ROXBURY, N.J. - Roxbury Township is on the verge of getting its first chunk of lakefront property on Lake Hopatcong, a strip of land that once served as a steamboat passenger platform in Landing.

The first thing it wants to put there: A big Christmas tree.

The state, which owns the half-acre peninsula adjacent to Lake's End Marina, is eager to enter into a long-term lease with Roxbury that would allow the township to use the site, said Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee. In fact, he said officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are so enthused about the idea, they proposed giving Roxbury a permit to use the land even before a lease is signed. 

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"I met with the DEP on the site," Rilee said at this week's meeting of the township Mayor and Council. "They were quite excited about some of the things we wanted to do on the property." 

Those ideas include creating a paved walking path, installing park benches, building a gazebo and possibly setting up a floating dock to be used by a water taxi, said the mayor. But the first township use of the site will likely be the placement of a large Christmas tree, said Roxbury Township Manager Christopher Raths. 

"This is pretty exciting," said Roxbury Councilman Mark Crowley. "We now have a gateway onto the lake." He noted that the site will be a nice addition to other improvements happening in the Landing area including the township's new softball complex, the Lake Hopatcong Foundation's ongoing restoration of the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station and the upcoming construction of a new bridge over the railroad tracks and former Morris Canal. 

The narrow strip of land has an interesting background, according to local historian Marty Kane, who is the Lake Hopatcong Foundation's board chairman. "It was the White Line steamboat dock," he said. "They had long dock there where they parked the steamboat." 

That was from the late 1880s to about 1915, Kane said. In later years, the property was home to a World War II memorial. It also served as a place where boat owners on the lake would dock before walking over to a supermarket across the street, he said. 

The parcel, part of Hopatcong State Park, includes a grassy strip that wraps around the end of the lake as well as some wooded property on the other side of the water, Kane said. Rilee said the township isn't really interested in using those pieces. 

Kane said he understands why the DEP would be so eager to let Roxbury lease the site. "It makes sense," he said. "For Roxbury, it could form a nice little park and a lot can go on from there. For the state it was something they had to take care of … The key to me is that Roxbury has the ability to work it into its long-term plans for Landing where, for the state, it was a nuisance that required grass cutting and tree maintenance." 

He said the site is a "great little spot" that will be a "key parcel" when the so-called "Landing Gateway" projects are completed. "I think it has unlimited potential," Kane added.