A Unique Perspective Could Help Revive Harrison Street Park

Matthew Hersh

A makeover for Harrison Street Park sought for years by concerned residents who want to see the wooded oasis revitalized without losing its woodsy character, could come soon, pending approval from Princeton Borough Council.

On Tuesday night, after Town Topics went to press, Council was slated to vote on a proposal submitted by a N. Harrison Street resident who is also a naturalist. The proposal, the lone submission received after the Borough issued a formal RFP (request for proposal), is likely to be approved, thus enabling the resident, Steven Hiltner, to begin working with residents in looking toward the future of the somewhat rundown park.

Mr. Hiltner, who holds a position as the natural resources manager for the Friends of Princeton Open Space and is a Borough member of the Princeton Environmental Commission, responded to the Borough's RFP last month, after the Borough had unsuccessfully fielded it for two months prior.

But in late July, Mr. Hiltner, who said he is a frequent user of the park and familiar with discussions between the Borough and a neighborhood group, Friends of Harrison Street Park, submitted his name for consideration. In the event of his likely confirmation, the Borough will appropriate no more than $4,800 for his services, which will largely focus on creating and maintaining various habitats within the park, and the placement of tree and flower plantings.

The three-acre park, which was acquired by the Borough from Princeton University in the 1950s, is mainly wooded with an open field on the northern end, a basketball court, a wading pool, and several pieces of playground equipment. While Mr. Hiltner's role will focus mainly on plantings, the Borough's RFP indicates that he will play a lesser role in playground equipment placement and the drainage problems that plagued the park during heavy rainstorms.

While the naturalist route for park rehabilitation is somewhat unorthodox, the Borough is likely to seek outside consultants in regard to play equipment. Mr. Hiltner has said that his role in that regard will be minimized. That said, the location of the equipment would likely dictate its size.

While park character preservation is important, several residents have expressed particular concern about the playground equipment. In April, when Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi first approached members of Borough Council seeking approval to issue an RFP, residents of the Harrison Street Park neighborhood indicated that the aging equipment would need replacement. At that time, Steve Downs, an Aiken Avenue resident, said that an improvement could encourage physical activity for younger children, but that as it stands, "the park is really not that engaging.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities for running, playing, or jumping," he said.

The plan to hire a naturalist instead of a more traditional park strategist was the result of a January 23 meeting between Borough officials and residents. A prior plan, opposed by most residents, used traditional redesign methods, with less emphasis on the park's wooded character.

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