ROXBURY, NJ - Most of the time, Hercules Park in Kenvil is a quiet, shady place. This summer, that will change.
Created by the former Hercules Powder Co. near the turn of the 20th century, Hercules Park is considered Roxbury’s oldest housing development and - in some ways - it’s a neighborhood shielded from progress.
Many of its homes, built by Hercules to house workers, haven’t changed much over the years. Saplings - planted in rows alongside the sidewalks in the early 1900s - now stand tall and have spread their trunks and limbs wide. The sidewalks are broken and many are heaved by the expanding tree trunks. The narrow roads haven’t been repaved in two decades.
It’s a place where people walk their dogs on the roads, rarely bothered by cars. At night, foxes and deer wander out of a wetland area between Kenvil Avenue and Bent Street. The sounds of kids playing outside during recess at the adjacent Franklin and Lincoln Roosevelt schools carry throughout the enclave.
The solitude of Hercules Park will be temporarily shattered next month. The township is about to embark on a $440,000 infrastructure improvement project there, an effort that will involve tearing up the pothole-ridden pavement and laying new macadam, installing new curbs and replacing sidewalks on one side of the streets and removing them altogether on the other side.
“The plan is to do the sidewalks and curbs in July and the paving in August,” Roxbury Department of Public Works Director Richard Blood told the Roxbury Mayor and Council at a recent meeting. “It will take three days to mill and pave the whole place and three weeks to fix all the sidewalks and curbs.”
But not all the noise will be from paving equipment and cement mixers. There will also be the sound of chainsaws and wood chippers; the township plans to remove more than two dozen of the old trees that line Hercules Park streets, including Nixon Drive, Bent Street, Chase Drive and Hunt Street.
There are a number of trees that aren’t in the best of health, but Blood said the tree removal will not involve only those. Many of the neighborhood’s still thriving trees will be felled because they are heaving sidewalks, he said.
The township plans to leave intact most of the trees on the side of the streets where it plans to remove sidewalks, Blood said. For the most part, those sides do not have utility poles and wires. Trees on the side of the street with poles and wires are likely to be axed, Blood said.
“The sidewalks will be under the utility wires,” he said. “In that development, all of the trees are very old. Some will come down.”
This will change the shady nature of Hercules Park, but Blood said he has no alternative. Trimming tree roots to install new sidewalks will kill the tree anyway, he said.
“I met with several residents who are pleased with the plan,” Blood told the council. He said he will conduct a community meeting to talk to, and hear from, Hercules Park residents before construction begins.
One longtime Hercules Park resident, Daniel Dubek, said he is in favor of the project. Dubek lives on the west side of Bent Street, the side that will get new sidewalks and lose its trees. He said the heaved sidewalk in front of his house is dangerous and repeatedly damages his snowblower.
But, although they are lifting the sidewalk in front of his house, Nixon Drive resident Michael Rogacki said he’d hate to see the town topple the two majestic maple trees that shade his house and lawn. He said he is less concerned about a third old maple on his land because it’s already showing signs of ill health.
Rogacki, a landscaper, said he will plant new trees to replace any removed by the township.
The township, and utility providers, prepared for the project in recent years by installing new gas mains and water lines in Hercules Park. The Roxbury Water Company replaced with new, higher capacity units, the neighborhood’s antique fire hydrants.