Red Bank officials are seeking funds for the Bellhaven Park nature area on Locust Avenue. Below, a map from the 2006 waterfront plan. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Sequestered away from the public eye at the western end of Locust Avenue, it’s never gotten the kind of use or attention from residents that other parks see. Now, general neglect at the park, designated as a passive natural area, has led it to become a little bit too natural, said Mayor Pasquale Menna.
The Swimming River has swallowed up at least half of a floating dock at the park, and the heavy brush of native and invasive species has made some winding paths almost impassable.
“It’s like a jungle down there,” Menna said. “It needs to be accessible and safer. Even our own (police) patrols can’t even go in there because of the overgrowth.”
Now, the borough is looking into ways to clear out the area and restore it as an attraction. But how much should it spend, given cash-starved times, and where might the money come from?
If the borough can partner with other interested entities to bring relief to the park, it should move on it, Menna said.
“The only way it would make sense is to have a partnership,” Menna said, citing the state Department of Environmental Protection and American Littoral Society as potential partners.
Ballard got the borough council’s OK last week to apply for a $250,000 Monmouth County Open Spaces, despite there being formal action plan for the park, to see if she can obtain funds. If successful, Red Bank would draft a plan and seek out other funding sources to match whatever money the county awarded.
But to match a possible grant with taxpayer money is unrealistic, he said. Unless the borough can find some other entity to match the funds, as it did with a new artificial turf ballfield at Count Basie Fields, Bellhaven Park may have to wait it out to get the attention it needs.
“This is exploratory in nature,” Menna said. “We have to do something (with the park) one way or another. But right now we have restrictions.”
The push to bring Bellhaven back to at least a safe condition came out of talks with the recreation department, which is looking to give greater water access to the public, said Administrator Stanley Sickels. Ballard said the idea is to clean it up and turn it into a “pocket park.” Down the road, the borough would like to add better lighting and fencing to the area, Menna added.
Before the council takes input from the public at its August 24 meeting, the Environmental Commission will give its take on what should and can be done at the park.
“Anything would be an improvement there,” Ballard said.