Cherry Blossom-themed Facility is First Playground
in Branch Brook Park’s Northern Division


Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced plans to develop a new playground by the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center in Essex County Branch Brook Park on Friday, June 12th. The playground, which is designed with a Cherry Blossom theme and will feature equipment for children ages 2 to 12 years old, is the first playground to be located in Branch Brook Park’s Northern Division.

“With the addition of the Children’s Garden last year and the recent opening of Park Elementary School nearby, there was definitely a need to build a playground to meet the recreational needs of the children in this area. The Cherry Blossom Welcome Center is a year-round focal point of the park and introducing a playground will provide children with new opportunities to enjoy this beautiful open space,” DiVincenzo said. “Playgrounds are important assets to our parks because they provide children with a place to play and exercise. My administration has made modernizing our playgrounds a priority, as well as introducing them in new areas where they are needed,” he added.

The playground will be located adjacent to the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center and the new Children’s Garden that was opened in 2014. It is designed with a cherry blossom theme to match the famous Japanese flowering trees in Essex County Branch Brook Park. A main feature of the playground will be play figures in the shapes of lions and lion cubs on which children will be able to climb. There will be playground apparatus and swing sets appropriate for children ages 2 to 5 and ages 5 to 12, the entire playground will have a rubberized safety surface and the facility will be enclosed with a fence. The project also includes the installation of benches, trash receptacles and drinking fountains. Work is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2015.

Local elected officials and community leaders spoke in favor of the playground and the benefits that it will bring to the neighborhood.

“If you listen to the background music of the children playing at Park Elementary School, you will understand why a playground in this location is so important,” NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said. “We have always had a playground by Route 280 and now we are leveraging our resources to build one here. And I believe it will become the busiest attraction in the park,” she pointed out.

“We all have memories of visiting parks when we were younger. The best memories we take with us forever. The construction of this playground represents an opportunity for children today to create those same memories that they will have in the future,” Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver said.

“This is a great project that will add a new dimension to the park,” Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake said. “It will be a great place for children to connect with the park and engage in recreation and exercise,” she added.

“I am forever grateful that the voters approved a referendum in 1998 to create the Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, which is being used to fund this project,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “People come to our parks because they are beautiful and have such great facilities. This is another example of that,” she added.

“This is a great use of open space. All the families that use this playground will enjoy it,” Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla said. “The County Executive is always coming up with something; he’s the best at that. This will be a wonderful addition to the park,” Freeholder Wayne Richardson said.

“When I talk to our residents, one of the most popular things they ask for in this area is a playground,” Newark North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos said. “Families in the neighborhoods surrounding the park will love the fact that they will have a playground within walking distance of their home,” he pointed out.

“It’s time to get the shovels in the ground so we can get our children playing at this site,” Councilman Luis Quintana said. “I commend the County Executive for making the park such a beautiful site. Things like this bring value to our community and attract people to the neighborhood,” Councilman Carlos Gonzalez said.

“I believe that nature nurtures. What I like best is the combination of the existing Children’s Garden that neighbors the playground. A central location like this will encourage creativity among our children,” Branch Brook Park Alliance Co-President Barbara Bell Coleman said.

During the press conference, students from Park Elementary School performed a song from their school play, “Cinderella.” Students performing were Nancy Oliveira, Melany Subina and Jacqueline Napolitano, under the direction of their Principal Silvia Estevez and music teacher Kristen McKenzie.

Pennoni Associates from Edison received a $51,950 contract to design the playground. Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $603,200 to construct the facility. The Essex County Public Works Department is monitoring the project to answer questions and avoid delays. The playground is being funded with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

Revitalizing Essex County’s Branch Brook Park

The Branch Brook Park Alliance has been the primary partner with Essex County to revitalize Branch Brook Park, which opened in 1895. The Alliance is a public/private partnership organized in 1999 to provide design expertise and funding support to help Essex County restore and revitalize the park. During the last 15 years, more than $50 million of upgrades have been made throughout the Park. Park enhancements have been supported with grants from corporations, the New Jersey Green Acres program, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, philanthropic organizations and community members. In addition, the Alliance has sponsored a variety of programs to clean the waterways, spruce up the park, maintain the cherry tree collection, develop an urban farm, among other activities.

The Barbara Bell Coleman Welcome Center and Concourse Hill upgrades, along with the opening of a two-mile, synthetic surface walking track, renovation of a well in the Park’s Northern Division, the rehabilitation of the Reservoir Walls in the Park’s Southern Division and modernization of the Clifton Avenue basketball courts were completed in 2014. The bronze statue honor the late tennis legend Althea Gibson was dedicated and the 20-court tennis complex named in her honor received a complete makeover in March 2012 and the field house in the tennis complex was renovated in July 2012. The total cost of the tennis court upgrades was $1.5 million.

A multi-phase project to upgrade the lakefront in the Southern Division was completed in April 2012. It included the restoration of the historic Prudential Lions statues and balustrade, the rehabilitation of two buildings for restrooms and public meeting space, updating the music court with new pavers and landscaping. Recently, the Prudential Lions statues were dedicated to retired Prudential Chairman and CEO Arthur Ryan and his wife Pat, Co-Chair of the Branch Brook Park Alliance, for their dedication to restoring the Park. The music court overlooking the lake was dedicated as the “Prudential Concert Grove” to recognize the corporation’s ongoing support to restore the Park, and a memorial cherry tree grove was rededicated in honor of Kiyofumi Sakaguchi, who was President and CEO of Prudential International Insurance at the time of his death. The four phases cost approximately $3.1 million and were funded with a contribution from Prudential Financial and grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

The renovation of the historic Octagon Fieldhouse in the Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex cost $423,900 and was completed in April 2011. Completed in 2010 were a $926,000 project to pave the park roadway, upgrade walking paths, and install historic lighting in the section of the park from the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center to Heller Parkway, the planting of 600 Cherry Trees and other trees throughout Branch Brook Park as part of a $416,889 upgrade and the paving of the park roadway from Mill Street to Washington Street as part of a $680,000 project.

In September 2009, the Middle Division Recreation Complex was renamed as the “Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex,” in honor of the founder of The North Ward Center and Robert Treat Academy. In August 2009, a synthetic surface football/soccer field was constructed for $917,662 and named after NFL Hall of Famer and Barringer High School alumni Andre Tippett. Earlier in 2009, a $2.46 million facelift in the Branch Brook Park Extension was completed. This “demonstration project” enhanced landscaping, added Cherry Trees, improved pathways and modernized entranceways into the park from Franklin Avenue. In addition, a $3 million project to rehabilitate the Bloomfield Avenue Bridge that passes over the Middle Division was finished in April 2009.

An $840,000 renovation of the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center was finished in April 2008 and the building was transformed into a year-round showplace to raise awareness about the Japanese Flowering Cherry Blossom Trees. A replica of the historic Octagon Shelter in the Southern Division of Essex County Branch Brook Park was built for $353,510 and opened in November 2007 and $1.5 million was invested to modernize and reconfigure the baseball field complex known as the “three diamonds” in October 2007. The baseball/softball complex in the Branch Brook Park Middle Division was reopened in April 2005 after an $11 million remediation and modernization project, and the historic restoration of the Park Avenue Bridge was completed in 2005. Entrance enhancements, new fencing and landscaping along Clifton Avenue and Mill Street, and a major improvement project along Lake Street have made the park more inviting.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, a miniature golf course, golf driving range, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Branch Brook Park was created in 1895 and is the first park in Essex County’s system. At 359.72 acres, it is the largest county park in Essex.

Anthony Puglisi
Lauren Shears