A lot of sweaty volunteers on a Saturday afternoon.
On July 8, members of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance and their friends pitched in to clean up the 136-year-old Reservoir No. 3.
The Preservation Alliance wants the reservoir to become a nature preserve and a spot for passive recreation, while another group would like to see ballfields added. The city-owned reservoir, on Summit Avenue near Pershing Field, served as the city's water supply until 1992.
The spot has been closed to the public since this past November.
The Preservation Alliance is a volunteer organization formed by nearby resident Steve Latham that has documented the history of the reservoir and has applied to the city for permits to conduct tours there and remove debris.Day for fishing
Volunteers pulled overgrown weeds, trimmed hanging branches, and picked up garbage. Some came to see what the possible nature preserve had to offer.
Among them was the Ruiz family - Ray Sr., his pregnant wife Ceci, and their children, Angelina and Ray Jr. Ruiz and his wife grew up within blocks of the reservoir. They came to do some fishing, and found that the former water supply had become a home for sunfish and large mouthed bass.
"I remember when I was a kid, my friends and I used to sneak in here and go swimming and hang out," said Ruiz. "This is my children's first fishing trip, and we need to show them nature. It is relaxing for my wife."
But getting to the lake, especially in the reservoir's current state, took some doing. The path to the water is strewn with rocks and overgrown grass, and requires some delicate treading.
Steve Latham helped out by clearing a path. Once they got to the water, it was time to drop some hook and bait. Pitching in
Vincent McNamara, a longtime member of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance, was one of at least 50 people who pitched in between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. He was hauling green trash bags stuffed with garbage out of the reservoir.
"I think it'll be several days before we get this place in shape," said McNamara.
Gale Sharron lives only two blocks away from the Reservoir. For her, helping in the cleanup was the opportunity to enjoy a place that reminds of her old home in New York State's Adirondack Mountains.
"I'm delighted to have some green," she said. "You don't have a lot of green in the city. I'm absolutely dumbstruck to think in the center of Jersey City, there is this wildlife refuge."
Latham's 14-year old daughter, Willow, was trimming branches off a small tree as she spoke with a wisdom about the reservoir that belies her young age.
"Maybe I am being an idealist, but helping to preserve the reservoir is about maintaining a place where you see birds and wildlife that you won't see anywhere else," said Latham.
Some volunteers made sure that visitors signed waivers, donated cash to a small jar, and learned more about the reservoir.
Deborah McWilliams was one of the Alliance members who greeted people walking in through the entrance on Troy Street. McWilliams moved recently to a condominium in 787 Summit Ave., with a view of the reservoir from her window.
"I peeked through my window and I was looking forward to coming in here, and when the Reservoir wasn't open all these months, I got mad and decided to get involved," said McWilliams. Taking a closer look
Visitors also included Sam Pesin and his mother Ethel.
Both are well known in Jersey City for their work preserving 1,200-acre Liberty State Park. Sam Pesin wants people to enjoy the reservoir that way, too.
"There's a natural area in Liberty State Park, but there's no lake," said Pesin. "This would be the only lake in Jersey City."
Pesin had this wish for Jersey City public officials to help preserve the reservoir.
"Let's hope that the Mayor [Jerramiah Healy] and the whole City Council comes to see the reservoir this summer," said Pesin. "I think if they would just spend a couple hours here, they would be convinced that this lake/nature park be such a great gift and such an important part of a legacy for future generations." The debate
Will the reservoir become a park? That's up for debate.
A master plan of the city's parks is being created, with completion scheduled for last August. Some would like the park to host ball fields and nature areas at the same time. Advocates of that use include Ward C City Councilman Steve Lipski and Pershing Field Little League President Joseph Napolitano, Jr. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com