Jersey City residents and the rest of the world are familiar with Liberty State Park. After all, it’s the home of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and it has a grandiose view of lower Manhattan and 1,212 acres of nature trails and open space for environmental enthusiasts.While Liberty State continues to be a favorite with tourists, Lincoln Park (east and west) on the other side of Jersey City is the getaway and recreational playground for most of the city’s residents.
"This is our Central Park. We live here and we come to the park for some time with nature," said lifelong Jersey City resident and Hudson County Parks Director Thomas McCann. "Everybody comes here to partake in their own activity."
With his office near the main entrance on West Side Avenue, McCann looks out his window in the mornings to gaze at the impressive fountain that greets people upon arrival. A block north before the main entrance, there’s a monument of President Lincoln in his classic sitting pose. Almost every place at Lincoln Park is historic or has some sentimental value. The competitive basketball courts are named after former Jersey City Mayor Thomas F.X. Smith, a professional baller before his political career. The tennis courts are home to the Jersey City Tennis Club, a high-profile successful amateur group. On the right side of the main fountain stands a monument of a firefighter, honoring all of the city’s firefighters who died while on duty. On the other side of the fountain is a statue of a Civil War soldier honoring Jersey City veterans.
In addition to the memorials paying tribute to relevant causes, the park is also a very active recreational place which more than 10,000 people frequent during summer weekends. Every high school in the city uses the tennis courts, the track, the baseball/softball fields, and the cross-country trails for training and varsity competitions.
"All of Jersey City plays at Lincoln. They have no other place to go," McCann said.
Last Saturday, James Nguyen and his family settled near the eastern lake area across the street from the banquet hall "Casino in the Park" for a picnic. Nguyen relaxed on a blanket with his wife Kimu and youngest son Jim, while his other son Chris rode his bike with his friend Marcus.
Nguyen comes to Lincoln Park almost every weekend in the summer.
"The family enjoys the calmness. I can’t go to the Shore all the time, so I bring them to the park," Nguyen said.
Formerly known as Westside Park, Lincoln Park East was established in 1905, making it the county’s oldest park. Located within an area of densely developed residential neighborhoods and commercial uses, it represents one of the region’s most important recreational resources.
"Lincoln Park functions primarily as a regional park for informal use by residents, as a community park for Jersey City residents, and for organized use of the various athletic fields," McCann said.
Adjacent to Lincoln Park East and within the western portion of Jersey City, Lincoln Park West was founded several years later. Bounded by truck Route 1-9 on the east side and Duncan Avenue on the north, the park is west of the Hackensack River. It is linked to Lincoln East via two pedestrian footbridges and one vehicular bridge over truck Route 1-9.
While Lincoln East is known for its recreational and entertainment locales, Lincoln West is the habitat for a variety of birds, reptiles, fish, and micro-organisms. Fishermen and environmentalists rejoice in the open space resources and appreciate the nature trails. More than half of the park’s 123 acres consist of marshes, ponds, lakes, and forestry. McCann has said he would like to add more property of open space to the park through purchases from the state and private companies.
"Most of the land that’s left in Hudson County is contaminated, but we want it," McCann said during a recent interview.
The reason why he wants to buy any land, even if it’s contaminated, is because it would give the county more areas of open space that could be cleaned up and maintained, and eventually open for public use.
To be able to buy large parcels of undeveloped land in Hudson County, McCann needs money. He hopes voters will approve a referendum that was approved by the Board of Freeholders in June, which would create a county Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Hudson County is the only county in New Jersey without an open space tax, according to information from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
McCann, and several county officials, have made it public they are in favor of the open space tax.
"The county has to go out and convince voters," said Freeholder Bill O’Dea during a freeholder meeting during the summer.
One key requirement of the open space fund would be to create an inventory of undeveloped land and prioritize the properties that need to be purchased. The county would also have to review sites in the county that are listed on the state and national historic registers.
"We need to ask ourselves if we want to preserve open space in Hudson County," McCann said. "All of our residents will benefit from open space."
The Open Space Fund would also be used to renovate and improve the current parks system in the county and provide more recreational services for residents, McCann added.
Hudsonites will have the opportunity whether or not to vote for the open space referendum in the Nov. 4 elections. q