Burlington County’s plan to further enhance its newest park is expected to get a boost from $1 million in state Green Acres funding.
Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced the $1 million grant award for Willingboro Lakes last week as part of $100 million in proposed park improvements across the state.
Located off Route 130 and Beverly-Rancocas Road, Willingboro Lakes already has numerous amenities, including fishing piers, a playground, small-group pavilion and close to three miles of interior hiking trails. Burlington County expects to use the state funding as part of its Phase II enhancement plans, which include constructing additional parking and boardwalks within the 105-acre site.
The $1 million award is expected to cover about 50 percent of the proposed improvement costs.
“Burlington County is known for our beautiful landscapes and outstanding recreational facilities and these Green Acres funds will help further enhance them,” said Burlington County Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson. “Willingboro Lakes just opened last year and is already a go-to location for outdoor recreation, nature watching, picnics and family fun. This grant will help make the park even more accessible and appealing.”
“We can’t say thank you to Governor Murphy and his administration enough for this support,” Hopson added.
Burlington County applied for its grant through Green Acres’ Urban Parks program, which is dedicated to funding park improvements and historic preservation projects in communities with low-income or minority households.
The proposed new wood-plank boardwalks are expected to enhance the existing trails through the property and provide additional opportunities to view wildlife.
More than 100 different birds and 40-plus species of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies have been sighted within the preserved tract, along with other animals such as turtles, frogs, deer, muskrats and foxes.
The additional parking is expected to be constructed near the park entrance off Beverly-Rancocas Road or near the two additional lakes, which were created at the turn of the twentieth century from the sand mining that once occurred on the property.
After mining operations ended there, the site became a popular commercial recreational destination known as Olympia Lakes before falling into disrepair and becoming a target for residential development in the 1990s.
Burlington County transformed the site into its thirteenth County Park after originally partnering with Willingboro to purchase the property in 1997. Willingboro made some improvements before later transferring the property to the County in 2011.
Burlington County Commissioner Linda Hynes, who serves as the Board’s liaison to the County Department of Resource Conservation and Parks, said the proposed state funding would help make the park even more attractive and accessible.
“Willingboro Lakes has already proven to be a fantastic addition to our parks system, but we believe we can make what is already a great park even better,” Hynes said.
The proposed Green Acres funding awards are being put forward by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to the Garden State Preservation Trust to review. Afterwards, the plan will be sent to the New Jersey Legislature to approve.
State Senators Troy Singleton and Dawn Marie Addiego promised to work with their legislative colleagues to make sure the funding recommendations become law.
“Every resident, regardless of zip code, deserves access to healthy recreation and natural outdoor spaces, and Willingboro Lakes offers up plenty of both,” Singleton said. “It’s a special place and this proposed grant will help our county make additional improvements so more people can enjoy it. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to cement this funding into law.”
In addition to the County’s grant award, Murphy also recommended Evesham Township to receive $50,000 for improvements to the trails and trailheads within the 1,300-acre Black Run Preserve, and Pemberton Township is slated to receive a $915,000 grant and $285,000 loan for additional sports lighting at the Pemberton Sports Complex and the Nesbit Park.
“Burlington County is home to some of our state’s best parks and grants such as these will help our county, Evesham and Pemberton make improvements that will make them even more inviting,” Addiego said. “Approving these recommendations should become a top priority once the Senate reconvenes.”
“We’re also thankful for the funding for Evesham and Pemberton that will help make improvements to two of those towns’ most popular destinations,” said Hopson.