We know that regardless of your socioeconomic standing, whether you live in Haddonfield, Winslow or Camden City your community’s resources are going to have an outsized impact on how you grow up. That said, ensuring that every town in our county has accessible green space with amenities for all ages and walks of life is critical to Camden County kids and families. According to a national study from the University of California-San Francisco, well-kept parks and open spaces are a key indicator of the success of a child and can blunt the harsh effects of poverty.
Based on those findings we know that maintaining, renovating, and adding to our park system is an important job for the Freeholder Board and the county open space commission. As a governing body, we need to ensure that passionate groups from the Delaware River to the Pine Barrens are heard in regard to the functionality of the parks, but foundationally we need to ensure clean and green spaces for all residents. In addition, we know that access to these areas is a direct quality of life indicator for our residents and adds a direct value to living conditions.
Today, the park system encompasses over 4,000 acres of passive and active recreational options at 21 sites throughout the county. Beyond that, we have boat launches, bike trails, walking paths and playgrounds in every corner of the county. In addition, parks like Cooper River have been recognized statewide as a Great Place in New Jersey by the American Planning Association. That said, we have also been building, and investing in, new ways to deliver residents back to the banks of our waterways.
Thousands of years ago the Leni Lenape Indians built the foundations of the first civilizations in Camden County next to both the Delaware and Cooper Rivers. Throughout the industrial revolutions of the last 200 years, river access has been incrementally cutoff from our society and given over to commercial uses. Now, our emphasis is to bring people back to those same natural resources, which were the foundation of society, for time immemorial. This is an ongoing initiative that has yielded great success in projects like the construction of Phoenix Park, Gateway Park, and the revitalization of both Pyne Poynt Park and Cooper River Park.
In its truest form, the park system provides a third place for residents to meet outside of their primary places of home and work. These third places are extremely valuable to the community because they provide a haven for people to meet, creating a sense of place for thousands of users every day. This is the reason the county Parks Department has brought disc-golf, bike trails that traverse the county and boat launches that give residents the ability to paddle from Big Timber Creek to the Delaware River. We also have added new amenities like permanent bathroom structures, an ice skating rink and family-fun events and concerts throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the features the Freeholder Board has built at Challenge Grove Park in Cherry Hill for the disabled community. Since 2011, we have constructed a variety of new activity-centers and playing surfaces for the special needs community that includes a massive playground, “Boundless Field” for multiple sports, and several basketball courts. The beauty of these features is that they reflect the needs of disabled children and adults, but can easily be used by their siblings and other children, so everyone can play on the same surface.
In short, community happens in the parks and they have a profound impact on our children and families. The Freeholder Board will continue to ensure these green spaces remain a special place and work to invest in new additions and features with forthcoming announcements this summer. We know there is an intrinsic, organic value to having a safe and accessible park near your home and we believe this is one of the things that makes our county a special place to live. If there is something you would like to see added or addressed in our park system please call my office (856) 225-5466 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.