WEST WINDSOR, NJ  --  Following a year-long planning process, the Mercer County Park Commission (MCPC) will present their final overall master plan for the 279-acre Dam Site 21 on Wednesday evening.   Under the proposal, the county-owned property, officials say, restores the park’s natural areas and creating new passive recreation opportunities for the public’s enjoyment. 

Mercer County purchased flood-prone land along Miry Run more than 40 years ago in order to build a park and one of several dams as part of a flood mitigation initiative known as the Assunpink Creek Watershed Water Works Plan. In the mid-1980s, the dam was constructed and a lake of almost 50 acres was created. Since then, the 279-acre dam site, which includes 49 acres of ponds, has become a popular place for neighbors to walk, fish, enjoy nature, and sled in the winter.

If adopted, the MCPC Master Plan, at an estimated cost of $19.7 million, will serve as a long-term vision for 17 acres of the sprawling site, or approximately six percent of it, including trails, parking and other park visitor facilities. The majority of the "disturbed" space, the project's advocates say, already fits into that category based on previous work.  Under the MCPC plan, natural features will be augmented with 34 acres of new forest including an estimated 14,000 new trees and 64 acres of new native meadows.

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“Through our public meetings and online survey, more than 1,000 Mercer County residents have shared their ideas for Dam Site 21, and we have listened,” said Aaron T. Watson, executive director of the Mercer County Park Commission. “The final plan includes improvements suggested by neighbors, environmental organizations, and municipal public safety officials, and will serve as a guiding vision to make the park more accessible to County residents, while also improving water quality, wildlife habitat and site sustainability.”

However, a group of local residents opposed to the plan, Friends of Dam 21, call the plan "unnecessary development and wasteful spending."

The group has put forth an alternative proposal that they say would support the public use of the property, improved access, better stewardship of the land and enhancements to existing core trails.   The citizen-led group has said that the MCPC plan would displace wildlife and destroy wildlife habitat.  They call the proposal an "unjustifiable utilization of residential neighborhoods for a ranger station, maintenance facility, nursery stock yard, canopy bridge, deer fences, parking lots, and restrooms in light of available alternatives."

While the plan will be presented for consideration for adoption at the Park Commissioner's January 29 meeting, opponents have called for a longer public comment period and "sincere collaboration by MCPC, rather than a consultant, with community and elected officials of all three municipalities." 

MCPC contends that revisions have been made to the plan in recent months as a direct result of public recommendations include providing access to the Core Activity area from Old Trenton Road, rather than from Line Road; adding emergency responder water access at Line Road and at the Core Activity area; relocating a proposed maintenance shed away from Hughes Drive to the Core Activity area; removing trails from woodlands adjacent to Hutchinson Road and Miry Run; combining the nature-based playground and inclusive playground into one play area; reducing trails and relocating a plant nursery farther from Hughes Drive to better maintain the property’s residential appearance; and providing evergreen plant buffers near abutting residential properties.

The alternative plan put forth by Friends of Dam Site 21 would eliminate much of the plan in an effort to cut the cost by almost $9 million.  Their plan, which was presented before the Hamilton Township Council last week, would, according to its supporters, improve access; wayfinding signage and existing parking lots; share parking with Mercer County Vocational School at its existing 250 car parking lot; connect, improve and maintain the existing trails and proposed core trails including connection to Mercer County Park; improve stewardship; and utilize existing ranger station and maintenance yards at MCP. 

The proposed Final Master Plan can be found on the Park Commission’s website (http://mercercountyparks.org/#!/activities/dam-site-21).   Friends of Dam Site 21 have posted their alternative plan on their website at (https://friendsofdamsite21.org/)

The Park Commission’s Jan. 29 meeting will be held at Mercer Oaks Golf Club, 725 Village Road West, West Windsor, and begin at 5:30 p.m.

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