Rebirth of a Park

Rebirth of a Park

Rebirth of a Park
by Deanna Gondek

When I came to Dennis Collins Park in October, unspectacular mounds of dirt were scattered across the three-quarter mile strip of waterfront. Now, as the winter gives way to the spring, a new park is sprouting from the mounds. Two dog parks, outdoor exercise equipment, a pirate playground, new trees, benches, picnic tables, water fountains, walking path asphalt, and a performance space have all blossomed since my last visit.

“It’s a rebirth and a makeover,” said Bergen Point Councilman Tom Cotter, who walks through the park every morning, often with his dogs. Recovering from a motorcycle injury, he’s been rehabbing using the waterfront exercise equipment and riding his bike. It’s low impact, he says. Councilman Cotter and city officials are planning a ceremony celebrating the completion of the first of three phases of park improvements on April 14. The next two phases of construction will move eastward, ending at Gorman Field.

The celebration comes after years of planning, and courtesy of $1.7 million in funds from the Bayonne Bridge project. It may sound premature to celebrate considering the park is not fully complete, but the first phase of construction is where most of the action is. Plus, phasing in construction allows other sections of the park to remain open.

Aside from the recreational sports activities, the first phase installed a performance pergola with raised patio area facing the bridge. It’s picturesque, and ideal for poets, dancers, and sunset watchers.

“If you’re around and you talk to people, you find out what they want in a park,” said Cotter, who helped organize community input in the planning stages.

Many features of the park were outdated or under-used, such as a playground that is now pirate-themed, and a can-jam that is now a corn hole.

One extraordinarily warm February day was a preview for the spring. One resident was catching her breath a half-mile through the 0.8-mile, freshly paved pathway for her first run of the year.

“It was a whole lot easier last time I did this,” said Michelle, 24, who lives uptown Bayonne but comes down for scenic runs through the park. “So much in the park is new. It’s like I’m being reacquainted.” That sentiment is shared broadly through Bergen Point. The park improvements leave no stone unturned.

Parks are centers for community and the public’s most valuable assets. It’s where people come for fresh air, exercise (for pets and people), safe meeting spaces, concerts, fitness classes, and festivals, which brought me for the first time to Dennis Collins Park.

The Bridge Arts Festival is where I met an artisan selling earrings who would soon become mine and my friends’ favorite earring merchant. The artisan even includes personalized messages with her one-of-a-kind earrings. It’s those interactions that build relationships between people and a space.

I’m not the only person with a special relationship with the park. Residents meet other dog-lovers, run into neighbors, and come together for live music. Even skateboarders, often maligned as vandals, have their own section. A brand new concrete skatepark was constructed last year just for them. Players of beach volleyball, tennis, and basketball also get a bone. The basketball and tennis courts, which were in need of repair, are getting full facelifts.

The marvel of Dennis Collins Park improvements is small in the city’s grand scheme. A continuous path surrounding the peninsula that connects all of the city’s western parks and eastern development is envisioned for the future.