Development of park is slow to take shape

Monmouth County bought Marlboro tract from state years ago



MARLBORO – Hidden somewhere between Boundary Road and Route 79 lies 378 acres of empty land. Deer herds graze freely across green fields. Tall grass grows over the rubble of toppled farm buildings. A solitary trail navigates the land. The paved walkway is tattooed with fissures from several years of neglect. Sporadic cyclists serve as the only reminder that the open fields surrounded by trees are in Marlboro.

The area, designated Big Brook Park by the Monmouth County Park System, was purchased by the county from the state in 1997 for $4 million. The land was once part of the former Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital. The former agricultural land has lain dormant since the park system purchased it.

According to the Monmouth County Park System’s Internet Web site, visitation will be encouraged after appropriate amenities such as parking are in place. Laura Kirkpatrick, public information officer for the park system, acknowledges, however, that the situation is a bit more complicated.

“There’s agricultural grade arsenic, a byproduct of farming, on the land,” Kirkpatrick said. “Is it going to be safe to put down a trail? We’re working with the state to determine what are acceptable levels. We should have a conclusion shortly. Our priority is visitor safety.”

Kirkpatrick stressed that Big Brook is currently only a park by name and that there are plans to make the area more visitor friendly, but not in the near future. The park is currently open for public use, but has not been officially opened at this point.

Eventually, the park system would like to convert the area into a regional park, similar to Holmdel Park. Such a designation would require that 20 percent of the park be developed with visitor amenities such as bathrooms and playgrounds, while allowing the other 80 percent to remain undeveloped.

Other hurdles include a number of former farm structures located throughout the park.

“Several of them have been set on fire and we have removed some,” said Kirkpatrick. “I think there are some structures maybe on our demolition list. We don’t plan to keep any of them.”

Currently, the park system is considering expanding Big Brook by another 300 acres. Other plans for the park include the possibility of connecting the current trail on the land to the nearby Henry Hudson trail.

Ryan Mesmer, 22, likes the park just the way it is.

“It’s really quiet here, it’s almost creepy,” said Mesmer, who frequently cycles in the park. “I really can feel like I’m alone out here. I don’t think I want other people to find out about [Big Brook]. Where else are you going to find this much land in Marlboro without houses on it?”