The Making of the Great Lawn

If you’ve been to the park recently you may have seen the return of the former great lawn. While the construction is underway it is very important that everyone understand exactly what is going on. Tom Vanderbeck whose company is Vanderbeck Tree Experts is donating the services of his company to work on and complete the project.

Great Lawn 1985

Great Lawn 1985

1. Although during construction things may look messy and there may be piles of rubbish, everything being done is using the utmost care in protecting the natural environment. The entire great lawn area has been inspected several times, which includes by Oakland’s Shade Tree Commission. All the trees, bushes, vines and weeds being removed are non-essential scrub growth. The only trees that are environmentally essential are the large four sugar maple trees along the bowling alley fence line. These trees as well as many other perimeter trees will be protected and not removed. Vanderbeck Tree Experts are also highly experienced and trained in environmental safety. Their credentials can be found HERE.

2. Once the area is cleaned and debris removed we will be seeding and asking people not to walk on the future lawn. We need to allow the seeds to grow into the lawn.

3. Upon the completion of the lawn Vanderbeck Tree Experts will be planting a red oak tree with a commemorative plaque.

4. Over the next year we will begin repopulating the lawn with more significant trees to help provide shade for park goers and hold some bird-houses. We have also been getting requests for the planting of memorial trees. If you wish to purchase and plant a remembrance tree please contact Mike Guadagnino. With help of the Shade Tree Commission we will be choosing the right trees for the area (including memorial trees) in hopes of bringing many different types of birds into the park.

5. We have tentatively been approved for a grant to pay for ½ the band shell and have begun to receive donations for the ½ match. Once the funds necessary for the other half have been procured we will be bringing a permanent band shell to the park. If everything goes well, hopefully it will happen late this summer.

We ask that during these early phases of construction to please be patient; what you may see (as with all projects) is not what the park will look like or represent once completed. Once again Thank You to Tom Vanderbeck who has donated his company’s resources to the park improvements, and especially for taking on the great lawn project. Staying with the commitment we made in 2012, Great Oak Park’s development and improvement is costing the borough of Oakland taxpayers Zero dollars!

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Update on the Dog Park

Sounds like a lot has been happening behind the scenes to make the dog park a reality. Here is the latest update, from Ryan Schwertfeger’s blog:

Dog Park For Oakland



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2016 – A Quiet but First Full Year at Great Oak Park

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,

Mike Guadagnino


Oakland Great Oak Park Committee

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Great Oak Park – A Park for the People Being Built by the People


Park Sign


It’s been four short years since Lee and I met at the old Elm Street Bar to discuss ideas on what to do with Heritage Hills.   That abandoned 40 acre parcel had sat dormant for almost 30 years and now the borough (with the aid of Green Acre funds) purchased the land.  It was a blank slate that although most of it sat in a flood plain, with a C-1 protective stream and endangered wildlife, had potential to allow both people and wildlife to co-exist, preserving the property’s once proud past while being an oasis from the outside world.   It has not been an easy project, but it has brought together the community and given everyone an opportunity to plan, work and enjoy the satisfaction that has come with every small triumph.  Now, four years later, what is to be expected in the next four years?

The previous three years led us to the 2015 park opening likewise, this year will be the “wind up” for the next great happenings.   In 2016 we are not expecting major changes in the park, but progress will continue, leading up to what will be a busy 2017.  What improvements and events are we looking for in 2016?

A boy scout has come forward to add yet another trail in park.  This one will close the loop from the Ramapo River Walk to the White Oak Trail.  This path will take hikers along the C-1 stream with a very scenic view.  We expect this pathway to be completed by late spring, giving people a chance to hike without having to turn around and retrace their tracks.  The Park Committee has proposed to name this new trail Nuckel Pass, after the Nuckel family who once owned Muller’s Park.  It is believed that that the family was the last to live in the old Muller’s home.  In the future we do plan to move the red bridge, located at the other end of the park, to close the split between the two River Walks – but that will be discussed later on.

We are excited that the Rising Phoenix Martial Arts School has offered to complete the clean-up and repair of the old miniature golf course.  This has been a large task but thankfully this group has come forward and offered to complete the job for Oakland.  Once the job is finished, we will determine what is needed to install golf greens on the cement golf holes allowing people to use at their leisure.

Those that have walked over Uncle Bart’s Bridge may have noticed that the trail stops due to over grown brush.  We may have another group willing to clear this brush which happens to sit over an old macadam driveway.  Clearing of this pathway, along with the adjacent pathway that leads left from the Uncle Bart’s Bridge, will complete the opening of all the trails as well as define the borders of the golf course.

Capping the 2016 projects will be the “Great Clean Up of Great Oak Park” scheduled for April 23rd, and elevation of the trail marker signs to relieve the temptation to tear them down.

The big news for 2016 will be the completion and submission of the Letter of Interpretation to be sent to the NJDEP; the ETA is June of this year.  Once the LOI is submitted and review by the NJDEP we will know what and/or which future projects the borough may begin developing.  We expect to get answers by spring 2017.  These projects include the great lawn, band shell, skate-park, dog-park, bike track and redevelopment of the Muller’s parking lot.   At this time we do not have permission to develop any of these projects, some may be allowed while others may be disallowed.  Either way, we need to prepare so we can begin development in 2017.

This Great Oak Park project has been undertaken under a plan to use no tax payer funds.  To date we have estimated somewhere between $300,000 and $350,000 of donated labor, supplies and funds.  To complete the second phase of the park (the DEP approval items) we estimate the need for approximately another $600,000 – $800,000.  The largest costs will be the redevelopment of the parking lot and the great lawn.  Moving that red bridge to the C-1 stream mouth is estimated to cost $25,000; which includes DEP permits, engineering costs as well as footings.  So as you see, we need to start fundraising, and/or find engineers, license & bonded construction companies and raw material companies willing to donate.  It is not far-fetched to think that companies will help us; remember we had 6 tree companies do thousands and thousands of dollars of work for us in 2014. Please consider making a donation to keep this work going. You can go to the SAO page  and make a donation that will go directly to funding work in Great Oak Park. Be sure to scroll down the page until you see “Donate To Great Oak Park”!

The home stretch begins in 2017 when the Great Oak Park project hits the final stages.  Before any work can commence we need to spend 2016 planning, organizing and focusing on funding for the very immediate future.   It is time for us to all start thinking and acting to get this project complete.  Four years ago the naysayers said this park would never re-open, together we proved them wrong.  Let’s continue the work that has successfully achieved something that represents what is Uniquely Oakland!

See everyone on April 23rd at the 2016 Great Clean-Up of Great Oak Park.  Keep an eye on the park’s facebook page for details on how to sign-up.


Mike Guadagnino

Chairman Oakland Great Oak Park Committee

Follow Mike on Twitter as he tweets about the park’s development and Oakland Recreation  @MGuad27

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Great Oak Park – Review from The Record

Indeed, Great Oak Park has come a long way. Thanks to all who have made the dream a reality the last few years. Read the article from The Record for a great review of the park and the volunteer efforts to bring this area back to life.

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