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Vol. LXII, No. 48
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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Park Advocacy Groups Debate Needs Before Environmental Commission

Dilshanie Perera

A common theme that emerged from the park advocacy groups that came before the Environmental Commission last Wednesday was the need for more resources, more funding, and more visibility. Representatives from the Pettoranello Gardens, Rogers Refuge, Gulick Preserve, and Turning Basin Park gave presentations.

Nicholas Carnevale of the Princeton-Pettoranello Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1991, reported that over the past 17 years, the foundation, recreation department, township, and members of the community have contributed $750,000 to the creation, maintenance, and upkeep of Pettoranello Gardens.

What was then almost the “city dump” became a space for passive recreation after three years of cleanup, Mr. Carnevale said. Collaborations between the foundation, the recreation department, and landscape architects corrected “prior problems” like erratic waterflow, and the leaching of toxic materials into the park, he noted.

Among the Princeton-Pettroranello Foundation’s needs for maintaining the gardens, Mr. Carnevale mentioned that the organization “has proposed a dredging” of the pond inside Pettroranello, “but the costs are too high.” Additionally, the township treated the pond for algae, but “they haven’t done so for a few years,” he observed.

Naming proved to be a contentious issue during the meeting. Mr. Carnevale said that the acknowledgement of parks “could be better,” especially since most of the open spaces represented at the evening’s meeting were not listed in the Recreation Department’s “Princeton Parks and Open Space Guide,” despite their presence on municipally-owned land.

Friends of Rogers Refuge representative Fred Spar commented that many people don’t know that the refuge is nestled between the Institute Woods and the Stony Brook, though bird watchers from around the world have come there since its founding 40 years ago.

“New Jersey happens to be a prime area for birds during migration, and Princeton is right where the coastal plain meets the piedmont, and the land rises,” Mr. Spar explained, noting that the marsh at the center of the Rogers Refuge, “where the woods meet the water,” is where the birds tend to congregate and is also a natural wetland.

Urging “constant vigilance,” Mr. Spar mentioned that the marsh, which is assisted by a pump, almost dried up four years ago when the pump failed and was not replaced for two months. “The Friends of the Rogers Refuge exists on a shoestring budget,” he said, while noting that the land is owned by the water company but is managed by the township.

Kristin Brunner, representing the Princeton Girl Scouts, who have adopted Turning Basin Park, reported that the girls have “done activities to bring awareness to the park and its beautification.” She was pleased that the girl scouts felt a sense of ownership of the park, and saw it as a way of making a positive impact in the community. “It’s very simple,” she said of their attitude, which is: “use it, and try to give back.”

The Friends of the Gulick Preserve noted that the 30 acres in the eastern section of the Township was the site of the earliest settlement of Europeans in Princeton, who arrived there in 1683. Jo-Ann Munoz expressed concern that though the preserve is “as historic as the Battlefield,” the land still is not recognized as a park despite being owned by the Township.

Lamenting the lack of signage to clearly mark the land as open space, Ms. Munoz asked the commission to help in securing signs. Ed Simon and Jeff Bergman, co-chairs of the Friends of the Gulick Preserve, spoke about the improvements to and future goals of the space, which include new trails and stabilizing the water level in the preserve, respectively.

President of the Princeton Parks Alliance Andrew Koontz, who is also a member of Borough Council, said that “the community needs a full-fledged parks and recreation department,” while other groups agreed. Mr. Carnevale acknowledged that “there is no central authority to whom we speak,” which occasionally proves problematic.

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