Egg Harbor Township has begun implementing a plan to transform a 220-acre parcel, including an illegal soil-mining operation, into a park.
An ad-hoc committee organized this summer to discuss the park has issued a 17-page report that calls for restoration projects along existing paths and a man-made lake in a wooded area of the township’s Scullville section.
The group, which included nearby residents and several township officials, recommended a passive recreation park to accommodate fishermen, hikers, kayakers and picnickers. The plan opposes ATVs, dirt bikes, horseback riding and paintball; all activities that have been reported in the remote parcel.
“They would create a physical impact upon the land and require enhanced modification to the park,” the report says. “(The committee) did not want to install incompatible improvements that detract from the natural characteristics of this area.”
Township officials have already entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to repair some of the environmental impacts of the former mine. Police have also stepped up enforcement against off-road vehicles, including the arrest Sunday of two Northfield juveniles at the park.
The park includes three adjacent parcels:
A 15-acre Arboretum off School House Road maintained by the township’s Environmental Commission that includes gardens, a meadow and trails.
The 80-acre mining site, which includes a man-made lake created by the mining activities and fed by spring water.
A 125-acre parcel with frontage along Zion Road known as the “Temple Tract” because it was purchased from Temple University in 2001 for use as open space.
The ad-hoc committee’s recommendations also include parking improvements, indigenous plantings, grading of slopes around the lake and fencing to keep out ATVs. Later improvements could include handicapped facilities, picnic tables and an observation deck near the Zion Road entrance.
Chairman Marc Friedman said he expects the park — which may be called the Egg Harbor Township Nature Reserve — to have a “soft opening” in the spring, with the rest of the work to be completed by summer 2013.
“The township’s going to be called upon to find a force of volunteers to provide the labor for cleanup and planting,” he said.
Friedman said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which the township entered into an agreement with last month, will begin the process of shoring up the banks of the lake and planting indigenous species this fall. They’ll return in the spring and fall next year to continue their work, he said.
The FWS would also use herbicide to control some of the invasive weeds that have overgrown portions of the Arboretum.
Those activities have stirred some criticism, particularly from Janis Hetrick, who resigned this summer from the Environmental Commission.
“The Arboretum is doing everything you’d want it to do,” she said. “I think there are other ways to handle (invasive plants) than spraying herbicide.”
Hetrick said she’d also hoped horseback riding could have been included in the ad-hoc committee’s plans.
The Environmental Commission’s current chairwoman, Kim Johnston, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The extra attention brought to the area this summer has already had an impact, said Friedman, who himself regularly bikes through the park.
“I’m a frequent user of the park myself and I see more and more people going there,” he said.
Barb Pastrana, 46, who lives near the park in Egg Harbor Township, walked her dogs Cooper and Sunny along the trails around sunset. Pastrana said she’s happy to hear about the improvements.
“We come out here quite a bit — it’s really nice and it’s quiet,” she said. “We don’t want too many people to know about it,” she added, jokingly.
Joe Cafero, a township committeeman who also served on the ad-hoc committee, said the report has been forwarded to the Environmental and Recreation commissions for comment.
“It’s going to be a long process, step-by-step,” he said.
Cafero added, “This time next year, we’ll see a lot of those improvements, with the re-vegetation and parking lots done by then.”
Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said he’s hopeful the ad-hoc commission’s report is just the beginning of the process.
“I asked members of the governing body to serve on committee ... not to let it fall by the wayside,” he said.
While the FWS will be providing work for free, some of the improvements would come with costs for the township. McCullough said most of those will be incorporated into the Public Works budget next year.
“I’m hoping that there’s not a large expenditure and I don’t think there will be,” he said. “Public Works will be capable of doing a lot of the work, like they do at other recreation areas.”
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