressed the importance of continuing to reach out to the African American community.
“It would be unfathomable to do this and not respect the Master Plan that said Black and Brown communities should participate,” said Elnardo Webster. “It’s a legacy issue.”
Executive Director of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement Pamela Johnson said the park needs more active space, noting that now kids use the parking lots there to play basketball.
“We’ve taken our kids down there to fish, crab, meditate, and decompress from everything happening on the south side,” she said. “Our youth’s lives matter. That park is a safe space for us … Violence hasn’t stopped affecting families on the south side even in the middle of the pandemic.”
“Our communities are literally sick and dying from environmental racism,” said NJ NAACP President Richard Smith. “Our kids are left on the streets with little or no outlet. That can lead them to gang activity, drugs, and sometimes to the prison system.”
Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin said the group does not oppose active recreation, especially near Philips Street for easy access for the community but stressed the importance of not allowing portions of the park to be privatized to help pay for such amenities.
Paul Fireman who owns the neighboring Liberty National Golf Course has wanted to own Caven Point for golf holes.
“We should not be slapping hands away or letting one group malign another group in the overall betterment of the park,” said Bruce Alston.
Glenn said that privatization was “not on the table for discussion,” noting that the state has several revenue streams to pay for the park’s upgrades.
The next public meeting on Liberty State Park will be on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. virtually. It will focus on the ecological restoration of the park.
To register go to https://tinyurl.com/ecologicalrestorationLSP