SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - At the monthly meeting of the South Orange Environmental Commission on Jan. 25, discussion of improvements to the Farrell Field Park area was pushed to the top of the agenda in response to the report by police of a recent robbery of a teenage girl while she was walking with friends in the woods behind the park on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 24.
The wooded area -- which stretches from Parker Ave. and Chyzowych Field in Maplewood, past Farrell Field to Waterlands Park in South Orange -- is commonly referred to as "The Goonies" and is a popular cut-through for many students walking to and from school and the two towns.
Within the wooded area is a pedestrian bridge, which appears to have been fenced off at one time, but now is fully accessible for people to cross. South Orange Village Trustee Walter Clarke stated by email that the bridge "was officially closed and fenced off, people are not supposed to use it, which is an ongoing vandalism problem."
Next to the bridge is the abandoned pumping station, which is locked and boarded-up with "no trespassing" signs posted, but broken windows and graffiti both inside and outside the building indicate that the area can be accessed. A small building next to the pumping station shows signs of use as well, with a hammock strung between two walls and litter on the ground.
Bill Haskins, Chair of the South Orange Environmental Commission, addressed the robbery and said that improving the area was important. "From both a safety and environmental point of view, we want to fix it on both counts," said Haskins, adding that the future for the space should be that of "a safe, used thoroughfare."
While South Orange has already been awarded a $1 million grant which would make many improvements possible, the grant has not been utilized for a variety of reasons. The grant was awarded in 2015 under the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Transportation Alternatives Program for the River Greenway Project, which that would connect the northern and southern borders of South Orange with a 3,600-foot pedestrian path and bikeway. This project has not been able to move forward in part because necessary approvals from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the State Historical Preservation Office have not been secured.
Clarke stated that there is no information regarding timing for the grant implementation, adding that it is possible that "government turnover is creating some roadblocks."
Other plans for the wooded area include the creation of a "Museum of the Eastern Forest" in the central area, which would be fenced off from deer and highlight a variety of native plants.
The Farrell Field Park Conservancy already has been making improvements to the area, and held a "Park and Woods Cleanup Day" last May. The conservancy also hopes to implement hiking trails and bike paths, with their website stating these paths would be "in the woods connecting Farrell Field Park to the River Greenway and proposed bridge with direct routes to downtown South Orange and the high school in Maplewood."
Also mentioned at the meeting was that Run Jump Lift, located at 298 Walton Ave. within the wooded area by the South Orange Public Works Department, has offered to be involved in making improvements to the area.
“This area is an untapped resource for both towns and developing it for safe, recreational use would be a great asset to our residents," said Malcolm Chisholm, owner of Run Jump Lift. "We look forward to working with the planners to create a fun, all-inclusive set of fitness activities throughout the trail system.”
Editor's Note: The story has been updated since its original publication to include comments from Malcolm Chisholm of Run Jump Lift.