Welcome to Riverbank
Newark, New Jersey
"Where History Lives"
Riverbank Park combines both beauty of parks designed by the Olmsted firm, with active recreational components. It includes a baseball field, a soccer field (artificial turf to withstand constant use), a track with a rubberized surface, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, and a playground. There are also 3 structures in the park: the grandstand seating for the baseball field, the Children's Pavillion (an open air covered building), and the Field House. Lights consistent with the park's history have been added throughout the park. Riverbank Park is located between two major access highways into Newark (Raymond Blvd. and Market St.). Because of this SPARK battled also to get a streetlight at the park entrance, so people could safely cross. Because of this location (on the edge, not the center of the neighborhood), the park needs special stewardship (see programs) (see programs).
Riverbank Park main entrance is on Somme St. It can be found on a map at 27 Somme St. The other entrance can be found at 573 Market Street. ( Put those addresses into this URL to see a map of the locations: http://maps.google.com )
Riverbank Park is over 100 years old. It was designed by the Olmsted brothers firm, as part of the country's oldest park system, Essex County Parks. Mr. Murphy of the Murphy Varnish Company, located on McWhorter and Chestnut St. in Ironbound, wanted a place for workers from his factory to relax. He was a member of the Essex County Parks Commission, and of the City Beautiful movement. He worked for a park in the Ironbound, along the river. Mr. Murphy later became Governor of New Jersey. Murphy Varnish still stands, and is listed in the National Register. Riverbank Park was added to the National Register through SPARK's effort, in 1998.
Saving the Park
In 1996, residents in the Ironbound section of Newark learned from reading a suburban newspaper that Riverbank Park was going to be developed into a minor league baseball stadium for Rick Cerone, ex-Yankee. Essex County and the City of Newark would each contribute $11 million to construct the stadium with public funds. Riverbank Park's 10 acres represented nearly 50% of Ironbound's recreational space. Ironbound is a densely populated neighborhood with about 50,000 residents.
Residents formed SPARK, Save the Park At RiverbanK, and began a fight that was to last 7 years. The resident group used many tactics including a court challenge, the city's first issue referendum, placing the park on the National Register, and a highly unusual "cease and desist" order given by the National Park Service. Facing a deadline of his own, the developer and public officials eventually appealed all the way to the Secretary of the Interior at the White House who - having already been briefed by local NPS and SPARK - denied the appeal. A new site was found for the baseball stadium (Broad St. in Newark) where it stands currently.
During the fight, Essex County closed the park, siting chemical contamination, and hoping SPARK would go away. So although Riverbank Park was saved it was still closed. SPARK assembled help from top scientists in the state to figure out a remediation plan to save the trees, and open the park safely. Essex County agreed to remediate and restore the entire park, and buildings. The park reopened in June 2001, only to be quickly closed again due to use of contaminated soil by the contractor. On Nov. 5, 2003, the second remediation was completed, and the park reopened for public use. The park has been added to the National Historic Register (see description and history). Because of the community's effort, the park will continue to exist and to be an oasis of green for future generations.
SPARK has formed a non-profit board - SPARK Friends of Riverbank Park - to work on setting up programs in the park once it reopened, in order to preserve this precious community resource.
SPARK Friends believes that the best way to preserve and maintain Riverbank Park is through active and aggressive programming which frequently brings people into the park. The Ironbound Boys & Girls Club ran its Summer Program for about 150 children in the park during 2003 (when only parts of the park were open). A Fall Fun Day, featuring a well received pumpkin decorating activity, was held October 18. SPARK Friends has been part of a coalition of groups sponsoring a Halloween Costume Parade. And on Dec. 13, a Holiday Tree Trim will take place at the park. A Gardening Club has also begun through the Ironbound Boys & Girls Senior Club.
SPARK Friends is working with partner groups like Greater Newark Conservancy (which began a Junior Ranger Program in the park over the summer), the NJ Historical Society, and the Newark Public Schools, to develop programs which will bring young people into the park to teach civics, science, and history, and work on community gardening projects. There are also plans to have a variety of cultural activities in the park, including a Neighborhood Arts Day in the spring.
Riverbank Park is ADA accessible. Special needs accommodations can be arranged with 2 weeks prior notice by calling (973) 368-8737
"New Jersey State Council on the Arts"
SPARK Friends of Riverbank Park
"Discover Jersey Arts'"
in cooperation with
Essex County Parks Department, Ironbound Community Corporation, Corporation, and Ironbound Boys and Girls Club. This program is made possible in part by funds from PNC Bank, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, Richmond County Savings Foundation, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts
and administered by the Essex County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs
For more information: www.riverbankpark.org
or call (973) 589-3353 X202
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Copyright © 2014 Lenny Thomas, All Rights Reserved
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