MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A new use for Cape May County’s open space fund is jump-starting a recreation project in Rio Grande that did not appear to be going anywhere for more than a decade .

The Board of Chosen Freeholders this week approved $626,000 for the Ockie Wisting Recreation Complex off Fulling Mill Road. It was one of six recreation projects the board approved totaling almost $1.8 million using a fund that used to be limited to open space land acquisition and farmland preservation.

The board decided last year to expand the fund, which began in 1989 with a dedicated property tax, to recreation and historic preservation projects.

The township bought the 82-acre tract, the former Fort Apache Campground, in 2002 and developed grand plans for five soccer fields, a stocked fishing pond with full handicapped access, an 18-hole disc golf course, picnic areas, fitness stations, nature trails, a stage for outdoor concerts, a butterfly garden, and other amenities. In the last 12 years only a few drainage improvements have been made.

Mayor Tim Donohue said the township jumped right in when the expanded use of the fund was announced. A recreational survey was done. There was a meeting with Freeholder Will Morey and the township recently approved $100,000 in what Donohue calls “seed money” for the project.

All the work appeared to pay off this week when the freeholders approved the largest expenditure of the fund for one project. The project will bring a major recreational complex to the southern end of the township. Donohue said it would reduce pressure on the athletic fields at the heavily used Davies Sports Complex in Goshen.

“Those fields are packed,” Donohue said.

Borough Administrator Connie Mahon said the complex will offer a “one of a kind” freshwater fishing opportunity for the handicapped. It will also be the first full-sized regulation disc golf courses in the county. The township engineer will work with the disc golf enthusiasts to mark out the course, weaving it around wetlands on the tract. Donohue said the disc golf enthusiasts have already raised money and purchased equipment for the course.

“Our engineer will work it out to tell us where it can’t go,” Donohue said.

The freeholders also approved $280,350 for a municipal boat ramp on Bayview Avenue in the Strathmere section of Upper Township.

A project in the Petersburg section of Upper Township called “Amanda’s Field” will receive $220,000. The application sought $585,000 but the county declined to fund a concession stand for the project, saying it is “inconsistent with the intent of the program,” and also would not fund lights for the soccer and baseball fields because it did not bring enough recreational benefits for the expenditure.

The county would also not fund the concession stand at Ockie Wisting, but Donohue said the township has money for this.

The freeholders also voted to give Avalon $488,555 for improvements to the 39th Street Playground and for nature trails in the dunes at 44th Street and 48th Street.

Stone Harbor will receive $99,600 for its Freedom Park Memorial to remember victims of the Sept. 11. 2001, terrorist attacks. Residents opposed putting the memorial at 123rd Street and Second Avenue, where it was first proposed, so it has been moved to 96th Street.

Lower Township will get $36,260 for handicapped access improvements at the Paul R. Will Recreational Complex.

The freeholders are expected to vote on funding several other projects at their next meeting, including a bike path in Lower Township’s Diamond Beach section and a recreational project in Woodbine.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.