The East Brunswick Community Park in Middlesex County is located within close proximity to I 95 on 350 Dunhams Corner Road. The site is comprised of a 40 acre wooded area as well as an aquatic park, known as Crystal Springs Aquatic Center. The entire 102-acre site is a unit within the Division of Parks and Recreation. Crystal Springs Community Park is one of the larger public spaces in the area and offers the community many opportunities for outdoor activities including basketball courts, tennis courts, and volleyball courts. Additionally, it offers many water-based activities such as boating, fishing, Skating, and swimming. There are other areas in the park for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy themselves with hiking trails, natural areas and picnic areas. A large portion of the East Brunswick Community Park is designated for open space preservation. The Unique combination of uses on this site makes it an ideal location for citizens of all ages to enjoy both active and passive recreational uses.
The park currently has two entrances on Dunhams Corner: One that brings visitors to The Division of Parks and recreation building as well as a skate park and tennis courts. The second entrance, where the aquatic park is located, brings visitors to the wooded area of the park. There is a large and underutilized gravel parking lot located between the wooded area and Aquatic center. The rear portion of the park is adjacent to residential areas that are located on Stage Coach Run and Valley Forge Drive, however these residents currently do not possess direct access from their properties to the site. The adjacent properties to Dunhams Corner, located near the front portion of the park, include the East Brunswick Recycling Center, Concreteworks Studio East, The Brookview Volunteer fire Company, and baseball fields. The entire park area is within a five-minute walk, however current pedestrian infrastructure inhibits the circulation surrounding and within the site. The Site has a natural sentiment with its wooded area and surrounding bodies of water.
East Brunswick experienced a growth in industry in the 19th century that was facilitated by the abundance of raw materials, proximity to large markets as well as relatively inexpensive transportation routes to New York and Philadelphia markets. The sandy, clay soil in the area was very well adapted for the manufacturing of products such as brick and clay. Originally a farming community, improved road access in the 1930’s facilitated suburban settlement. Large-scale housing and road construction, especially after World War II, transformed East Brunswick into a more suburban community. East Brunswick Community Park has an interesting history, with a now paradoxical use. The site was once used for industrial purposes: with a mining operation for sand, clay, and gravel extraction. When the miners dug too deep and hit the springs, they could no longer operate. The Township took ownership of the property with the use of the Green Acres land trust program and converted it into a Community Park. The legacy of this mining can still be seen on the site. The man made excavations have since filled with water, becoming what is now known as Crystal Springs Lake.
The first full time superintendent of Recreation was appointed in 1969, and in 1971 the first Department of Recreation and Parks was created. The Department of Recreation, Parks and Community services operates under the guidance of a 15 member advisory board established by local ordinance. In the early 90’s the community was prompted to build an aquatic park after membership at a 30-year-old, locally operated lake facility dropped. The lake was a big income generator for this tax-exempt parcel and the site began costing the town too much money to maintain. Officials hoped that the new aquatic park would increase membership and be self-sustaining. Crystal Springs become the first municipal water park in New Jersey. The park was funded with a bond issue of two million dollars, which is being paid back over 20 years with the profits from the park. It now serves over 45,000 residents and is available to non-residents as well. During the summer the closes at 10:30 pm and attendance averages between 1,500 and 1,800 people per day.
II Statement of Park Purpose:
The East Brunswick Department of Recreation, Parks & Community Services is committed to enriching the quality of life for residents by developing and providing affordable activities, programs, community resources and leisure opportunities.
The East Brunswick Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map designate this site as being within the Rural Preservation Zone: The Intent of this Zoning District is to retain the largely undeveloped and rural character of SW East Brunswick. This zone also supports the objectives of the State Development and Redevelopment plan: conservation of open space and retention of large contiguous areas of agriculture
The intentions set forth in the Zoning and Master Plans, which govern land use, are utilized in terms of guiding the development and management of the park.
According to section 228-6.2 of the Zoning Ordinance:
The purposes of the RP Single-Family Rural Preservation District are:
- To promote the retention of existing agricultural lands and to support ongoing agricultural activities through a combination of land use policy, acquisition of development rights, creative development techniques and limitations on land use activities that interfere with continued farming;
- To retain the largely undeveloped and rural character which pervades western and southwestern East Brunswick, in part by limiting the introduction of growth-inducing infrastructure
- To provide land use management strategies that promote the conservation of sensitive natural resources and which limit the impact of future development of this area
- To promote the conservation of open space through public acquisition, acquisition of less than fee interests and implementation of land use policies supportive of permanent preservation of open space areas;
- To support the objectives of the State Development and Redevelopment Plan including the retention of large contiguous areas of agriculture and open space, and providing for development which respects the carrying capacity of land and water resources while also preserving unique and sensitive natural areas.
East Brunswick Master Plan Statement of Goals and Objectives:
- To conserve as many environmentally sensitive areas in the township as feasible, with particular attention given to wetlands, areas with steep slopes, and those areas which are served by septic systems but which have seasonally high water tables
- To encourage existing agricultural areas to remain
- To develop coordinated open space and recreational programs, both for improving utilization of existing areas as well as newly acquired park areas
- To continue to relate school and park areas to existing and future development patterns
- To provide quality education at all levels for residents of the Township
- To develop a safe, efficient, local circulation system with maximum convenience and minimum adverse effect on land traversed
Recreation and Open Space Plan:
- Provide for both active and passive recreation areas, identifying environmentally sensitive conservation areas such as stream corridors and contiguous bands of wetlands
III Statement Of Park Significance
East Brunswick Community Park is one of the 15 Public Park and recreation facilities within its 984 acres of park land and private and public open spaces. As one of the largest parks in East Brunswick, it is a vital area for the regional community in terms of its environmental, educational, recreational, and economic assets:
- The site hosts a variety of community activities and programs such as a summer camp and fairs
- The park has environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands that are vital in terms of habitats, water retention, air quality, pollutant filtering, and education
- Home to Endangered species:Swamp Pink
- Located within East Brunswick
- Bloom between March-May
- Indiana Bat
- Lives within forest areas of New Jersey
- Range encompasses East Brunswick
- Bat homes/feeders located on site
- The park enhances the surrounding agricultural and residential communities: improves home values and desirability
- The location near Route 18, I 95, and Route 1 make it a park that can easily be utilized by the larger region
- The Aqua Park does not use tax dollars, but rather entrance fees to pay for maintenance and Improvement. It is vital for the generation of funds
- The location of the Aquatic Park to the adjacent wooded area and athletic infrastructure makes it an excellent resource for family outings, environmental education, and the building of community capital.
- Home to the building of the Division of Parks and Recreation
- Entire Site is within a 5 minute walk
IV Demographics/Community Conditions
New Jersey has the highest population density per unit of land area in the United States. It is estimated that New Jersey will reach build out by approximately 2015. The saturation of people in the landscape of New Jersey and economic trends suggest that the population is not likely to drastically grow. East Brunswick has approximately 47,512 residents with a population density of 2,189.6 people per square miles. According to 2010 Census Data: from 1990 to 2010, East Brunswick grew 14.13% compared to 12.99% in NJ and a National population growth of 24.02%. In New Jersey this density is both a threat and an asset. The marginal availability of open space will require State Officials and stakeholders to come up with creative solutions in terms of land use appropriation, designation, and design. It will become increasingly important that open parcels of land supply a variety of functions in order to serve both ecological services and recreational opportunities for a diverse demographic.
This density will also enable an increase in more pedestrian oriented linkages and circulation to the parks and open spaces within New Jersey municipalities. With the threat of peak oil and sprawled patterns of development, it is of dire importance that the principles of Smart Growth and New Urbanism be implemented. In East Brunswick 25.62% of the population spends more than 60 minutes driving to work, and 84.25% use an automobile as a mode of transport to work. Therefore, making open spaces pedestrian oriented is important. Putting more of these uses within walking distance is critically important to achieving a more community oriented environment and stronger social-ties within these communities. Enabling more people to use the streets, public spaces, and walkways will also increase the vitality and perceived security of the area.
The United States is facing an interesting shift in terms of an aging population. East Brunswick has a median age of 43. 24.1% of the East Brunswick community is below the age of 18 and 32.1% are between the age of 45-64 years old. Compared to New Jersey as a whole with 14.56%, 17.50% of East Brunswick residents are between 45-54 years old. Residents between 18-24 make up around 7.3% of the population in East Brunswick. There is an untapped potential to attract this age demographic from surrounding areas such as New Brunswick, which has a high percentage of University students in this age bracket. These students have the potential to partner with The Division of Parks and Recreation to conduct research, volunteer, and intern.
The average household size is 2.8 with 79.9% family households. Compared to 4.9% in the State, East Brunswick has only 2.5% of households with unmarried partners. This data suggests that East Brunswick is a relatively family oriented community that could benefit from an enhanced area for family outings and activities. It is important to understand that parks and open spaces are intended to serve a variety of age groups. The park is currently focused on attracting a younger demographic, although the management plan will attempt to diversify uses and bring residents of all ages to the site.
V Environmental Analysis
The site is Located within the 100 year flood plain and with wetlands, ponds and streams
Due to the environmentally sensitive nature of wetlands in addition to the threat of flooding, major commercial or residential development on this land is not recommended.
The majority of the site is classified as Sassafras Loam Soil. These soils are categorized as prime farmland, which means that they are among the most productive soils in the state for agriculture and forestry. Therefore, uses should remain as forestland with the possibility for some land set aside for agricultural use.
VI Primary Interpretive Themes
Currently this site has a very small online presence. What is conveyed to the public is the importance of the Crystal Springs Aquatic Center. The Website focuses on the Water Parks importance in terms of recreation, field trips, summer camps, and other events. Focusing solely on the Aquatic Center represents a failure to utilize and interpret many of the assets and environmental functions that exist within the site. Ignoring the other areas of the park goes against the intent of the Zoning Ordinance and Master plan in terms of recognizing the function of open space as a place for environmental protection, conservation, and education for all age groups. A lack of attention given to the natural wooded area and other recreational facilities has resulted in blighted buildings and infrastructure. This has led to virtually no interpretation of any themes other than that the site is a Water Park.
This Management plan will attempt to remediate the lack of attention and focus given to the natural areas. The Water Park possesses the means of drawing in visitors to the adjacent uses (if infrastructure is updated). The main interpretive themes this site will convey are as follows:
Environmental Education: The site will use strategic infrastructure, planning, and educational resources to teach visitors about the importance of resource management, environmental responsibility, and ecological services/functions. This information will be catered to various age groups.
Water Management: The importance of protecting, preserving and enhancing water resources should be emphasized. Education about wetland and watershed preservation will be conveyed to visitors.
Flora/Fauna: The importance of biodiversity ands its preservation will be conveyed to guests. Education on endangered species will be an integral part of the program. The flora of the earth produce the oxygen that is then breathed by the fauna-the fauna exhale the carbon dioxide that the flora need to live. Man has created a world in which the ecological balance of flora and fauna has been destroyed, in many instances causing the extinction of entire species. If this is partially due to environmental ignorance, perhaps such programs can eradicate part of the underlying problem.
Agriculture: The site is in a Rural Preservation district, therefore it is important to educate visitors on the importance of local food production. This will be done through fairs with local farmers and artisans. Agricultural education will come from the community gardens, greenhouse exhibits, and a food forest (which will teach about permaculture, companion planting). This is especially important for younger generations: If kids grow kale, or see kale growing they are more likely to eat kale! Learning about food hands on can be a great activity for school field trips and will help to establish healthy eating habits. Additionally, the conventional practices of industrial agriculture have caused devastating environmental effects on our land including pollution, erosion, and a loss of biodiversity. The land is extracted for a short time and after left in an infertile and marginal condition. Educating visitors about composting, permaculture, and companion planting is an attempt to help bring back more environmentally responsive agrarian practices.
Civic Participation: The importance of community involvement will be fostered through a variety of complementary uses. The goal is to get people onto the site and interacting with one another through a civic center (nature center), fairs, gardens, programs, and other events. The bridging and linking of social capital enhances the fabric of a community and increases sense of place.
VII Resource Management and Visitor Service Objectives
1.Two entrances to park with no circulation
2.Aquatic Park and Wooded area do not flow into one another
3.Underutilized Parking lot
4.Nature Center/Community facility
5.Educational Opportunities underutilized
6.Community adjacent within walking distance lacks direct access
7.Infrastructure in need of repair
8.Not “up to date” with the 21st century
- Construction of a new Nature Center:
- Will serve as a community center available to the public for school, business and community groups (meetings, workshops, events)
- Public Atrium with natural exhibits
- Will meet LEED design standards to educate visitors about environmental resource management/design techniques
- Green Roof: Water management principles through a reduction of impervious surfaces: rainwater retention/filtering, habitat creation and insulation, flood mitigation
- Variety of outdoor seating and uses
- Outdoor food forest/flora and fauna exhibit
- 3 or 4 Small green houses with exhibits
- Water/Pond exhibit with Flora/Fauna information
2. Section which includes play/exercise structures for all ages
- The senior population is growing. By 2050, a third of the U.S. will be 65 and older. The World Health Organization, AARP, and other organizations have called for more age-friendly communities. Therefore, it is important to create an intergenerational space where ALL ages can go to get outdoors, enjoy nature and exercise. In this model children and adults can play in a playground alongside each other. This can be funded through individual donations or grants.
3. Open Market
- Utilize a portion of the largely underutilized parking lot for community fairs and farmers markets
- Generate income through fees for tent/farmstand leases
- Allow local farmers a platform to sell their goods
- Serves as a small business incubator for local residents and artisans
- Provide healthy food options to visitors at both Aqua Park and the Natural area
4. Revamp aging Infrastructure
- New Information and signage-Application based technology for way-finding and flora/fauna information.
Open Sourced software: Learn about exhibits, navigate trails, monitor species, report problems on trail, interactive (nature hunts).
- Improve skate park and basketball courts located near the Parks and Recreation Building
- Improve trails
- Better Connectivity: throughout the park and between uses
- Build a pedestrian bridge to connect adjacent uses (tennis, skate park, basketball court) and bring visitors from the Parks and Recreation building into the site
- More parking here that is largely underutilized
5. Develop programs to bring people from the Aqua Park into the new exhibits: Including establishing a better online presence and community outreach
- School age programs
- Student Research
- Community meetings and events
- More parking here that is largely underutilized
VIII Generation of Alternatives
Implement Farmers Market
Develop programs for natural areas
Nature Center Construction
Phase I-improvements of high priority:
The Farmers market will help to fund future projects and will be a great way to raise awareness of the intentions of the park. In addition this can serve as a way to encourage stakeholder collaboration and the linking and bridging of social capital, which will ensure that plans have more community input and less pushback.
The improvement of aging infrastructure will cost less than other improvements and will be the first step necessary to boost visitation of the natural areas. Without improvements the current condition is uninviting and may even scare away future visitors due to the seemingly abandoned condition it is currently in. If the signage and building at the entrance of the nature trails are falling apart, few will proceed forward into the wooded area.
There also needs to be a better online presence to educate the regional community about these plans and programs. It is important to provide outlets for community input and ideas. Visitation will improve if community members are made aware that a public wooded area even exists on the site.
Phase II-improvements that are necessary but not immediate:
The pedestrian bridge is a great way to provide linkages to various uses. In addition if visitation increases, this is where additional parking is located.
Once funds are acquired through grants and other income generation the construction of the Nature Center can begin. This will also provide for more time for design options and other development considerations.
Of course the biggest obstacle to this revitalization plan is cost. Admission funds from Aqua Park could serve as a means of funding for some improvements. An attempt to acquire grants, as well as undergo improvements in phases, will help to distribute costs (first with income generators such as the community market).
In order to move forward with the Community market a Zoning Variance will be needed. According to the Zoning Ordinance 228-6.3, a prohibited use is: H. Sale of products not crafted on the agricultural property from which they are sold. I am unsure of the exact interpretation of this guideline, however the Zoning Board of Adjustment would have to be consulted. It meets many positive and the negative criteria for granting a D variance. It is an inherently beneficial use, especially in a Rural Preservation Zone. A farmers market would not pose any detriment to the public good and would not substantially impair the intent and the purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance. With these facts and conditions (and the communities approval/desire) I believe this can be implemented.
Permits would also need to be acquired for several developments. The construction of the bridge would require a Stream Encroachment permit due to the presence of 100-year flood zone around Ireland Brook. Although no development would occur in the Wetlands a Freshwater Wetlands Permit would be needed due to the existence of Wetlands in the park. The construction of the Nature Center requires both a New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Stormwater Construction Permit and a New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Plan. These are both needed because the site is greater than 1 acre.
X The Preferred Alternative/Conclusion
Before any development would take place it is important that a community visioning session be held. This will help to assure that East Brunswick Community Park is serving the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When trying to institute such large a change in a community, public participation is a critical component. People who live in a community like this know it best, and therefore they are an asset and provide very wonderful insight that a developer or other stakeholders may not be aware of. When participation is encouraged, citizens feel they have a stake in the process and are less likely to push back or oppose the redevelopment. This synergy creates better information flows, more accountability, and trust. There is no way a plan like this would be successful if the community did not feel that they were a part of the process.
In terms of future needs: the projects that are implemented must undergo feedback loops based on the success and viability of the programs. It is projected that the Park will need more staffing. The Nature center is an integral component of the site due to its ability to serve a variety of needs for a diverse community. Currently, there is a great need for programming space for seniors as the senior citizen population continues to grow. This will also be a great place for community center activities, meetings, and other functions. This Management Plan is an attempt to restructure the region against disinvestment, environmental deterioration, and a loss of agricultural land. It serves as a case for non-commercial or residential use of the site. The outcome of this plan will be a diverse, pedestrian oriented, physically defined, and universally accessible public space and institution.