View Full Version : Liberty State Park - Jersey City's Central Park

February 19th, 2006, 04:14 PM
Turning back the ecological clock
As Liberty State Park nears its 30th birthday, an ambitious project aims to give nature a huge boost

Sunday, February 19, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

In the center of Liberty State Park is something of a miracle.

At 234 acres, it is no small thing. A chain-link fence surrounds it, with signs warning of toxic contamination.

Though the public has never been admitted, it is hardly unoccupied.

There are Japanese evergreens, fields of wispy rushes, stands of gray birch, and sumac that pierces the sky like stag horns. There are woodcocks, goldfinches, sharp-shinned hawks, long-eared owls and rumors of a fox.

"This is turkey scat right here," said Frank Gallagher, park administrator for the Department of Environmental Protection, pausing on a quiet trail.

Part of the miracle is that this place exists at all. Over the past three decades, a conga line of builders, some friendly with mayors or governors, has floated one development idea after another for the property.

Equally unlikely was nature's comeback. This was once a marsh, and was filled with dredge spoils, industrial waste and granite chipped out of Manhattan to make way for basements.

"In 30 years, the natural restoration that has taken place here is just phenomenal," Gallagher said.

Now there's a plan to push that restoration a giant step forward. The Army Corps of Engineers has designed a scheme to cut a tidal creek in from New York Harbor. Once in the interior, it would widen into a salt marsh of the sort that used to line the harbor, serving as fish nurseries and bird buffets.

Nearby would be three new freshwater wetlands and a pond, filled with rainwater funneled in from two parking lots and the roof of Liberty Science Center. Walking trails would lace the whole concoction.

The $32 million design, seven years in the making, is looking less and less like a pipe dream. Though Congress seems unlikely to fund it any time soon, the state came up with $10 million for the project last month.

Environmentalists and Corps officials could think of no more ambitious effort to turn back the ecological clock on an urban shore.

Park advocates are also enthusiastic about the project, partly because it would open the interior, fully 40 percent of the park's land, to the public for the first time. Moreover, it would probably protect the section once and for all from the covetous eyes of developers, a fitting gift for the park in this, its 30th year.


In his original master plan for Liberty State Park, Princeton architect Robert Geddes dubbed the interior section the Uplands, and called for community playfields and gardens there.

They never materialized. Instead, a series of development proposals did.

The first, for a theme park, came less than a year after the park's 1976 opening.

The Save Liberty State Park Coalition, founded by the late Morris Pesin, the Jersey City activist who first conceived of the park, quickly formed and defeated the proposal.

But a series of others would follow -- from a 1981 plan for another theme park and 8,000 condominiums to a 2001 plan for a waterpark. Many other ideas came in between, the most persistent being a golf course.

Public meetings on the proposals drew hundreds of people, most opposed to any commercialization.

"The great universal message of the park is that people put democracy into action and fought for a free park behind the Statue of Liberty," said Sam Pesin, Morris' son and president of Friends of Liberty State Park.

Meanwhile, the interior sat gated and undisturbed.

By the early 1980s, it was still largely open land, with grass, shrubs and a few poplars.

Then it started to take off. Though some of the trees were planted as part of a children's program, most took root naturally.

"Nature just re-emerged," said Greg Remaud of the New York-New Jersey Baykeeper. "It grew back on its own.

That's despite being surrounded by a city. Most of the tree species that took root have light seeds that travel great distances on the wind, Gallagher said. Birch and poplar are typical colonizers of open space.

Railroad ties can still be found among the trees, along with a wide variety of other garbage. But the young forest, whose treetops frame the Goldman Sachs Tower, the state's tallest building, has become an oasis of natural habitat in the most densely populated county of the most densely populated state.

In 2003, Gov. James E. McGreevey dissolved the Liberty State Park Development Corp., a state-sanctioned body that encouraged development in the park.

Pesin and his allies considered it a watershed victory. Finally free to stop fighting, they started promoting the wetlands restoration, which the Army Corps had begun considering in 1999 as part of the broader goal of bringing tides, marshes and life back to the hardened shores of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.


The project has long looked unlikely, but the state's contribution has made it less so.

The $10 million came from a settlement the DEP made with companies that dumped chromium waste in Hudson County. Of that money, $1 million will go toward design and $9 million toward construction.

The state Freshwater Wetlands Mitigation Council, which controls a state wetlands fund, has pledged an additional $1.5 million.

What the Corps will do with the money remains to be determined. A final design stage will begin when it receives the money from the DEP, which should occur "shortly," Corps spokeswoman Carolyn Vadino said.

Gallagher said the money would probably "get the tidal creek at least started."

Construction may begin on some piece of the plan as early as the spring of 2007, said William Slezak, chief of the Harbor Programs Branch of the Army Corps.

The project is one of several under way in the state's most popular park -- more than 5 million visitors last year -- as it nears its 30th anniversary this June.

"Empty Sky," a 9/11 memorial of two stainless-steel walls that will merge into the New York skyline in Twin Towers-like proportions, is under construction on the north end of the park's waterfront and expected to be completed by Sept. 11.

Just south of the park, the exclusive new Liberty National Golf Course is under construction. The developers are obligated to include a waterfront walkway, which will connect the park proper to the Caven Point Natural Area, a beachy public peninsula that is accessible only through Port Liberté, a gated condominium complex.

In the rear of the park, the Liberty Science Center is undergoing a $104 million renovation that will expand it by a third.

Pesin said he also was advocating for $2.5 million to build a picnic pavilion to alleviate the summer congestion, as well as a $500,000 athletic field, though those funds are proving hard to find.

The projects that are under way, however, amount to quite a growth spurt for a 30-year-old, he said.

"We are at the beginning of a tremendous positive era," Pesin said. "The park is getting closer to fulfilling its potential."

Alexander Lane covers the environment. He may be reached at alane@starledger.com or (973) 392-1790.

February 20th, 2006, 03:41 PM
Nice title, JCMAN320 - but Liberty State Park is cooler that Central Park - it has way better views!!!

It is good news that they are doing something with the 200 or-so acre section bordering Phillips Drive and Liberty Science Center.

In my opinion they should build some public ballparks there so that kids have places to play.

It is still amazing to me that a State Park, Liberty State Park, overlooking the icons of American History such as Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the Manhattan Skyline, is so woefully underfunded.

Liberty State Park is a National gem. It should be supported by the Congress.

February 20th, 2006, 04:15 PM
Your right it is way cooler than Central Park and congress should take more of a role woth funding. Hell Regan had his celebration here. Regardless Liberty State Park is still a world class park.

February 20th, 2006, 04:24 PM
I think this is great news but when if ever are they planning to make access to the park better. There is no real walk way into LSP 30 years and you think someone would have thought of this. The advocates bitch and moan about extending Jersey Ave because of cars but the only way really to access LSP is by car.

February 21st, 2006, 10:57 AM
February 19, 2006

View of a statue makes him cry

Star-Ledger Staff

The first time Robert Geddes visited the Jersey City waterfront, it was a tangle of rotting piers and decommissioned rail lines. A pack of wild dogs chased his car.

On a more recent visit, an icy wind was the only obstacle.

The earlier trip, in 1972 or so, was research for the Liberty State Park design competition. The latter, last month, was to reflect on what his winning design has wrought as the park nears its 30th birthday.

"Now you see the view that makes me cry," the 82-year-old Princeton architect said as ambled toward the water at the park's southern end and the Statue of Liberty came into view.

Geddes was dean of the architecture and urban planning school at Princeton University when he drafted the winning design.

Critics adored it. The Museum of Modern Art put it on display, a compliment of which Geddes remains immensely proud.

Its signature element was a crescent-shaped, 1.5-mile waterfront promenade that curves around Liberty and Ellis islands, offering striking Manhattan views.

"This is really the park," Geddes said, gazing north up the graceful arc of the walkway.

He confessed some disappointments with how other parts of the park have taken shape. The Green Park, a flat, stark expanse studded with saplings, should be much more "voluptuous," he said.

Nothing has been done with the deteriorating train sheds -- canopylike structures at the restored Railroad Maritime Terminal that once protected waiting passengers -- which "sort of hurts," Geddes said. He envisioned a farmers market or some other bustling public use under the sheds, which remain in need of renovations.

And an inland watercourse in his master plan, a boat basin lined with walks and picnic areas, never materialized.

Geddes was delighted to hear about the marsh-restoration plan taking shape for the park's interior. It would serve something of the purpose his watercourse would have -- creating a watery destination in the park's interior, something to gaze at besides Manhattan.

He did express the hope that as the Army Corps of Engineers digs new marshes it use some of the dredged material to make the Green Park more three-dimensional.

In general, though, Geddes is not one to nitpick. He has a long view.

"If we live for another 150 years, you'll really see how important the park is," he said. "There will be new development all around it."

© 2006 NJ.com

May 8th, 2006, 01:11 PM
Park's saviors reap rewards

Monday, May 08, 2006

After years of fighting off plans for amusement parks, a water park, a golf course and even a doll museum, the Friends of Liberty State Park honored those who have helped preserve the park as "open, green, and free for all people to enjoy," said Greg Remaud of New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, at a "30th birthday party" yesterday for the crown jewel of the state park system.

At yesterday's luncheon at the Liberty House Restaurant, which doubled as a fund-raiser for the group, several were recognized for working to keep commercial development from intruding on "an oasis in an urban setting," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Hoboken.

Menendez, recipient of the Champion of the People's Park Award, said he would often recount the history of Liberty State Park as a way of showing how individuals and groups can take control of their own destinies.

Menendez said the group's founding in the 1950s by private citizens Morris Pesin, Audrey Zapp and Ted Conrad "reminds us of the power available to us as a democracy."

"It's an example for the nation," said Executive Director Andy Willner of NY/NJ Baykeeper. "It all starts at someone's kitchen table, two or three people saying 'enough's enough, we have to do something about it.' It's the epitome of the American spirit. Nobody here waited for the government to do anything."

The Morris Pesin Free and Green Advocacy Award was awarded to John Tichenor, co-founder and former president of Friends of Liberty State Park, who reminded those present that the park is "surrounded by powerful developers, all asking 'What would I do if I had that space?'"

He added that in "the most densely populated county in the country, to have green space, you have to fight for it."

Also receiving awards were Richard J. Sullivan, the first commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; Maria de Wakefield, the park's horticulturist; Ethel Pesin, wife of the late Morris Pesin and mother of current FOLSP President Sam Pesin; as well as Zapp and the late Conrad.

Even today, with all the success the FOLSP has had, they must be "always vigilant," according to Sam Pesin. "We hope the DEP never allows a commercial plan on the table again, because the DEP should know the broad public consensus is against it. Why waste people's time with another negative battle