Officials break down details of new Open Space Plan

Open Space Advisory Committee members Leon Lakritz, Vicky Binetti weigh in on what to expect

Washington Township has adopted the Open Space Advisory Committee’s updated Open Space and Recreation plan as an amendment to the master plan.

“What the updated plan does is [it] updates the history of what’s been accomplished in terms of acquiring open space since 2001,” Vicky Binetti, board member of the Open Space Advisory Committee, said. “What the township has managed to acquire and take care of, what we call open space estate, accumulated open spaces.”

“It was necessary,” Leon Lakritz, chair of the Open Space Advisory Committee, said. “If we didn’t update it, we wouldn’t be entitled to Green Acres Funds.”

“Up to now, we spent over $20 million for Open Space, and this year we got $7.7 million from the state and $6.7 million from the county. The remainder, about $7 million, we paid for from Open Space funds,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation. We’re collecting two-thirds or more of the money, not from the local taxpayer, but from the state. We have to stay within the program.”

Another aspect of the updated plan is to provide recommendations on what to do with the open space.

“One of the easier things we’ve done is the bluebird boxes,” Binetti said. “Some of the more time-intensive and larger-scope items are the improvements in Washington Lake Park around the larger Washington Lake, improving the trails there, which will go through this year into next year.”

One of the most important things the plan will do, in Lakritz’ opinion, is the updating of the trails at Washington Lake Park.

“One of the biggest things we want to do is [with the help of four interns from Rowan University] modernize the trail system,” he said. “We’re trying to make our trails a learning experience.”

Lakritz described an example of what one could expect on a trail in Washington Lake Park. “There will be signs, if there’s a holly tree, the sign will show a photograph of the holly and tell you where they grow and what benefits they have,” he said. “There will be placards near invasive species that tell how they came to be in the first place, why they’re a problem and how they’re forcing out native plants and what damage they can do.”

“I envision this enhanced information on the trails making the park an open-air museum,” Lakritz said.

Some other recommendations are improvements with a new baseball complex, a grant application for a community forestry program and expanded bike trails with help from the county and township.

At its core, the revised plan will be akin to a map to follow for the members of the open space committee.

“It’s always good to have a plan to lay out your strategy for what you want to accomplish, it gives us a roadmap to follow,” Binetti said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything, it doesn’t mean we won’t depart from it if we need to, but it gives us the roadmap to accomplish our goals. It leads us on the path to where we need to get to.”

“Open spaces are here for the community’s enjoyment, their health and quality of life,” she added. “We hope the plan helps us to deliver in all of those measures.”

The Open Space Committee meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building.