MANCHESTER – There’s a method to it: have a county park within a reasonable distance for every resident in Ocean County. Reasonable of course is a relative term, but Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. sees a hole he wants to fill: Manchester should have a county park.
Bartlett, Freeholder liaison to the county’s parks department, joined Mayor Kenneth Palmer at a recent council meeting to discuss building a county park across from Ridgeway Liquors, at routes 571 and 547 and the railroad tracks, bordering Jackson. The township owns 247 acres, and 13 acres is privately held. With wetlands restrictions, 120 acres is developable.
It would be the 28th county park/conservation area.
“[This is a] project that will benefit our residents and residents from the entire region, so it’s something that we’ve been asking for, we’ve been hoping for, and I think you’ll all appreciate that,” Palmer said.
“It’s a win-win situation for both the county and town,” Councilman Charles Frattini said.
Bartlett and Palmer have been quietly talking for two years about “the last hole in the county park system, which I believe is in Manchester Township,” Bartlett said. “…That would be an interesting place for the county to build a county park.”
The county will reimburse the township its costs, about $1.2 million for the Green Acres-purchased lots and $25,000 in soft costs, Palmer told The Manchester Times. The county will seek to purchase the two privately-held lots.
Ridgway Boulevard runs through the parcels, which may actually work into a logical split: one side could have passive hiking trails that are ADA accessible on the eastern end, the other could have soccer and other playing fields on the western end, though the plans are subject to change.
Bartlett stressed the park is a regional park, not a township park, but the county would consider what would most benefit Manchester residents, as they would likely be the ones to use the park most.
“We will not satisfy everyone, I can also guarantee you that,” Bartlett said. “I was in Barnegat years ago and someone said, ‘Do you take suggestions as to what to build?’ and I said, ‘Well, if I ask for suggestions, someone would say we should build a football field, and an ice-skating rink, and a bowling alley, and this-and-that, and I stopped there. So he said, ‘What you’re saying is no,’ and I said, ‘Well, politely, yes.’”
Bartlett continued: “What we try to do is fit the use to the land, not the other way around. So whatever will fit in and look nice, and be nice for everyone, visually nice and accommodating and comfortable, that’s what we would design. Will everyone be happy with that? No.”
The county has about $6 million appropriated in 2018 or its capital improvements, which will cover land acquisition, permitting, environmental assessment and planning.
The focus has been rebuilding what Superstorm Sandy destroyed back in 2012. Cattus Island in Toms River was only recently completed, and Berkeley Island County Park is nearing its completion for mid-2018. A new county park hasn’t been built in years, and those either damaged by Sandy or just needing upgrades from aging needed addressing first.
So the next steps are to apply for the needed permits and environmental studies. The park is years off from fruition.
“This will be a first-class park,” Manchester council president Craig Wallis said. “This will be a very good thing for the township.”