This was the first full year where people could officially enjoy Great Oak Park. The park opened in June of 2015, giving locals only half a year to fully appreciate. With the first full thaw of 2016, the park opened in March giving everyone multiple seasons to spend time in the park.
So what progress has the park made this year?
Like earlier years, 2016 brought about a lot of behind the scenes planning. Discussions with the borough engineers brought about the best way to develop the Letter of Intent (LOI), which will be sent to the NJDEP. Included in the letter will be an aerial view of the park. First we spoke about flying a plane overhead to take the picture, but thankfully a local borough official volunteered and used his personal drone to take the necessary photos.
The next round of features which will developed were thoroughly discussed, including necessary planning and how to pay for them. Here are the items and where we now stand:
I. The great lawn: The location for the lawn is situated in a 1.85 acre corner sitting adjacent to the bowling alley and cemetery. Early this summer we met with the borough engineers and a tree/landscape service. This company quoted the job to create the great lawn, which will also preserve the four Red Cedar and Norway Maple trees as well as the iconic Muller’s Park cement picnic benches. These four sugar maple trees create a very nice border between the park and the bowling alley while at one time stood as such a boundary. Included in the quote is the plan to hydro-seed the new lawn. Total estimate for the project was $100,000, which this company has offered to pay 60% of the cost (or $60,000 with a cost on our side of $40,000 to complete the work).
II. The band shell: Earlier this fall the park committee applied for a $50,000 grant to pay for half the band shell. We are proposing a $100,000 band shell; the grant is a 50/50 matching grant. We are expecting to hear back sometime in the summer of 2017 on whether our grant request is approved and for how much. Past open space grants have helped pay for many items at the rec field including the walking path, backstops, roller rink re-surfacing and new dugouts. Like the rec field improvements the 50/50 match will not come from Oakland taxpayers.
III. The dog park: After some further study the dog park location has been moved yet again; this time to the corner located between the entrance into the park (alongside Portobello’s Restaurant) and the old Muller’s parking lot. Currently on that spot is the foundation for one of the old Muller’s Park buildings. The foundation is to be removed, the ground smoothed out and a proposed dog park to be installed. Funding for this element is expected to be between $80,000 and $100,000. Ryan is starting the fundraising for the dog park and we hope to have some news in the coming months.
IV. The skate park: This has been something we have talked about since the inception of the park idea. The old Muller’s pool currently acts as a makeshift skate park and we hope to construct a full skate park on top of that location and extend it the length of the pool. Currently we are waiting for those interested in the skate park to get back to us as the committee seems to be interested in continuing this project but those who would enjoy skating there have not returned our call in months.
V. Muller’s Park parking lots: The one thing that will tie all these projects together is refurbishing the Muller’s parking lots. After 30 years of neglect these lots are pretty banged up and uneven. It would be risky for cars to regularly park on them in their current condition as they would make flat tires a common occurrence. After meeting with a local construction company we have quotes for these lots. To create a lot similar to the recreation complex lots would cost approximately $140,000. The parking lot is necessary to tie all Phase II projects together. Without the lots people will not be able to get to the other aspects of the park.
Protecting the natural habitat is always first and foremost.
While planning and preparing for these projects other design discussions have taken place. One important change to the original design is to cut down on the number of cars allowed in the park and not allowing the cars to drive from the Portobello’s egress to the Doty Road driveway. These two parking areas will remain separate from each other as to protect and encourage natural development of the ecosystem; including the wildlife, plants and the stream. The park committee still has 50 donated bird, bat and owl houses in storage ready to be installed once some of these Phase II projects are underway. This should encourage further habitation.
The park has already become a living classroom as local teachers have brought their students to learn biology in a living laboratory. We hope to see this encouraged as the park continues to grow and thrive. There has also been the request to install a handicap accessible fishing ramp, which will be further discussed after the NJDEP ways in on the LOI. The park has also been a place where the US Fish and Wildlife Service has undertaken an avian fauna study. So a lot of exciting things have been taking place and will continue to take place. As the committee promised on that December night in 2012 when making the first presentation for the park’s re-development, protecting the natural environment will be the primary focus. We will create a park where humans, animals and plants will all co-exist in an oasis just found off busy Ramapo Valley Road.
If the park planning were a football game, we would say that we are well into the third quarter. What we need to do is raise the remaining funds to complete the task. If you quantify all the free labor (both volunteer and professional), monies raised and goods donated everything we have completed to this point has been around $500,000, without asking the borough for any money. Finishing the park will cost about $300,000.
What is the Park Committee doing to raise the final amount?
At the start of the New Year the committee will begin aggressively applying for grants and reaching out to foundations. The dog park committee, led by Ryan, will begin specific fundraising efforts to help develop that particular element. Large fundraising efforts have been discussed but in order to do such a task we would need help. If anyone has any ideas and would like to suggest a fundraising effort please contact the committee. This project has been a collective project with hundreds of Oakland residents. Every person that has helped in the largest or smallest of ways has been greatly appreciated by all. We look forward to continuing the work and finishing the project.
Wishing the best for all in 2017,
Oakland Great Oak Park Committee