One of the most historic parts of Secaucus, Mill Creek Point, took the next step towards becoming a park when the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) voted on Aug. 10 to increase its funding.
The project involves converting an area that was once a popular social gathering place and boating facility into an environmental park that will include a nature center, boating facilities and passive recreation.
Secaucus purchased the last parcel two years ago, using funds from its Open Space Ordinance for the down payment.
In a memorandum of agreement with the town, the NJMC agreed to contribute finances and personnel resources to convert the site into a riverside park and canoe launch.
The site, which is located at the mouth of Mill Creek on the Hackensack River, is one of the few remaining historic sites left in Secaucus. Its name derives from saw mills and grist mills located there from the 1760s, with the last reported gristmill located there in 1840. For years, the mill stone was the center piece of the restaurant that occupied the property since the 1960s.
The site was converted to use as a boating center and social gathering place by Tony Calderone in 1947 with the help of Howard Elwell, current Mayor Dennis Elwell's father. Arthur Treacy purchased the property in 1965 and operated the facility a few years ago. In 1999, the town purchased the property for $850,000.
The town also purchased adjacent property, increasing the eventual size of the park and doing away with potential plans for townhouse development. In 1999, one developer had proposed building up to 110 townhouses nearby, something town officials opposed partly because of the limited access to the property. There is only one road leading into that remote section. While the area has electricity and some sewer services, town officials did not feel the site could accommodate such a large development, deciding instead to take control over the whole section for public use as a park.
Although the NJMC intended to convert the restaurant building into an environmental center, the condition of the building was so bad it had to be torn down. Currently, only the fireplace and chimney remain.
"The building was just in too poor of a condition," said Mike Gonnelli, who serves as a commissioner on the NJMC and as the superintendent of the town's Department of Public Works.
Under the initial agreement, NJMC agreed to use $530,000 from its Environmental Initiative Bond to pay for architectural design and construction management services on the project. Under this, the 1.8-acre site would include a satellite for the NJMC's Environmental Center in Lyndhurst and will mean expanded educational programs to schools.
This is part of the NJMC program to help restore some of the wetlands in the area, but also to make the area accessible to students and those interested in environmental education and enjoyment. The new park is near the 200-acre Mill Creek wetlands walkway park and is accessible by canoe for study.
One of the key people in creating the Mill Point Park is Mayor Dennis Elwell, who said it is something the entire community will benefit from, including safe canoeing within site of the Empire State building.
Spending on first phase
With the Aug. 12 vote, the NJMC agreed to spend an additional $100,000 to finish the first phase.
"In order to complete this work in a timely fashion, we [asked for] an additional $100,000 for the completion of Phase One Park Improvements," said Tom Marturano of the NJMC.
Gonnelli said the location of the site makes it nearly a perfect place to promote water recreation.
"The Old Mill is the gateway to the Mill Creek area," he said.
The first phase of the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of August, included installation of new bulkheads along the water, decorative lighting, and the construction of a canoe and boat launch.
The second phase, scheduled to start as soon as the first phase is complete, will include the site work that will turn the site into a park. This work includes the construction of a scenic overlook and outdoor classroom, a children's ecological and butterfly trail, a maintenance building with canoe storage, wetlands laboratory and rest rooms; a parking area that will provide spaces for 27 cars and seven buses, a picnic grove, an open air tent structure for concerts, a grass circle, and the northern point of the town's river walkway.
NJMC forges union with Ramapo College
The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) and Ramapo College of New Jersey announced on Aug. 12 a collaborative effort in environmental education that will educate New Jersey's children about the Meadowlands and foster the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst as the premier environment center in New Jersey.
Susan Bass Levin, Chairman of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and Commissioner of the NJ Division Community Affairs, is especially pleased with bringing Ramapo College on board.
"The Commission, under the guidance of Governor McGreevey's 'smart growth' principles, is about embracing the communities around us and forming partnerships that will enhance our lives and the lives of generations to come," Levin said. "The expertise and enthusiasm that Ramapo College will bring to the Meadowlands Environment Center will help us solidify and expand the wonderful work that the Environment Center is famous for."
This collaboration would maximize the use of the Meadowlands Environment Center through the creation of new school programs utilizing Ramapo faculty to teach these programs, and at the same time provide overall direction to the existing Environment Center staff.
Dr. Rodney Smith, the President of Ramapo College, was also enthusiastic about the new venture: "I'm very excited about the opportunity this initiative affords Ramapo College to expand on our three-decades-long history as a leader in environmental education and research. This exceptional facility and the programs generated here will broaden the concept of environmental education."
The discussions with Ramapo to provide educational programming, are, according to Robert Ceberio, Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, "a strategic approach to expand our programming into areas of environmental education that we have never pursued."
Taking the tour of Meadowlands by canoe
The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is offering a tour of the Mill Creek for experienced canoers on Aug. 16 at 8:30 a.m. Because of the work clearing channels and the creation of wetlands habitats done in the Mill Creek area over the last couple of years, the canoe trip is possible, and canoers can get involved for a $15 fee. This is for experienced adults and kids 10 years or older. The rain date is Aug. 23.
To make reservations or for more information call Gabrielle Bennett-Meany at (201) 460-4640.