Have you noticed? Watsessing Park has undergone an extreme makeover.
The Essex County park wrapped up seven years of renovations worth more than $1.4 million in September, giving parkgoers safer and more modern athletic facilities.
"As the recreation and athletic programs offered by our municipalities, school districts and private organizations have increased tremendously over the last several years, the demand to use facilities throughout our historic park system has increased tremendously," said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. "This project is another example of the improvements we are making to ensure our parks continue to meet the changing needs of our residents."
The latest improvements included the construction of a synthetic surface for the park's soccer and lacrosse field. The previous field, made of natural grass, was in poor condition and was a safety concern for the high school and youth sports teams that played there.
The field's synthetic surface, which workers began to install in May, will allow the various teams to use the field in all kinds of weather and eliminates the danger of muddy conditions because of the drainage system that fell into disarray.
"This field is an example of our municipalities coming to the county executive and freeholder board for help and the county delivering a solution," said Assemblyman and Freeholder Vice President Ralph Caputo. "This is a home run for the children of our community and we could not be happier with the results."
The new turf will also host several of Glen Ridge's athletic programs, which were without a home last year.
"This is a dream come true for sports and recreation programs in Glen Ridge," Glen Ridge Mayor Peter Hughes said, referring to the Glen Ridge High School soccer and lacrosse programs. "(DiVincenzo) listened to the problems we had with finding available athletic fields, helped us work through it and developed this field so all recreation programs in the area have more places to play. (DiVincenzo is) truly setting a new gold standard in Essex County."
Watsessing Park also received a new wrought iron fence and streetscape upgrades along Bloomfield Avenue, and a second synthetic field was installed within the park's rubber walking track.
This isn't Watsessing Park's first makeover. DiVincenzo had commissioned numerous improvement projects since taking office in 2003, including the modernizing of the walking track and basketball court in 2008. Two years before that, Essex County opened a 19,500 square-foot off-leash dog facility, which was created in partnership with NJ Transit and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The lawn bowling facility and Bloomfield Avenue entrances were also renovated in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
According to Bloomfield Councilman Robert Ruane, DiVincenzo made Watsessing Park "100 percent better."
"We wish all the children who play on this field will have a great time," Ruane added.