An effort to revitalize Liberty State Park that focuses heavily on ecological restoration is slated to finally kick off later this year following years of planning and more than a few controversies.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officially revealed their new plans for the massive green space during a community meeting on May 24. The latest version is scaled back a bit from proposals that first emerged about five years ago following feedback from Jersey City residents.
The new plan will reserve more acreage for active recreation features within Liberty State Park and includes three portions of work dubbed Phase 1A, Phase 1B, and Phase 2. The initial Phase 1A will clean up legacy industrial pollution located within a 240-acre interior area of the park west of Freedom Way that has never been open to the public.
DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette revealed that the state will be working in partnership with the United States Army Corp of Engineers on Phase 1A, which includes complete ecological restoration of the interior with nature-based climate resilience features. The work will reintroduce native tidal and non-tidal wetlands while creating new meadows and an urban forest.
Major improvements in Phase 1A include the creation of scenic hilltop overlooks and the addition of about 5.6-miles of walking and running trails. Phase 1A additionally includes environmental cleanup at the site of the future Southern Athletics Hub near the end of the park, which will begin the planning phase after the first phase is completed.
Phase 1B looks to expand active recreational activities in the park by constructing public amenities along the Audrey Zapp Drive corridor spanning from Jersey Avenue and Liberty State Park’s northern entrance to the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal Building (CRRNJ). This phase will include the creation of a Northern Athletics Hub set to feature multi-purpose athletic fields and support facilities.
Other notable components of Phase 1B include the rehabilitation and repurposing of the historic CRRNJ train sheds into covered outdoor public community space that could potentially host a marketplace. Phase 1B also looks to develop arts and cultural spaces that could include a public outdoor amphitheater, new playgrounds, concessions, and gathering spaces.
Phase 2 involves the creation of a Holistic Long-Term Master Plan for the park that looks to assess opportunities and plan improvements for the park’s Southern Area along Morris Pesin Drive and the waterfront. This portion will look to create the Southern Athletics Hub within about 50 acres along the western portion of the park.
The athletics hub could include a track and field center, integrated multi-use fields, basketball courts, racquet courts, skate park, and support facilities. Phase 2 will also evaluate the feasibility of a potential community pool, aquatics center, and community gardens while looking to enhance the coastal wetland habitat and develop long-term parking and intra-park transit solutions.
In terms of the immediate future, Phase 1A of the park’s revitalization will finally begin this year. Commissioner LaTourette confirmed during the May 24 meeting that construction on the initial portion will begin in September, as a contract for the work has already been awarded.
Those interested in the park’s future can also look forward to an update on Phase 1B later this fall, as the DEP is slated to present conceptual design alternatives for the Northern Athletics Hub and other components.