Skillman Park – Work in Progress

GRAND OPENING CELEBRATION AT SKILLMAN PARK

ParkRibbonCuttingCounty

Officials cut the ribbon opening Skillman Park.

The dilapidated buildings are gone, the loop trail is finished and new landscaping and signage grace the entrances to the 247-acre Skillman Park. Officials and residents celebrated the park’s grand opening April 23, 2015 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The grand opening of Skillman Park adds another jewel to Somerset County’s crown of beautifully preserved parkland,” said Freeholder Director Mark Caliguire.  As a former township mayor and now as a county official, he has been involved in plans for the property for several years.

“The transformation of this property has been phenomenal,” Freeholder Director Caliguire said.  “When you look at pictures of the old power plant and other run-down structures that were languishing here, you can’t help but be impressed by the amount of careful and thorough work that has brought us to this point today – the grand opening of another lovely Somerset County park.

“The county Park Commission staff and leadership did an amazing job,” he said.  “Their hard work and vision has produced exceptional results.

“This site was in danger of remaining a brownfield, being turned into thousands of homes or even COAH apartments,” he noted.  “Instead it is now preserved forever as a beautiful park.”

“Montgomery is very fortunate to enjoy Somerset County’s newest park in our community!” said Mayor Christine Madrid.  “We are grateful to the county Park Commission for working with us and the Skillman Park Planning Committee to create such a beautiful public space in the heart of our community. What a contrast to what was here before! Residents are going to find so much to enjoy in this great new community resource.”

County crews and contractors have created an attractive new look and amenities at the passive recreation-focused park.

A 2.2-mile, 12-foot-wide, paved multi-use loop trail has been built along much of the former facility’s road and driveway network. New fencing, signage and landscaping have been installed at the park entrances. Much of the breathtaking, tree-lined road layout, designed by noted landscape architect and engineer Charles W. Leavitt in 1901, has been preserved.

Old paving was removed so that the center of Larocque Circle will be open lawn with a small parking area.  Main Boulevard has been repaved and sufficient parking has been added or improved in four convenient locations.

Much of Skillman Park will remain a natural setting.  Certain areas within the park will be considered for the creation of wildlife habitat through proper planting and maintenance practices. Buffers will be maintained along stream corridors for wildlife use and to improve water quality.  An overlook area along the Rock Brook will provide a view to a wetlands restoration project the county will undertake using a state grant.

A group of Montgomery volunteers from the Environmental Corps and Friends of Open Space has so far planted more than 50 trees as part of an ongoing reforestation project, in cooperation with the Somerset County Park Commission and Township Open Space Committee.

The North Princeton Developmental Center Sacred Grounds, an existing cemetery for the former facility that was on the site, has been cleaned up, fenced and replanted by Park Commission maintenance staff with the assistance of three girls from Montgomery Girl Scout Troop 236 – Sophia Sharpless, Jenna Devchand and Claire Decker – as their Silver Award project.

Once known as the New Jersey Village for Epileptics, the facility evolved into a psychiatric facility in the 1950s and was called the North Princeton Developmental Center.  It was closed by the State of New Jersey in the mid-1990s and the property was purchased by Montgomery Township from the state in 2007. The county bought the 247 acres from the township in 2011, with funds ultimately coming from the county’s Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

The Skillman Park Planning Committee includes Montgomery Township residents Lysa Wilson and Emad AbouSabé, Township Open Space Committee Chairman Clem Fiori, Freeholder Director Caliguire, Freeholder Patrick Scaglione, County Administrator Michael J. Amorosa and Park Commission Secretary/Director Raymond A. Brown.

Source: Somerset County Office of Public Information, April 23, 2015

———

Skillman Park Trail Work Begins

Somerset County Freeholder Deputy Director Mark Caliguire has announced that construction of a loop trail at Skillman Park is expected to start later this month and be completed in late October.

“We’re looking forward to the opening of this much-anticipated trail that will provide the public’s first significant access to this property,” said Freeholder Caliguire. “This park is a beautiful resource. Anyone who remembers it as a dilapidated old state institution will be amazed at what the county Park Commission has achieved over the past couple of years.”

“The transformation of Skillman Park has been incredible and we are so appreciative of the county’s efforts to make this park a special place,” said Mayor Rich Smith. “Montgomery residents are really going to enjoy using this new scenic trail system for running, hiking and nature walks – it is going to be fantastic! Montgomery Township is extremely thankful for all that Somerset County is doing to create such a park in our community.”

The Board of Freeholders recently awarded the contract for the work to Brennan Brothers Contracting, LLC of Old Bridge. The project will include a 2.25-mile paved loop trail and three new parking areas.

The Skillman Park Planning Committee, which has been tasked with developing a comprehensive public access plan to the 247-acre park, includes Montgomery Township residents Lysa Wilson and Emad AbouSabé, Township Open Space Committee member Clem Fiori, Somerset County Freeholder Director Patrick Scaglione and Freeholder Deputy Director Caliguire, and County Administrator Michael J. Amorosa.

In addition to the development of the loop trail, the committee has been discussing other ongoing and completed park improvements. New fencing and trees were installed at the entrances to the park and around the cemetery. With the assistance of 3 members of local Girl Scout Troop 236, cemetery cleanup has been completed. Main Boulevard has been repaved. The county and municipality continue to work together on a small reforestation project at the site of a former structure and the county is developing a wetlands restoration planting plan for the former Sylvan Lake impoundment area. The committee also continues to discuss other possible low-intensity, passive uses for the park.

Source: Somerset County Office of Public Information, August 14, 2014

____________________________

Planning Continues for Skillman Park:
Loop Trail, Low-Intensity Uses Discussed At Third Meeting

The committee tasked with developing a comprehensive public-access plan at Skillman Park is continuing the design development of the loop trail and is examining other low-intensity uses.

A third meeting of the Skillman Park Planning Committee was held Sept. 25. The committee is comprised of Montgomery Township residents Lysa Wilson and Emad Abou-Sabé; Township Open Space Committee member Clem Fiori; Somerset County Freeholder Director and Committee Chair Patricia Walsh; Freeholder and Somerset County Park Commission liaison Patrick Scaglione; and Somerset County Administrator Michael Amorosa.

“Development of Skillman Park is a perfect example of collaboration between local Montgomery representatives, the Somerset County Park Commission and the Somerset County Board of Freeholders,” said Freeholder Director Patricia Walsh. “We look forward to continued progress in developing a plan for the best use of this addition to the Somerset County park system.”

“I am very pleased with the initial plans for Skillman Park and how everything is progressing,” said Montgomery Mayor Ed Trzaska. “Keeping the park solely focused on passive use is what the residents of Montgomery want and will serve the entire county well. I would like to thank the Planning Committee for their ongoing work and look forward to the day when Skillman Park is ready to open. It’s truly going to be something incredible.”

At its meeting, the committee reinforced that the first priority for the 247-acre park was to design and develop a loop trail by adapting many of the property’s existing paved roads and driveways that could be connected to parking locations strategically located within the park. A conceptual plan for the loop trail and parking areas has been developed and the county is now working on a more detailed design. Construction of the trail is anticipated to begin in 2013.

In addition to the development of the loop trail, the committee discussed other possible low- intensity uses that would be consistent with the passive nature of the park. Possible uses are tables for picnicking and playing games, benches and open lawn areas for activities. The committee also continued the discussion of wildlife habitat and stream corridor restoration.

Site cleanup, tree maintenance and daily site maintenance continues by the county and Somerset County Park Commission. Building demolition is complete and material continues to be removed from the site to make the property safe and accessible for the public.

With the plans for the development of the loop trail underway, the committee plans to meet again in December to review the progress of the trail plans and to discuss the next steps for the implementation.

Source: Somerset County Office of Public Information, October, 2012

__________________________

Skillman Park Planning Committee Meets, Discusses Trails, Clean-up & Parking

Development of a trail system, along with an ongoing maintenance program, was discussed by the recently appointed Skillman Park Planning Committee at its first meeting April 17 in Somerville.

Somerset County Freeholder Director and Committee Chair Patricia Walsh invited the committee members and the committee’s support staff “to listen to the wishes of the community on the vision for this new park and recreational opportunity.” She also noted that those involved in the property’s acquisition have advised that it remain as permanent, passive open space.

The Somerset County Improvement Authority purchased the former New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) property from Montgomery Township in October 2011. The Planning Committee, appointed by the Board of Freeholders in January 2012, includes Freeholder Director Walsh, Freeholder Patrick Scaglione, County Administrator Michael Amorosa and Montgomery Township residents Lysa Wilson, Clem Fiori and Emad Abou-Sabé.

At their first meeting, the committee members agreed that a system of public trails and conservation initiatives should be the highest short-term priority for the 247-acre park.

With the new county park soon to be accessible to the public, there exists a very short timeframe to develop a plan that identifies potential trail loops and public parking opportunities. There was a consensus among committee members to support the idea of adapting many of the existing roads and driveways that served the former NPI into a network of public trail links that can be connected to parking locations strategically located within the park.

Some areas of the property have been identified for continued clean-up and an aggressive maintenance campaign is now underway by the Somerset County Park Commission, with assistance from the county Public Works Department. The New Jersey Arborists were on site on March 10 to assist as well. Committee members agreed that these areas initially should be removed from public access while the ongoing clean-up continues.

The Planning Committee will meet again in June. Meanwhile, county staff will develop conceptual plans for the new trail system and parking locations.

Source: Somerset County Office of Public Information, April 2012

__________________________

Arborist Work Day Project Carried Out for Skillman Park

Skillman Park was been chosen for the Annual Work Day by New Jersey Arborists, Chapter ISA Inc. Somerset County Park Commission applied to NJAISA and is honored and to be chosen for this event in March 2012. The arborist work day involve many tree trimming crews, working on a voluntary basis. These much needed professional arborist services, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, have helped with the preservation of the magnificent trees at Skillman Park. This saved tax dollars and greatly assisted the Somerset County Park Commission in creating a safe and aesthetically pleasing park for all to enjoy.

While the property has renewed purpose, work on this new chapter of its life has just begun. While under development as a park, for safety reasons it is not yet open to the public, except for the right-of-way of Main Boulevard. We appreciate the public’s patience with the work-in-progress.

Source: Somerset County Office of Public Information, March 2012

____________________________

Somerset County’s Skillman Park

Skillman Park is now a reality! On October 25th, 2011, Somerset County bought the 247-acre parcel from Montgomery Township for approximately $64,438 per acre. The property was purchased by the Somerset County Improvement Authority with funds ultimately coming from the county’s Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, ensuring its ultimate use for recreation and conservation purposes. The Improvement Authority will hold title to the property initially and transfer ownership to the county at a later date.

LINK TO FLICKR PHOTO SET OF CLOSING BY OFFICIALS

Use and future development of the Skillman Village site will be limited to passive recreation, conservation, historic preservation or agricultural purposes, since funding is being provided through the trust fund dedicated to those purposes. The county and township have established an advisory committee, with three members appointed by the Freeholders and three by the Montgomery Township Committee, to developa master plan incorporating stewardship of the land, potential recreation opportunities and facilities, and maintenance functions.

Skillman Park’s planned use encompasses low intensity/passive recreational and conservation activities. As per the contract of sale, the county will not consider any plans for a water park, pool, stadium, motorized-vehicle park, arcades or fixed overhead lighting for playing fields.

“Through a collaborative effort with Montgomery Township, the county has preserved the Skillman Village property, an important addition to our open space program,” said Freeholder Director Robert Zaborowski.“We look forward to continuing the collaboration with Montgomery in developing a passive-use county park that highlights the unique cultural and natural features of the property.”

Once known as the New Jersey Village for Epileptics, the facility evolved into a psychiatric facility in the 1950s and was called the North Princeton Developmental Center. The facility was closed by the State of New Jersey in the mid-1990s and the property was purchased by Montgomery Township from the state in 2007.

All of the buildings on the property have been demolished and substantial environmental cleanup has been completed by the Township.

Parcels that were not part of the sale include the six-acre Maplewood House property; the one-acre Pine Knoll property; a half-acre lot to be used to reconfigure the Village Elementary School driveway; and the portion of the property that lies within the Burnt Hill Road right-of-way.

Source: Somerset County Office of Information, October, 2011

___________________________________

Note: As of early September, all the buildings are down and the only work remaining is removal of some brick debris and restoration of grounds.

Completion of Demolition Work – August, 2011

The preparation for the 256-acre passive-use Skillman Park continues!

In early July, 2011 the demolition of the remaining 20 buildings at the former North Princeton Development Center property was approved and the work is now well underway (mid-August). These buildings have been a safety concern for many years and we have seen increased numbers of vandalism and trespassing incidences during the last few months.

This process is being funded by the Somerset County Improvement Authority in anticipation of the closing of the sale with Montgomery Township in the near future. The contract requires demolition activities to be completed by the contractor before the public schools open on September 8th.

The demolition process has been identical to the one employed during the summer of 2007 when 92 buildings were demolished. J.M. Sorge, the Township’s environmental oversight consultant since the property’s purchase, has continued to provide air monitoring services. We are happy to report that air monitoring results show particulate levels well below State standards.

The time has finally come to close the book on this chapter of the property’s former use and to move on to an exciting new recreational opportunity. What once was the Township’s biggest eyesore will soon be something that all of our families can enjoy.

We will keep everyone informed as the detailed plans for the park progress – which will be worked on jointly by Somerset County and Montgomery Township. We look forward to the day when the park will be open to the public. In the meantime, all interior roads remain closed. Starting in September, Main Boulevard will reopen to the public for school access.

We share our excitement about a new park at this location and our expectations that it will brighten Montgomery’s future.

Questions regarding demolition activities may be directed to
Twp. Engineer Gail Smith, 908-359-8211 ext. 295, gsmith@twp.montgomery.nj.us
or Community Information Officer, Tammy Garaffa, 908-359-8211 ext. 207,
tgaraffa@twp.montgomery.nj.us.