State gives Byram park improvements go-ahead

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    BYRAM-Anyone hoping these days to sit idly and watch the grass grow in Byram better think twice. John Pappalardo, the Byram recreation committee chairman, believes it's almost impossible to grow grass at all on any of the township's already stretched recreational fields. "Our facilities are being used extensively," he said. "And, all at the same time." No wonder Byram officials were happy to learn this week that the state had given the township exemption from the Highlands preservation act that would have prevented the go-ahead with plans to begin $1.5 million in upgrades to C.O. Johnson Park off Roseville Avenue. "We're running out of space," said Pappalardo. "We're growing. We need more baseball fields, more soccer fields." The recently enacted legislation set forth strict regulations on development of commercial and park projects within the Highlands region because it provides drinking water for about half of the state. Byram is among six towns in the entirely preserved region, which includes thousands of acres in the northwest part of the state. Greg Poff, township manager, said Byram can now act on plans for the park, which include a new "collegiate-sized" soccer field and inline roller skating rink, improved irrigation and parking, and renovated tennis courts. He said work including clearing trees and excavating could begin as early as next month. "This will go a long way toward meeting the recreational needs of the town," said Poff. "This will be a nice addition to what already is a great facility. It's the premier recreational facility in town." Poff said Byram was awarded $500,000 from the state Green Acres program and the township council authorized another $1.5 million for the sale of bonds to the public to fund the improvements. About 1,000 people visit the park throughout the year, Poff said. But football in the fall, and baseball and soccer in the spring, is the way Pappalardo best describes the township's use of C.O. Johnson Park the past couple of years. He said times are changing for the better. "Everyone wants their own sport, even the senior citizens want walking paths," said Pappalardo. "I'd rather see the park used all-year round." Pappalardo said the township is working with officials in Netcong and Stanhope to develop plans to share each other's facilities. He said future additions to C.O. Johnson Park may include a pavilion for outdoor concerts and a skateboarding park. "It's nice to dream," said Pappalardo. "We've got to offer these things. It's great for the area and it's what the people are asking for."