Since I retired from teaching, just about every Monday morning my wife and I have the pleasure of walking in Brookdale Park, the 121-acre oasis a mere 12 miles from New York City and designed by the Olmstead Brothers, designers of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn among others.
Each Monday, we start our journey from where our street deadends at the park. Walking up along the outermost path (part of the Lenape Trail), we encounter the grove where every summer fireflies put on a spectaular show. The path climbs along with the newly applied stone that helps prevent water damage, thanks to Eagle Scout candidates Lucas Hususan and Liam Varnelis and Troop 12. At the top of the hill, we turn north and soon come across the Dog Park. Then it's past the Rose Garden, crossing over to the Tennis and Pickle-ball Courts, and around to the Archery Field. Traversing the nothern entrance near Bellevue Avenue, we strain our necks to see if the new turf field and track have been completed. Finally, we walk past the new baseball fields, and several of the exercise stations, before heading to Hot Bagels Abroad! (What? A bagel with creamcheese is the perfect way to end such a wonderful walk.)
Living so close to Brookdale Park for the past quarter-century, my wife, sons, and I have gotten to enjoy everything it has to offer: bountiful nature, summer concerts, spectacular firework displays, sports of all kinds, fireflies and their twinkling fairy lights, courting, arts & crafts fairs, cruising (IYKYK). In fact, my wife and I have been enjoying the park since we were kids in the 1970s, when I spent many Saturday mornings playing a game of soccer before getting back home in time to watch the last episode of Scooby Doo.
Of course, the parks workers for Essex County do a great job of upgrading and maintaining the park (Thank you, Joe D.!). However, it requires more resources than the county has to keep this gem of Essex County sparkling.
That's where the Brookdale Park Conservancy comes in.
Founded in 2009, the Conservancy is an all-volunteer group supported almost entirely by donations.
Our VISION is to become an indispensable partner in the stewardship of Brookdale Park, ensuring the sustainability of our preservation efforts by engaging our diverse park community. Our MISSION is to preserve, enhance, and promote the park, providing a voice for the community and collaborating with Essex County."
In addition to ongoing projects like maintaining the Rose Garden and the Pollinator Garden and Monarch Waystation, the Conservancy completes one-time projects like the Cherry Lawn and the Crabapple Grove.
One of the more recent projects the Conservancy completed with the help of "a battalion" of volunteers, including my wife, our neighbor Thom and me, was the Canopy Tree Replenishment Program. Thanks to a donation by the NJ Tree Foundation, we were able to plant 20 new trees in the park this past spring. Last year, it was 36 new trees! Volunteers worked hard digging the holes, removing the protective burlap covering, and adding back the dirt. It was exhausting and back-breaking work. But we felt fantastic when it was finished. Over the next few weeks, volunteers came back to water the trees, helping them to take root. We named our tree Elmwood.
Other current and recent projects include the Native Plant Gardens - Playground Entrance and Nearby Circle Bed, where volunteers cleared away overgrowth and planted native plants. Preparing the soil to give future plantings the best chance, there is the Healthy Gardens Start with Healthy Soil program, where the Conservancy is taking steps to prepare and improve the soil. You can learn more about healthy soil by clicking HERE.
The [Conservancy] focuses on park improvement projects intended to restore and enhance Brookdale Park's Olmsted Brothers' Master Plan while keeping our modern-day park community’s needs and long term sustainability in mind."
An example of this is the Spring & Streambed Restoration and Pollinator Project, where members of the Rutgers Environmental Stewards program are helping guide Conservancy members and volunteers to restore the stream, which was part of the Olmstead Brothers' original master plan.
Be sure to mark your calendars for next spring, so you can witness the glory of the Garden State as it explodes into life! You will want to see the Cherry Lawn, Redbud Hill, and Crabapple Grove.
Another exciting development is the new Neighbors Campaign series, where the Conservancy created a planting plan for the Mt. Vernon Road park entrance, then enlisted the help of residents on the block "to clear brush and weeds, install the plants, and add stones and mulch" (Conservancy). It was a smashing success and they are looking forward to more Neighbors projects in the future!
Every time my good friend and former colleague Eric comes to visit, and he lived for many years in Blairstown out in western NJ, we simply have to take a walk in Brookdale Park. It is an absolute MUST! And when we do his reaction is always the same: one filled with awe, deep love and respect, and gratitude. In fact, he is incredulous, his mind blown! I can actually see the smoke coming out of his ears.
Aren't we the luckiest people on Earth to live near such a peaceful place, with its rich, old, stately beauty?
Those of us that live in and around the Brookdale Section of Bloomfield, and those who come from where the four winds blow, know what Eric knows – Brookdale Park is one of the jewels of Essex County. And thanks to volunteers like the Brookdale Park Conservancy and its members, it is looking more and more brilliant every day!
There can never be too many volunteers. If you are interested in giving your time and you'd like to learn more, please click HERE. Of course, donations are critical. Please click HERE to make your donation today.
Donations of all sizes are gratefully welcomed! A donation of $25 or more will make you an official member of the Brookdale Park Conservancy. "The Brookdale Park Conservancy is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization - your donation may be tax deductible. Consult your tax advisor."
Brookdale Park Conservancy works in partnership with the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Essex County Board of County Commissioners.
"We are Volunteers of America!" (Balin-Kantner).