As many as 50 acres of Liberty State Park’s contaminated interior could be transformed into soccer fields and other active recreation amenities in the coming years, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday.
DEP Deputy Commissioner Olivia Glenn hosted a virtual public meeting Thursday night and provided park advocates and local residents with several potential scenarios that could bring active recreation to the waterfront state park that has long been a sanctuary for passive recreation.
The 234-acre interior portion of Liberty State Park has been fenced off from the public for years. The state plans to remediate the contaminated land, which contains historic fill and some chromium, and reopen it to the public.
While advocates have defended the park for years against privatization efforts, other activists and members of the Jersey City community have been calling on the state to introduce more active recreation amenities, like ball fields and basketball courts.
During her presentation, Glenn offered several different possibilities how much of the interior could be dedicated to active recreation, from a little as 12 acres to as much as 50 acres.
“During this conversation today, it is our hope that we continue to cultivate our understanding of the active recreation needs in the community that surrounds Liberty State Park,” Glenn said. “We truly believe that working together Liberty State Park can be a place to help meet these needs.”
Glenn said a survey of over 1,300 respondents found that soccer fields were one of the most common requests. Others suggestions included an ice rink, cricket field, an area for frisbee golf and a dog park.
Glenn said the state has not yet made any decisions on new amenities, but she noted that other areas of the park, aside from the interior, could be used for active reaction.
Many local leaders supported the idea of dedicating a large swatch of the interior for active recreation.
“When you’re talking about a city of 300,000, I don’t think 30 acres is giving the community enough,” former St. Anthony basketball coach Bob Hurley said. “When we have that much property, I think we should really expand that footprint and try it to make it something closer to 30 to 40 percent of what this new parcel is going to be.”
While park advocates support the introduction of active recreation, they have some reservations.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement Friday that he remains concerned that dedicating up to 50 acres of park land for active recreation could open the door for the type of public-privatization deals he and others have opposed.
“The NJ Sierra Club supports active recreation, however there needs to be a balance,” he said. “Active recreation should not be in the middle of an environmentally sensitive area, instead it should be where there are already existing fields and facilities like parking lots and bathrooms.”
Friends of the Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin said he is also concerned that the state could look to public-private partnerships to pay for the active recreation amenities, but noted that Glenn allayed some of those fears during the meeting.
“I don’t see any need for us to have go down the lane of privatization,” Glenn said, adding that the state has revenue streams to fund the projects. “In terms of us selling off any of our land, it is not even on our radar being of any interest of doing any simple land transactions.”