Since last spring, the park has seen a new boat-themed playground, exercise equipment, a bean toss, a patio area for leisure and yoga, two dog parks, solar charging stations, benches, tables, and fountains. Combined with renovated bathrooms, the park can now better accommodate events and all kinds of recreation.
“We’re in a city,” said First Ward Councilman Tommy Cotter. “The only place we can get away from the hustle and bustle is the park and our waterfronts, where it’s quieter, and we can get some exercise.”
Bayonne’s waterfront was once surrounded by industry and docks – much of it still is. Every new park and park re-dedication is a celebration of the city’s continued transformation.
“When a lot of industry pulled out, whatever waterfront we had we didn’t use,” Cotter said. “We’re a peninsula, let’s use our waterfront.”
“This park has always been one of Bayonne’s great assets,” said Mayor James Davis.“And it’s now even better.”
The celebrated first phase improvements are on the western side of the mile-long park from the Bayonne Bridge and Tyler Sellers Skate Park to Gorman Field (the softball fields). The second phase includes raising the tennis and basketball courts two feet, as part of an ongoing N.J. Department of Environmental Protection remediation project resulting from Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s about getting your community involved and making the park a gathering place.” – Tommy Cotter
For many residents and city officials, much of Bayonne’s progress is set against a spirit of nostalgia for a time when Bayonne’s public amenities were ample and new, and a sense of community was palpable.
In the early 20th Century, when Bayonne was transitioning from a vacation town to an industrial city, the eastern part of the park was home to Uncle Milty’s Playland, an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and bumper cars.
“These improvements are in the spirit of Uncle Milty’s,” said Cotter. “It’s about getting your community involved and making the park a gathering place.”
A gazebo,envisioned as a concession stand that never came to be, overlooks Brady’s Dock at the eastern edge of the park. Once the site of a Manhattan-bound ferry that ran as late as the 1980s, it now berths four rowboats.The dock was originally built in the late 19th Century by the Brady family to import building supplies from upstate New York.
“We might be on approximately the sixth version of Brady’s dock,” said Bayonne’s information officer, Joe Ryan.“Part of the problem with the ferry was that it was at the southern end of town, and likely was not able to sustain a high enough ridership.”
The city still longs for a ferry and is now trying its best to get a ferry terminal on the former Military Ocean Terminal Base, which would be historically significant as well as a much-needed transportation option.
Cotter, who has represented Bergen Point at the city council since 2014, imagines Dennis Collins Park’s future with plenty of events that can bring the neighborhood together, including getting that concession stand gazebo at Brady’s Dock. Performances in front of the picturesque Bayonne Bridge will be possible with the recent installation of a performance pergola, on a raised patio. The park has never had a dedicated performance space.
“It’s the perfect little spot,” said Cotter.“It just works. Your imagination can go anywhere you want right now.” He envisions everything from the high school theater program performing Shakespeare in the park, to acoustic music and sunset wine-tastings.
Part of the vision is already becoming a reality. Starting on April 26, the pergola will be the site of a weekly Thursday evening performance called “Art in the Park.”
Alcohol consumption in the park is off limits under current law, but Cotter, a lifelong Collins Park-goer, keeps an open mind.
“We should be aspiring to something instead of saying, no you can’t do that in Bayonne,” said Cotter.Dennis Collins Park, which was constructed in 1920, was last renovated in the 1980s.
“Everything gets old,” Cotter said.“In 20 years, someone will re-do it again.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.