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Coventry Farms Opens Space for Youth Sports

Matthew Hersh

A new park, which will help alleviate the Township's recreational space crunch and perpetuate its open space policies, is being built thanks to the combined efforts of Princeton Township and Delaware and Raritan Greenway, Inc.

The $1.4 million park project will include two baseball fields, two soccer fields, 98 parking spaces, a children's play equipment area, and restroom facilities.

The project is the culmination of a land preservation effort begun in 2001 to save the land along The Great Road from being developed. At the time, an agreement with the Hillier Group was in its final stages of planning for age-restricted housing. In the end, Hillier offered to yield the land for conservation with a quarter-million dollar discount of the property's $9.5 million value.

The property was acquired for $650,000 from the Township, $350,000 from the Borough, and $8.5 million from D&R Greenway and state grants and loans.

The 155-acre Coventry Farm was once owned by Princeton's Winant family. Twenty-three acres will be used for the park, 28 acres will be used for recreation adjacent to John Witherspoon Woods and Mountain Lakes, and 93 acres of the Coventry property will be preserved as open space.

The Winant House that lies on 11 acres of the site is owned by Princeton Day School.

Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand said that the effort of residents' organizations, like the Friends of Princeton Open Space, were what catalyzed the preservation effort.

"This is a community event and a community initiative," she said. "This is a real vision through open space."

The Township has also worked closely with the Princeton Recreational Department in outlining plans for the project. In addition to ensuring land preservation, the project is also a response to growing demand for space for organized youth sports in the area.

"We need to keep up with the demand," said Jack Roberts, executive director of the Princeton Recreational Department. "There has been a tremendous push for organized sports nationally, and it became difficult to keep up with the numbers and to come up with the land," he said. Mr. Roberts added that both Princetons are "three to four soccer and baseball fields behind" where a municipality of its size and organized youth sports population should be.

A looming pile of soil has occupied the site for several months. This was a result of the Township's early acquisition of soil for the project. According to Township Engineer Robert Kiser, the earth was supplied by a private donor. He said that $70,000 had been saved by accepting the donation and bringing the soil in early.

The park is set for completion by the end of 2004.

D&R Greenway is a regional land conservancy that aims to protect open space throughout Central New Jersey. The organization works through donations and bargain sale agreements, as was the case in the Hillier agreement. It also works with the state and municipality to leverage funds.

The recent preservation of 60 acres at Greenway Meadows Park off Rosedale Road was also the result of Township and D&R Greenway efforts. That space was formerly part of the Robert Wood Johnson estate.

Once completed, the space will require a significant "rest" period before the athletic fields can be used, Mr. Kiser said. He said that soccer fields typically take longer to settle than baseball fields.

The $69,000 landscaping costs will also remove 16 trees along The Great Road and replace them with 15 Chinese Elms according to Township Arborist Greg O'Neil. However, Mr. O'Neil said the completed project will result in a total addition of 326 trees, and 130 shrubs.

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