…the green, green grass of home
By Tom Dwyer
With a population of over 600,000, open space in Hudson County is essential for the well-being of its residents. Open spaces like parks, and having waterfront access, help provide a ‘quality of life’ for a community; an oasis of calm in an urban environment.
Presently, the Hudson County park system is comprised of eight county parks: Stephen R. Gregg Park and Mercer Park in Bayonne, Columbus Park in Hoboken, Lincoln Park and Lincoln Park West in Jersey City, James Braddock Park in North Bergen, Washington Park in Union City and Northern Jersey City, West Hudson Park in Harrison and Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus. The largest and oldest park is Lincoln Park in Jersey City, created in 1905 with 277 acres. Most of these parks have been in use for decades providing open space for special events, sports, parties, and being one with nature.
Tom McCann, the Director of Parks for Hudson County, knows better than anyone the day-to-day operation in keeping the parks up and running. “If you just take Lincoln Park where on a good day we see two thousand people, and multiply that by 365 days, you’re looking at a million visitors to just that park alone. So that gives you an idea how popular our parks are.”
With one hundred and twenty-five employees, McCann runs a small army of trades people, his own forestry, mechanics, and over four-hundred pieces of equipment to keep the parks operating. Over the past few years, Hudson County has invested close to fifteen million dollars on upgrading the tennis facilities in the Hudson County park system. “Most people don’t know that we have the best public tennis system around in our parks. People come from all over to use our courts. And, we don’t charge,” McCann said. They have also invested in new ball fields and track facilities. “With over fifty organizations including Hudson County schools using the park facilities for their sports’ events, more open space in Hudson County is a priority,” McCann stated.
Over the past few years there has been a concerted effort by the county and the municipalities in Hudson County to insure more open space to keep up with the rate of development. Three years ago, the voters of Hudson County voted for the Hudson County Open Space Trust to be created—a fund, created through taxes, to insure more open space in Hudson County. The referendum was put on the ballot by County Executive Tom DeGise with the support of the Board of Chosen Freeholders and leading environmentalists, including New York/ New Jersey Baykeeper and the Hackensack Riverkeeper and was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. In 2007 it raised approximately $5.8 million of which 50 percent is spent on open space acquisition, and the rest, by law, is spent on park improvements and historic preservation. Towns and non-governmental organizations with the support of their local municipalities are eligible to apply for funding through the Trust. The Trust is funded by a one cent per hundred dollars of assessed value levy on County property owners. It averages out to approximately $25 per property owner per year.
Hudson County Executive, Tom DeGise, has always been a big believer in the importance of open space and has made it one of the cornerstones of his county administration. “As we all know, development is all over the place in Hudson County now—and I like the development—but with new people moving into Hudson County there needs to be a balance. In a very cramp place like Hudson County, we have a need, more so than many, to make sure we are balancing what we are doing and that there is ample room for all of us to recreate,” DeGise said.
When the open space initiative was approved by the voters, the county promised the people to try to double the size of open space in the county, and DeGise has done his best to keep that promise. “What I like most is to partner with a city or a town and put in a new ball field or parks. That’s really a good way for us to work together, and is what I like my administration to be about.”
On the drawing board are a number of projects that have received money for the development of new open space: a 3.2 million dollar acquisition grant for land in Jersey City. The money will be used to help develop the 13.6 acre Berry Lane Municipal Park off of Garfield Avenue. Another project is the $3, 150 million allocation for the acquisition of waterfront property in Secaucus to be used as open space and the development of a gazebo for the Children’s Reading Garden at Secaucus Library.
There was a time in the 1990’s DeGise remembers, when many people were moving into Hudson County as a temporary stop. But DeGise believes that has changed.
“If you travel down Washington Boulevard in Jersey City, or take a walk in Hoboken more people are raising families here, and sending their kids to the local schools. I believe that open space is vital to creating good neighborhoods where people want to raise families.”
Every few years there are rumors of a public golf course being built in Hudson County; which is the only county in New Jersey without a public golf course. But, hold the presses, it’s really about to happen! “I play golf myself,” DeGise said. “And it’s time for us to have a course here in Hudson County. We have enough county land near Lincoln Park West, where we can build a nine-hole golf course.” DeGise is now talking with the Department of Environmental Protection concerning regulations, and in a few weeks, should be able to finalize the blueprint of the future public course. DeGise is excited about the public golf course and believes the time is right. “It’s great that the two private courses have been built in the county and that Tiger Woods will be coming here to do a tournament in a few years—but—it doesn’t fulfill the need of providing residents a place to play and also there are generations of kids who have never learned how to play the game. We can run clinics and teach kids how to play the game—a game that can be played for a lifetime.”
For more information on open space and county parks go to www.hudsoncountynj.org