While district slept, park became money-saving fix

Your Turn

Michael Szewczyk Guest Column

Michael Szewczyk
Guest Column

Let Thompson Park in Middlesex County speak for itself. Learn firsthand the origin and great deeds attributed to its namesake. Revisit histories of reliable and respectable county officials with the insight and integrity to defend parkland long before open space became a candidate’s handy buzzword. Examine landscape designs where a contiguous section of recreational ground was not to be compromised by streets, traffic and short-term opportunistic solutions.

Thompson Park was not a whim or flighty idea. County parks are expected to remain permanent family resources. Citizens need to inquire why the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders has permitted Thompson Park to be dragged into a desperate, controversial battle over land custody rights. When politicians boast they really care about protecting county parks in their campaign leaflets, aren’t they obliged to honor those sentiments after Election Day?

The part of Thompson Park in dispute consists of 35 acres, long established and utilized as playing fields, where families frequently exercise their well-deserved pursuit of happy, meaningful moments. The land has an assessed value of $3.5 million, but this is strong cause for suspicions to stir when individuals with self-serving agendas place price tags on public space reserved for every county resident’s recreational freedom and pleasure.

If the 152 acres of combined wooded lands that Monroe currently offers in exchange is worth more than Thompson Park’s huge corner property, then citizens should immediately question why town and school officials are not constructing a new school on any of those sites. Or, why doesn’t Monroe simply sell off that large, valuable acreage and obtain property elsewhere in a district where much land still remains available, but not at bargain-basement prices? They could even consult local developers who cleverly and conveniently buy up tracts of land on which to build homes that consequently increase the district’s student population.

How did a 40-something-year-old county park become a township’s single target solution? Who has been neglecting the educational store in Monroe or burying their heads in sand for the last five-10 years? These questions demand direct, truthful and accountable answers.

Thompson Park overlaps onto Monroe, but it beams, breathes and blooms entirely in Middlesex County, whose residents shoulder the responsibility of supporting and maintaining the grounds. Why not conduct a county vote on the destiny of Thompson Park since it is county funded? Instead, maybe everyone in the state can cast opinions on its fate because once politicians with rubbery backbones sacrifice county parkland, no geographical coordinates in New Jersey are safe from exploitation and forever disappearing.

Why does county parkland have to become the quick, easy and money-saving fix for a school district that lacks proficiency in the planning and preparing of the educational needs with its growing student population? The need for additional school space belonged on the proverbial drawing board to be professionally and reasonably solved several years ago. Thompson Park needs to rightfully continue to be upheld and protected as a vibrant symbol for the common citizen during futile times of eminent domain when shortsighted government overrules with its political fist.

My house is not located across the street from Thompson Park. The park does not appear outside my car windows on the drive home from work or when I head to the grocery store. Nonetheless, I am a hardworking taxpayer, a responsible citizen and a Middlesex County homeowner with trust and faith in past leaders who stood strong on principle in making tough decisions while offering their constituents visions of purpose and hope. I believe the county officials who dedicated the efforts necessary to bestow upon us the priceless gift of Thompson Park created and expected it to be kept intact for endless generations to pass.

If we let Thompson Park speak, we might hear it humbly say, “Let me be your fields of fresh air. Let me be your county park, your people’s park. Let me be the one constant light in your future and your children’s future, too.”

Michael Szewczyk is a resident of South River