HOWELL – Improvements could be coming to Winston Park off Route 9 on Redwood Road, pending a Monmouth County Municipal Open Space Grant that would cover 50 percent of the estimated $500,000 cost.
The park currently houses a baseball field, basketball court and play equipment – a small swing set and digger-type equipment for younger kids. According to Raymond C. Liotta, Director of Landscape Architecture Services at Maser Consulting, who presented the park improvements at a recent town council meeting, one of the primary issues is that the baseball field in the back of the park is not very well drained and is underutilized.
“The infield area is completely overgrown at this point in time and is not playable,” he said, adding that it is quite an undertaking to mow about four acres of grass, especially in wet conditions. He said the baseball field is located in a low lying area of the park and stays very wet.
Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro suggested the baseball field at Winston Park was once used by a beer league for out-of-town residents, and Councilman Robert Walsh added that a lot of practice games were played there, but it has since been abandoned after Soldier Memorial Park was built 10 years ago.
“The overall park area itself is in need of a reduction in some maintenance, and the municipality is currently mowing the area about two times a month,” said Liotta.
The goal is to use the natural, existing conditions of the park to build educational rain gardens, arboretums with native plants, walking trails, community gardens, benches and a gazebo. There will still be fairly large green spaces to throw a baseball around or put a blanket out and have a picnic.
The rain gardens will be in an area where there is known high ground water and will be all natural, with no chemicals or fertilization needed, officials said. The community gardens are just a concept right now. Volunteers would need to express interest in starting them up.
The basketball court will be resurfaced and the playground equipment will be in pulled closer to the road for safety purposes. The parking lot, which right now is composed of gravel and not well organized, will be paved with about 12 spots and adorned with security lights.
“We’re trying to utilize the existing conditions but still provide passive and some minimal active recreation places, as well as allowing for the active playground equipment to be closer to the road so it’s more inviting for parents and children to be there,” said Liotta.
Councilwoman Pauline Smith asked Liotta if council could see a description of the rubberized material for the playground mat being used before moving forward with the project. There was similar concern when Howell High School moved from a traditional grass field to synthetic turf.
Community Development Director Jim Herrman said the open space tax fund is the “logical choice” to finance the other 50 percent of the improvements that the grant doesn’t cover, but that has yet to be determined. The grant does not account for soft costs, which Herrman said the rule of thumb for is around 15 percent of the cost of the project – costs such as surveying, mapping, permit requirements, soil erosion, wetland permits or plan development.
“There’s no money budgeted yet for this project,” he said.
Elizabeth Naskiewic from the Lake Restoration & Wildlife Management Committee expressed her support in pursing the grant, as she said there’s not much on the west side of Route 9 in the way of recreation.
“My only fear is I don’t want to see it made into a really nice park and then neglected,” she said, adding, “Once this is installed, I would like to see it kept up, which is not really an easy task these days.”