CAMDEN, NJ — Between now and 2021 parkgoers in Camden will have a wider array of land to explore with six new or renovated projects on the way — totaling more than 100 acres and over $80 million in investments.
“Not only has the city and the county made a large capital investment to add parkland, but it has also worked to renovate existing parks and trails, as well as add recreation equipment and purchase more open space,” Camden County Freeholder Jeff Nash, liaison to the Camden County Parks Department, told TAPinto Camden.
“The purpose is to enhance life in the community and increase property values,” he added.
Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a leading community-based development corporation in Camden, said it is also working with the city and county to engage community members for a “5-Year Parks Plan” in hopes to creating an all-inclusive process.
Efforts, which are also being boosted by the Trust for Public Land — a national non-profit working to protect open land — began in December and will take many iterations over the next six months. That includes events throughout the city, information booths at community events, online surveys about what residents would consider their “dream park,” and meetings with neighborhood associations.
Another man’s treasure
The largest park in Camden, the Cramer Hill Waterfront Park, is set to open in 2021 after more than 12 years of work to properly cap and remediate the 62 acres of land.
Transforming the former Harrison Avenue Landfill is the second phase of a project that included the creation of the Salvation Army Kroc Center, which opened in 2014.
“We expect a substantial portion of the Cramer Hill Park to be completed this spring and then there’s a full year of monitoring on-site because of its former designation as landfill,” said Sarah Bryant, director of community initiatives at Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.
In all, the project would add up to $70 million and include a 50-foot-hill with stunning views of the Delaware River and Philadelphia.
On the land, which operated as a landfill from 1952 to 1971, there is still much trash to be removed as well as “environmental hot spots” to address in order to assure it is safe for public-use.
Empty since 2014 and the site of the former Camden Laboratories, Whitman Park is set to complete its expansion in southeast Camden at the end of 2021.
The vacant property, once the site of illegal dumping, will nearly double its footprint at a total of 11 acres. Four million dollars have been dedicated to the project, which does not include the remediation of the site.
At ribbon-cutting, the park will boast facilities for football, baseball, basketball and more.
“One goal I would highlight with the Whitman Park renovation is not interrupting the ongoing sport's seasons, including football,” said Bryant. “We don’t want to temporarily displace any of the leagues during work.”
How much greener?
Other major improvements are on the way for Reverend Evers Park and RCA Pier Park.
Set to re-open in May, Reverend Evers Park is currently receiving $1.5 million in renovations. Cooper’s Ferry Partnership officials said it worked closely with the Morgan Village Circle Community Development Corporation to finalize the design plans.
Developers will spruce up the existing baseball field, add walking paths, as well as retrofit the park with new fitness, lighting and safety features.
RCA Pier Park, which opened on the central waterfront in May 2019, will receive additional signage and public art.
Officials also hope to improve to Cornelius Martin Park in north Camden. The process is still in the engineering phase and full funding has yet to be secured.
Cooper’s Ferry said it worked closely with the community to complete design work. Bryant added that approximately $55,000 has already been secured from the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program to carry out the engineering phase.
Elijah Perry Park will be under construction until next year following feedback from the community regarding what improvements $1 million in funds should prioritize.
The exact date that a 32-mile Cross Camden County Trail will be completed has not been determined.
However, a one-mile segment of the trail along East Atlantic Avenue between Audubon and Haddon Heights is scheduled to open in 2021.
When complete the trail, which will extend from the city on the Delaware River waterfront to the Atlantic County line, will allow for travel on foot or bicycle. Ultimately, officials hope it will connect to the Circuit Trails — a planned 750-mile system of trails that runs throughout the greater Philadelphia area.
“We are working on several sections, which are at various stages, but hopefully we’ll go into constriction on at least one section this year,” said Bryant. “The county started working on a conceptual plan for it three years ago, and we have been working to develop a trail like this for longer than that...maybe 10 to 15 years. The idea is to have a continuous park and trail, allowing Camden residents different options when moving around the city.”
She explained that each section once complete along the trail will be available to the public.
When mulling over the expansion of parkland in 2019 you could point to the complete overhaul of Alberta Woods — the first renovation that benefited from a $5 million targeted investment between the city and Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.
Or consider 4th & Washington Park, a project that benefited from a contribution by former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski.
Those two projects in and of themselves combined for over a million dollars in renovations.
However, the marquee project would be Gateway Park — a 25-acre mammoth that took nearly 20 years to complete and provided a stark change for what-used-be a seedy stretch of land.
The poignant change of scenery culminated in the fly-by the appearance of a bald eagle. An occurrence that Freeholder Nash assured was not planned.
“We’re not that good,” Nash joked. “But yes, we have much more in the works.”