BERKELEY – May 23 was Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato’s 50th birthday. The Ocean County Freeholders gifted him with a park re-opening.
“Carmen has been no slouch in pestering us either about (completing the park),” Freeholder director Gerry Little jested. “(Councilman) Jimmy Byrnes was number one but Carmen has been right behind him the whole time, pestering about this park, this wonderful park,”
With a literal lock and symbolic wooden key, Freeholder John Bartlett re-opened Berkeley Island County Park, which suffered catastrophic damage from Superstorm Sandy back in 2012. The aging park was the first one Bartlett oversaw building as a new freeholder in 1982.
“It’s amazing how many different things went into building this park,” County Parks and Recreation Director Michael Mangum said. “There’s a lot of things you don’t see here today when you walk in that went into building this park. But we got here today. I know there’s no person happier to see this than Freeholder John Bartlett.”
“In many ways, it’s been my baby. There’s no question that when Hurricane Sandy hit, this park was starting to feel its age. It was in need of some renovation, more than some,” Bartlett told the audience, filled with members of the public, as well as county employees and county and local officials. “So quite frankly, when the storm did major damage to it, I wasn’t terribly unhappy, because it needed major renovations anyway.”
The project cost $8 million and although now open to the public, still has cosmetic work being done. The project took 5-plus years to complete, because as Bartlett said, the county couldn’t come in with their own equipment and get to work immediately.
“We needed permits,” Bartlett said. The bureaucratic red tape included confirming how much the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse the county for the damage and rebuilding a living shoreline (“when you lose land into the state’s water, it’s not your land anymore, it’s theirs”) so the park could have parking for guests. Ultimately, the state was good to work with, the freeholder added.
The park retained much of its original character with some upgrades. It has a fishing pier picnic area with pavilion. The new feature is the county’s first splash park, inspired by a splash park Bartlett visited in Philadelphia.
“One of the things that was always done in Berkeley Township that is very, very important: we always worry about our families and our children,” said Freeholder Joseph Vicari, who also used to be superintendent of Berkeley’s elementary school district. “And that’s what it’s all about with our parks system, of all 27 parks we have in Ocean County. It’s affordable because, it’s free!”
The living shoreline was constructed on the park’s south side. Shoreline protection lines the north side. The park’s infrastructures are all new: a parking lot with improved lighting that is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The landscaping includes all native seaside plants.
A “living shoreline” is man-made to mimic a naturally occurring conditions that attracts native fauna and flora.
Eagle Construction, Burlington, was awarded the redevelopment contract. The park and building were designed by both T& Associates and Barlo & Associates. The county worked with the State Department of Environmental Protection, Barnegat Bay Partnership and Stevens Institute of Technology to design and implement a sustainable and environmentally friendly project.
“All of this has been under the inspiration of Freeholder John Bartlett and this will be a legacy that John leaves for generations to come,” Little said.
Freeholder Virginia Haines worked for Bartlett back in 1982 and remembers the construction of Berkeley Island County Park well.
“I’m just so glad they were able to make it even better, and I’m sure that the people of especially Berkeley but Ocean County will enjoy the park for many years to come,” Haines said. “And I hope we will never have another Hurricane Sandy.”
Amato asked for a more passionate audience response to his greeting, saying the township waited 5 years for this day. Oct. 29, 2012 is a day that will live in infamy for the mayor, he said.
“I want to thank the Board of Chosen Freeholders for their commitment to not only fix and repair this park, but to rebuild it,” Amato said. He walked the devastated park with Bartlett after the hurricane. At that time, Bartlett promised to not just repair, but to rebuild the park.
“To make an $8 million commitment to rebuild Berkeley Island Park, it’s something that should never go unnoticed. On behalf of the township, we appreciate the freeholders,” Amato said.
Alexa Palmieri, on behalf of Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-3rd), presented the freeholders a certificate to commemorate the reopening of the park.
“It’s quite an honor for me because I grew up in this town, so it’s great to see the park finally finished,” Palmieri said.
Berkeley Island County Park sits on a 25-acre peninsula that juts into Barnegat Bay and Cedar Creek. It’s located at 399 Brennan Concourse in Berkeley.