$100 million commitment announced for urban parks, playgrounds, and open space

Some of the funding targets projects in Union City, Guttenberg and Kearny

Mayor Brian Stack, via Josue Lora for the Governor's Office
Mayor Brian Stack, via Josue Lora for the Governor's Office

A proposed investment of over $100 million in urban parks, playgrounds, open spaces, and other local park improvement projects through the Green Acres Program has been announced by Gov. Phil Murphy.

“With these investments, we will take another significant step toward ensuring all New Jersey communities have access to recreational opportunities and enjoy the benefits of natural resource conservation,” said Murphy. “The proposed projects will provide equitable and meaningful access to urban parks, help address the impacts of climate change, and advance our long-term resilience goals. Investing in our communities through these projects will improve the quality of life for families living across New Jersey now and in the future.”

Murphy made the announcement alongside New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette and State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack in Ellsworth Park in Union City.

“I am excited for all the changes that are coming to our community thanks to the Green Acres funding award,” said Stack. “As a mayor in one of the mostly densely populated areas in the state, my administration has focused on the creation and preservation of green spaces for community and recreational use. I have made it my mission to bring equity to our community in form of green spaces and through the maintenance of our local parks. Special thanks to Governor Phil Murphy and his administration for their commitment to the preservation of green spaces.”

The over $100 million proposal, which is pending final approval by the Garden State Preservation Trust, would establish new parks and expand existing ones, develop athletic fields and playgrounds, improve access to waterways, create open spaces, build flood resilience, and enhance stewardship by restoring lands for nature and public enjoyment. New Jersey has more than 20 percent of its land dedicated to parks and wildlife, more than any other state in the continental United States.

“From our incredible Green Acres investments in local parks, to our historic investments in the restoration of natural resources throughout the state, including at Liberty State Park, our Administration has put its money where its heart is,” said LaTourette. “With Governor Murphy’s vision and leadership, we are accelerating our work to put all of New Jersey’s residents in touch with their environment, with a long overdue focus on those communities that have not shared equally in the environmental benefits of our great state.”

New round of funding

For this round of Green Acres funding, applicants were encouraged to develop projects that anticipate and address climate change impacts, advance long-term resilience goals, provide equitable and meaningful public access, and maximize social, environmental and health benefits to the public, particularly within overburdened communities.

“Everyone in New Jersey deserves quality parks and recreation facilities that give children places to play, help connect us to nature, improve our physical and mental health, and enhance quality of life, especially in our most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” said Martha Sullivan Sapp, Director of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program. “These proposed grants and loans enhance the Murphy Administration’s historic commitment to environmental justice on all levels, helping to improve public health and drive economic development statewide.”

The Garden State Preservation Trust will consider the following recommended allocations: $42.2 million in grants and loans for 49 park development projects in urban, suburban and rural communities. Nearly 84 percent of these funds are for local park development projects and land acquisitions in municipalities with overburdened communities; $35.8 million in grants and loans for 57 county and municipal land acquisitions projects; $8.8 million for acquisition projects by 14 nonprofit organizations; $4.9 million for park development projects by 11 nonprofit organizations; $2.3 million for 10 local stewardship projects; and $901,000 for six nonprofit stewardship projects.

The Garden State Preservation Trust will forward its final recommendations to the Legislature for funding approval.

Other funding allocations include: $54.5 million for improvements to state parks, forests and wildlife management areas; $38.4 million for the state to acquire and preserve open space; $6 million in the 2021 and 2022 budgets for land acquisition, park development, and historic preservation projects in overburdened communities, through a new Urban Parks initiative to promote environmental equity. Eligible communities were invited to apply for funding and 13 will receive grants; $4.6 million for the Blue Acres Buyout Program to purchase flood-prone properties.

Hudson County projects

In Hudson County, the funding allocations will go to projects in Union City, Kearny, and Guttenberg.

Union City proposes to acquire a small land parcel on Palisade Avenue to demolish an existing building there and redevelop it with a soccer field for younger children.

Funding will be allocated toward acquiring a half-acre property, demolishing a former firehouse on site and creating a firehouse-themed splash park for children in Guttenberg.

Kearny proposes improvements at Passaic Avenue and Bellevue Turnpike, including a new floating dock and ramps along the Passaic River shoreline, riverbank stabilization, bulkhead reconstruction and stabilizing the area around the boathouse. A new gazebo picnic area is also proposed. Additionally, the town would upgrade the existing soccer and baseball fields at Harvey Field to synthetic turf and convert an existing parking lot to a green infrastructure permeable surface to improve drainage. Sidewalks also would be installed.

For the complete list of projects proposed for funding, visit www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.