PATERSON, NJ – With pride in the city they love, more than 50 people attended a meeting Thursday night that represented the federal government’s first step towards planning the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.
It was a diverse group representing various ages, races and economic backgrounds. But everyone shared a common bond of excitement about the new park.
Some came purely out of curiosity. Others were ready with ideas and suggestions.
Rich Walter, a member of Paterson’s Historic Preservation Commission, hopes the park will include exhibits on the history of the industrial revolution. Yvette Smallwood wants tours that let people look out over the waterfall. Nah-Dira Arcis, a junior at Garret Mountain Academy, would like gardens and fountains.
The National Park Service sponsored the session, along with another one at The Brownstone on Fri., Nov. 18 from 1-3 pm and a third at New Jersey Community Development Corporation on Sat., Nov. 19, from 11 am-3 pm. (The Friday session will include lunch and Saturday’s will feature tours of the area.)
“Now that it exists we are inviting the people of Paterson to tell us what they would like to see happen in the park,’’ said Don Edwards of the general management team for the park. “The park service has established a park, but exactly what to do with it is something we are going to figure out over the next two years. One of the ways that we can do that is to get ideas from the people of Paterson and this area.’’
The federal government has provided $500,000 for the planning phase of the park. Once decisions are made about the park should include, officials will then work on getting the money to do it.
“The national park is great for Paterson,’’ said Leonard Zax, a Patersonian and member of the federal government’s advisory board. “Lots of people in this city have worked for a long time to help launch this new national park and it’s exhilarating to see the excitement surrounding it. However, if the in context of creating this national park we fail to engage the youth of Paterson today and in the future, then we will have failed.”
There were plenty of young people at Thursday session at the Center City Mall.
“I am here in an effort to be more involved in my community,’’ said Jonathan Rojas, a senior at Rosa Parks Performing Arts School and member of the Paterson Youth Council. “I would like to see the park better taken care of and back to its former glory.’’
Rojas said this summer’s jazz concerts sponsored by the Municipal Utilities Authority showed the park’s potential. “Every time I went, there was a high turn-out,’’ he said, “even when it was raining, and going made me feel more involved in my community.”
“I always used to go there when I was young. I see that it’s not taken care of, there is litter, bottles, glasses everywhere,’’ said Tanjid Shuhag, a sophomore at Kennedy and youth council member. “For a national park it shouldn’t be like that. It should be more organized so that people can go there and have a good time. They should try to clean up the park and put some activities so that the younger kids can have some fun.’’
Coren Smith has lived in Paterson 31 years and was passing through the mall on his way home from work when he stopped in. “I think tonight is awesome,’’ said Smith. “It’s a beautiful thing. They were talking about it when I was young and now it’s happening, 31 years later and I’m just glad that I’m around to see it.
“I would like to see memorabilia that displays the positive side of Paterson,’’ Smith added. “There’s a lot of rich culture in Paterson, musical, architectural. There’s a lot of stuff that Paterson has to offer, but it sometimes gets painted in a very negative light.”
One lifelong resident, Deirdre Pauldo, hopes the park includes a restaurant where people could dine and enjoy views of the majestic falls. Chris Fabor Muhammad, a local artist, would like to see a gallery in the park as well as murals as a monument to the people of Paterson.
Darren Boch, the first Superintendent of the park, was born in Paterson and grew up in Fair Lawn. He called Paterson “a city with a glorious past that is trying to attain a glorious future.’’
Bloch emphasized the importance of the national designation. “That means it’s significant to everyone in the nation,’’ he said. “It doesn’t belong just to Paterson and Paterson’s history, it played an important role in the history of the entire United States.’’
“I think over time it will become a destination,’’ Bloch added, “not just for Patersonians, but for New Jerseyians and people throughout the United States who realize there’s something we can learn about how we became the nation we became by going to Paterson. If you want learn about geology, you go to the Grand Canyon. If you want to learn about steam engines you can go to Steamtown, Pa. If you want to learn about the industrial revolution, you come to Paterson.”