Jersey City’s most prominent waterfront park is about to get even better and greener, as the state is set to spend $40 million cleaning up and reclaiming a large swath of Liberty State Park between Freedom Way and the Turnpike Extension.
Many areas of Liberty State Park have been open to the public since the 1970s following a massive cleanup from when the area was dominated by rail yards, but a 240-acre interior section has always been closed off. The area has residual contamination from industry that once dominated the area, but the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced late last week that settlements from polluters will be used to transform the area into a “mosaic” of freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, forests, and grasslands.
“We are beginning the long-overdue restoration of an area that lies at the heart of this great park, but has long been off-limits to the public,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a statement. Sam Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park, was thrilled with the announcement. “[This plan] will become an international model for urban nature restoration,” he said.
The project will start by capping soil at the land and creating a new salt marsh, which will feed into the Hudson River by a new channel that connects the river with the park’s interior. Water plays a big role in the existing park, and the restoration project will reclaim 48 acres of tidal wetlands and 26 acres of freshwater wetlands.
The revitalization will preserve nods to the area’s history and include several different systems of pathways. A rail path section will build a boardwalk over some tracks that are still left over from the early 20th century, while a water path system will showcase various wetlands in the park. A modular path system will also be created and shift according to the vegetation that naturally grows in the park, hoping to create a more “wild” feel for that section.
Dramatic entrances will be built as part of an effort to connect the existing park to the restored sections. A new structure dubbed Tower Bridge will connect people from the refurbished concrete mixing tower to a new greenery area in the southwest area called Liberty Hill, which will feature an elevated plateau section and an overlook area.
Liberty Hill will also include a woodland walk, a wet meadow walk, and a labyrinth “maze” component. In addition, a link will be constructed from the main park over Phillip Drive via a dramatic cable suspension bridge that both pedestrians and bicyclists will be allowed to use.
The project has been made possible by the hard work of preservationists over the years. Several plans for a golf course and a waterpark have been floated for the restricted area, but were defeated in large part due to public pressure. Just a few weeks ago, a plan to build a new private marina at Liberty State Park’s southern end was pitched, although that appears to be dead following opposition, a court ruling, and a governor change in Trenton.
The first phase of the restoration will focus on a 23-acre section that will create paths connecting the area near Liberty Science Center to the park’s existing trail system. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will bid out the project and manage its construction, while the DEP will oversee the process. No timeline has yet been announced.