WOOLWICH TWP. — The growth in Woolwich Township population over the past 10 years has been unprecedented, and is expected to continue into the future.
Projections say that Woolwich’s numbers will grow from 10,200 people in 2010 to approximately 23,098 by 2040. These figures have not gone unnoticed by community officials.
Research has determined that Woolwich and the Borough of Swedesboro both lack trail infrastructure to make transportation connections for that population to parks, open space areas, schools, and other locations, along with pedestrian sidewalks in Woolwich to make safe connections.
“We’re very deficient in terms of creating bicycle lanes and trails for the township,” says Woolwich Director of Community Development Matt Blake.
So Woolwich Township has commissioned an Open Space and Recreation Plan to plan effectively for park, open space, trails and similar recreational facilities in Woolwich Township and Swedesboro.
“We share a lot of the same recreational resources,” Blake observed. “I’m not aware of another case where two communities have partnered together on such an ambitious plan.”
In their most recent public meeting on Oct. 7, planning consultants presented an initial draft plan that included recommendations for trail alignments, additional facilities, and park layouts. Bikeway trails, multi-use trails, and walking and hiking trails are all being recommended.
Conceptual diagrams were drawn up for seven locations in Woolwich Township that were seen as priority areas for possible recreation facility development. Sites included the LaPalomento Family Park (High Hill Road), Palladino Field (west of LaPalomento Park), Locke Avenue / High Hill Park, Weatherby Development Open Space Parcels, Beckett Golf Club, the Woolwich Township Municipal Complex, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Wildlife Management Parcel Indian Branch Parcels.
The Swedesboro Auction Park is under consideration for use as a performance stage and community garden. It is also recommended that a seating area, display garden, and unprogrammed open field be considered so the location can serve as a small neighborhood park for residents near the area.
The study’s Park and Open Space Inventory Map lists 38 different areas which is about 543 acres of land, under consideration for purchase based on changing recreational needs. Specific uses and arrangements for the land will be more closely identified in the engineering phase of the plan.
They include the Locke Avenue/High Hill Park, the former PMC site located next to the Locke Avenue Park, an undeveloped area of Locke Avenue/High Hill Park, the former Japanese Internment Camp Site on Locke Avenue which has access to the Raccoon Creek, Swedesboro Auction Park, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Wildlife Management Area located west of Locke Avenue Park, The LaPalomento Family Park located off of High Hill Road, Palladino Field located west of LaPalomento Park, the Weatherby Development Open Space Parcel, Beckett Golf Club, the Woolwich Township Municipal Complex, the former Nike Missile Base on Paulsboro Road, Lake Narration/Swedesboro Lake Park, 5 Glen Echo Avenue – currently for sale, NJDEP’s Grande Sprute Run which is bordered by Raccoon Creek to the south and Route 322 to the north, and 23 parcels of township, state and privately owned land.
Oldmans Creek is seen as a prime location for boating, canoeing, and kayaking, while canoeing and kayaking may also take place at Raccoon Creek. The NJDEP Wildlife Management Areas could be turned into a spot for swimming and fishing.
Woolwich Township may continue talks with the state that would swap Raccoon Creek for another township-owned parcel.
Complete development proposed under this plan could take 20 to 25 years. First priority will be given to establishing trail and sidewalk connections to existing parks, and constructing recreation fields at Locke Avenue/High Hill Park and LaPalomento Family Park as needed.
Overall development will be based on factors such as available funding, willing partnerships, community interest, municipal priorities, actual community growth, recreation trends, and property acquisitions.
As far as local funding, last fall Woolwich’s residents approved a public question that allowed the community to use part of its five cent Open Space Preservation Tax on park development ideas. Blake noted that Woolwich residents would benefit from that tax. “When you do a local purpose tax, it’s smart to be a little more inclusive,” Blake explained. “Including acquisition and maintenance allows you to get matching funds from the state. If you have an open space plan and you have a dedicated tax, you can get a 50 percent cost share from the state. That is huge.”
Blake acknowledged that the plan has gotten a lot of good feedback, and an overwhelming positive response from the community. Telephone interviews found that 74 percent of local residents said they have participated in activities in parks, natural areas or open space areas around Woolwich Township or Swedesboro within the last 12 months. Eighty percent of survey respondents have used Locke Avenue/High Hill Park.
Highly rated activities in the community included youth sports leagues at 81 percent, walking and jogging at 78 percent, festivals and special events at 73 percent, and tot lots/ playgrounds at 71 percent.
Of note may be that 57 percent of respondents felt that no more sports fields were needed in the area.
“None of this is set in stone,” Blake cautioned. “We went out of our way to engage the public. We’ve had an online survey and volunteer groups, and we’ve really been working the media to try to get the word out.”
“Telephone surveys were designed to find some statistically accurate information in both communities.” he added. “Public feedback is so important, because the last thing you want to do is to be proposing and then developing and expending taxpayer dollars on uses that aren’t really a fit, and don’t meet the community’s needs.”
It’s pretty close, but there will be some fine tuning and tweaking to it,” Blake suggested.
The study included doing comparative analysis with similar municipalities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Blake also mentioned the economic growth potential of the community’s plans.
“Exit 2 is the largest undeveloped growth center on the Turnpike, and because of our growth projections, we can also benefit by sharing that with visitors,” Blake projected.
“We are also a destination for agricultural heritage tourism, hayrides, scenic trails, and people visiting vineyards,” he said. “Agricultural heritage tourism is a booming business in New Jersey.”
“We want to create a park like Brandywine and those you see on the Schuylkill River.”
Blake pointed out that Philadelphia just created an expensive trail on the Schuylkill River.
“That’s what brings people to your communities,” he continued. “We’re trying to create a synergy.”
The Open Space and Recreation Plan Survey is still available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Woolwich-Swedesboro-OSRP
The township has entered into a partnership with Simone-Collins Landscape Architecture to create and implement the plan.
A third public meeting, which will include the final plan, will be on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. at the Woolwich Township Municipal Building.