HILLSIDE, NJ — The Union County freeholder board came together with Hillside municipal and Board of Education officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil a new 1.1-mile walking path at Conant Park on Thursday, June 25.
Conant Park, located in Hillside, is part of the Union County park system.
According to Union County Department of Parks and Recreation Director Ron Zuber, this initiative was born of public request.
“Projects in the parks are guided by the 2010-2020 master plan,” Zuber said on June 26. “Some projects are done as part of a regular schedule of replacement/refurbishment/upgrade for existing facilities; for example, existing playgrounds and bathrooms are redone periodically. New projects are done as the result of engagement with local residents and other civic stakeholders who identify needs in their community that are consistent with the parks’ master plan. The walking path at Conant Park is one example. The request was brought to the freeholder board by Hillside residents, through Freeholder Angela R. Garretson.”
Conant Park isn’t the only park in Union County that now has a walkway.
“There are numerous existing paved paths and unpaved trails in Union County parks,” Zuber said. “In addition to the new walking path in Conant Park, a new walking path in Zimmerman Park was also opened this week. A new walking path near the Passaic River in Berkeley Heights is also under discussion.”
Zimmerman Park is located in Union Township.
According to the county’s website, Union County is home to 36 parks that encompass nearly 6,200 acres. Conant Park is among the smaller county-owned parks. The largest, Watchung Reservation, which is known as the crown jewel of the parks system, is nearly 2,200 acres and is home to Trailside Nature and Science Center, Watchung Stable and the Deserted Village of Feltville.
The Conant Park’s new walkway is part of an overall refurbishment plan for the park, costing approximately $500,000 in all.
“The $500,000 in improvements went for an outdoor fitness gym, new bleachers for the athletic fields, new team benches, foul poles and a water fountain,” Zuber said. “In addition, a new playground was installed last year, and the bathroom was refurbished.”
According to Zuber, walking paths and other features at local parks are vital in keeping county residents healthy while allowing them to social-distance properly, remaining at least 6 feet from others.
“Union County parks have been one of the few places where county residents can go during the COVID-19 outbreak for relaxation and exercise, while maintaining social distance. The new trail adds another resource for residents in Hillside and the surrounding area,” Zuber said.
“Funding for projects in county parks varies depending on the size and character of the park,” Zuber said, when asked whether other parks will receive the same treatment and the same financial outlay. “Parts of the park system, including Conant Park, are located within flood zones, which limits the type of facilities that can be constructed there. For example, turf fields cannot be constructed in flood zones.”
All in all, funding for projects varies depending on the size and condition of the park.
According to Union County Deputy Director of Public Information and Communications Tina Casey, the $500,000 used to fund the project came from the county. The Parks Department has a capital budget, but the county also has an open space trust fund and receives grants for some types of projects.
Freeholder Angela R. Garretson, Hillside’s former mayor and currently a member of the Union County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund board, approves of Conant Park’s new walkway.
“The new walking path is a recreation resource that neighborhood residents identified as a benefit for many people in the community, especially in this time of crisis when everyone is working hard to stay healthy while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Garretson said on June 29. “The new path provides an opportunity for residents to spend some time outdoors, get some exercise and interact with their neighbors at a safe distance in accordance with public health guidelines.
“Conant Park is a wonderful example of the value of setting aside space for public parks in every community, where the experience of nature is free and open to all,” Garretson added. “It is a special place where neighborhood residents and visitors can immerse themselves in scenic vistas of fields and forests, right in their own backyards.”
Photos Courtesy of Jim Lowney/County of Union