Middle Township will hold a public meeting Jan. 22 to discuss ways to promote and improve the township's under-utilized open spaces, some of which include Ockie Wisting, formerly the Fort Apache Campground, in Rio Grande, Lizard Tail Swamp Reserve in Cape May Court House and Songbird Trail at the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge on Kimball's Beach Road, also in Court House.

The push to further promote these "hidden gems" comes after a recent townshipwide survey found "residents overwhelmingly want more trails and natural areas to view wildlife."

According to the survey,

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95 percent of respondents said preserving open space in Middle Township was important to them. The survey also found

68 percent would like to see additional wildlife/bird viewing areas in the township. Picnic areas, trails, canoeing/kayak launch and fishing and crabbing areas were also some of the most desired items, based on survey results.

Members of Middle Township's Open Space and Recreation Study project team, led by township planner Liz Terenik, created the 10-question survey and is hosting the public meeting.

Terenik said the meeting will include an overview of the Open Space and Recreation Study and its purpose, which is to evaluate, prioritize and improve the township's open spaces and recreation facilities. It will also be a chance for the study team to show off an inventory map it has completed showing all of the recreation sites in Middle Township - state, federal county and nonprofit - and to go over the survey results, all of which are also available on the Middle Township website,

middletownship.com.

The meeting will also include time for public comment and discussion.

Terenik said the first step in the Open Space and Recreation plan is to make sure township's residents know about the open spaces already available for their use.

"When we listed the different sites on the survey, many people checked off that they have not been to certain sites or didn't know about the sites. For example, Lizard Tail Swamp has over three miles of jogging trails," Terenik said. "I'm not saying we don't need more of them, but we need to be sure we need to know what we have first."

She said she will take a few minutes during the meeting to discuss each of the township sites individually, which includes Lizard Tail Swamp, Beaver Swamp Wildlife Management Area, Reeds Beach, Bidwells Creek, Cook's Beach; Songbird Trail, Norbury's Landing, County Park and the Ockie Wisting site, formerly the Fort Apache Campground.

Another survey finding was that of the township's recreational facilities, Middle Township residents would most like to see the 85-acre Ockie Wisting, formerly the Fort Apache Campground, improved.

One survey responder wrote in an addition comment to that question, which said, "We need to develop Fort Apache since Middle Township bought the ground for recreational purposes."

The township bought Ockie Wisting in 2003 with plans to develop it, though there has been several set backs since. The township is now refocusing its efforts on it.

"During the meeting, we will show a draft site plan for Ockie Wisting, which includes soccer fields and hiking trails, fishing ponds and more," Terenik said. "We'd also like to hear recommendations from the community."

The Open Space and Recreation Study project team was formed in the summer, funded by an $8,000 Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions grant. The team includes members of Middle Township's Environmental Commission, Recreation Advisory Board and Planning Board. The study is expected to be complete sometime this spring, Terenik said, and once it is, the findings will be used to create a long-term plan for Middle Township.

Suggestions that come of the Jan. 22 meeting will be used to revise the plan and create a preliminary timeline and potential funding opportunities, she said.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713

elala@pressofac.com

If you go

What: Middle Township "Open Spaces and Recreation Study" Public Meeting

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22

Where: Martin Luther King Center, 207 West Main St., Whitesboro

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