By Tom Zalewski
There’s been much discussion recently about the lack of recreational facilities at Liberty State Park, which could potentially benefit local residents in Jersey City. Traditionally, LSP has been a place where all types of people have enjoyed passive recreation, like hiking, biking, picnicking or just taking a stroll while enjoying the big-sky view over New York Harbor.
While park advocates are not opposed to sensible improvements at LSP, several individuals have exhibited profound ignorance by suggesting that park advocates dictate park decisions. Those decisions, in fact, are up to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The question is where could a recreational facility be located, and how would it be funded, given the budget shortfalls in New Jersey.
There are several areas where major alterations cannot take place.
The Black Tom Island site along the south side of LSP is not an option because in 2018 the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office certified the site as eligible to become both a state and National Historic Place. Therefore, the site has protections in place that would preclude any significant changes from its current passive use.
Also off limits would be environmentally sensitive areas such as the Sullivan Natural Area and the Caven Point wildlife habitat. These treasured natural areas must be preserved and protected in perpetuity, in accordance with federal Land, Water, Conservation Fund regulations.
The best place to create new recreational facilities within LSP is also the place that needs improvement the most. That’s the huge dirt lot along Zapp Drive that’s currently used as a boat storage junkyard by Suntex, which leases the Liberty Landing Marina from the New Jersey DEP.
Other marinas in the area exist without any sort of on-shore storage area. Let’s do that here.
The DEP should first end its relationship with Suntex and take control of the marina, just as it operates other marinas in the state. This would surely result in a much greater revenue stream for the state than whatever Suntex pays to lease the marina. The DEP could use the increased revenue to repair the marina’s bulkhead that Suntex has neglected for many years.
A recreational complex could be built on the site of that dirt lot junkyard, which currently benefits only those who need a place to park their dead yachts. For the rest of us, it’s just a big eyesore. How big? About 8 acres. Roughly 6 football fields of valuable park space. Plenty of room there for a softball field, a swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts and a nice big artificial putting green for us older, less active visitors.
It’s a perfect location for a recreational facility. Walking distance from Ward F, the Jersey Avenue footbridge, and the light rail for those in Ward A. For those who drive, the DEP can build a parking lot right there on the north side of Phillip Street on property they already own.
Transforming that boat junkyard into a modern recreational area would greatly enhance the value of LSP for local visitors. And creating a comprehensive facility here would revitalize this blighted area of LSP, without disturbing the overall integrity and bucolic nature of the park.
If an altruistic private entity exists that would like to contribute funding through a public/private partnership, perhaps the DEP would be receptive. However, any such public/private partnership should not and will not ever be contingent upon Liberty State Park sacrificing a single square foot of public park space. And that includes, of course, Caven Point.
Tom Zalewski is a resident of Hoboken.
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