By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A group of Montclairians has created a conservancy in hopes of raising funds and making plans to upgrade Glenfield Park — and maybe even add a dog park.
The county-owned park, which partly straddles Glen Ridge, has been neglected for years, said Robert Crook, president of the newly founded Glenfield Park Conservancy.
In 1910, the land for the park was given by Montclair to the Essex County park system for design by the Olmsted brothers, famed landscapers.
The 20-acre park contains basketball and tennis courts, softball/baseball diamonds, children’s playgrounds, footpaths and nature trails, a soccer field and the Wally Choice Community Center. In the southeastern corner of the park, Toney’s Brook forms a glen with natural streamside vegetation.
The park also hosts COVID-19 testing, and backpack and Thanksgiving basket giveaways.
A walk-through reveals fallen lights, graffiti, fallen tree limbs blocking paths, flooding in some areas, trash and overgrown vegetation.
“Our first priority will be safety,” Crook said about the lighting issues, dead trees, pathways and access to active train tracks. Barriers to the tracks would have to be addressed through NJ Transit.
A dog park, perhaps to the south of the playground in an area where old pavilions are located, is something neighbors have suggested to the group, Crook said.
Formed this month, the conservancy plans to assist the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs in maintaining, restoring and enhancing the park, and to serve as the park’s advocate, with members strolling through the park daily and keeping the county apprised of maintenance and safety needs, Crook said.
Al Pelham of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp., which oversees the Wally Choice building, said the upgrading of Glenfield Park “should start with a discussion with all groups currently using the park — Cobras, Grass Roots, Project Oasis, Glenfield School, etc., and folks in the neighborhood.”
“Once a consensus is reached, our coalition would meet with the County of Essex to discuss potential next steps.”
Specifically, the conservancy group would like to:
- Replace lighting in the park that is no longer operational to enhance safety.
- Enhance entrances and exits to the park with native species of trees and shrubs.
- Replace lost trees.
- Maintain trees (removing and pruning as necessary).
- Clean up and maintain Toney’s Brook and develop an erosion and flood-control program.
- Bring back children’s educational and scouting programs.
- Make the park a safe place; make NJ Transit train tracks and other hazards inaccessible to the public.
- Restore pathways, bridges, stairways and railings.
- Implement the original planting plan by the Olmsted brothers.
- Provide a dog park for residents of the surrounding communities.
- Support and enhance existing neighborhood programs and initiatives for residents of the surrounding communities.
“The conservancy’s goal will be to raise funds to augment the county’s budget so that needed improvements can be made in a timely fashion. We expect that a partnership between the conservancy and Essex County park system will be supported and encouraged by the governing bodies of Montclair and Glen Ridge, the Essex County executive, the Board of County Commissioners and the Essex County park system. We are anticipating that the conservancy and the county will work well together identifying and addressing the safety,” Crook said.
Montclair resident and Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill said he supports having a conservancy at Glenfield Park to improve the park for the community.
“As a lifelong Montclair resident and former Glenfield student, I certainly appreciate the importance of Glenfield Park. I look forward to working with the stakeholders who currently maintain and utilize the park on a daily basis. The county budget includes capital project for the park, and Glenfield park has certainly benefitted from the county’s investment in recent years – most notably with the refurbishing and modernization of the tennis and basketball courts and the renovation of the Wally Choice Community Center,” Gill said.
Conservancy members plan to hold outreach meetings and comments sessions, now through March, to garner public input on what residents want to see as improvements for the park, with a proposed master plan penned by June.
In April, they plan to sponsor cleanup projects.
For funding, they see a public-private partnership. They hope that, working with the county, they can reach out to developers who have built apartments on the edge of the park and large not-for-profits.
There are 10 other similar organizations for parks in Essex County, including Anderson Park, Brookdale Park, Branch Brook Park, Grover Cleveland Park, Presby Iris Gardens, Verona Park, Riverbank Park, Westside Park and Weequahic Park.
“The precedent was set long ago,” Crook said.
He called the project a social, environmental, capital project that would bring together diverse groups to “create a public space that people want to use.”
EDITOR’s NOTE: A previous version of this story cited an email from Councilman David Cummings to Robert Crook, and misstated that the email was to the Montclair Local. The reference to the email has been removed.