Plans for Belle Haven focus on natural features

Staff Writer

RED BANK — There has once again been a change in the design of Belle Haven, a nature area/park on the borough’s west side.

The vision for Belle Haven, located at the foot of Locust Avenue along the Swimming River, has seen several iterations over the past years, and currently an educational component is being considered as part of the mix.

“We have an opportunity to take this area, which we had designated as just a playground, and make it an educational facility to bring in equipment that is made of natural materials that fit the environment and don’t stick out like a sore thumb,” said Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer during the Nov. 9 Borough Council meeting.

Also to be added to the park’s design is educational signage that will inform parkgoers about the environment.

Among the features on the drawing board are climbing towers that would allow people who visit the park to see local wildlife, such as eagle nests.

Existing nature paths in the park will be preserved.

The new features are expected to cost $500,000 and will be paid for by a $250,000 matching grant from state Department of Environment Protection to the borough.

According to Schwabenbauer, council liaison to the Parks and Recreation Committee, the $150,000 that had been slated for a spray park feature at Belle Haven would be used for environmentally friendly playground equipment.

Mayor Pasquale Menna said the environmentally friendly playground equipment is often more expensive than regular equipment even though it is little more than a change in color.

“My understanding is that the environmentally friendly equipment is natural colors versus synthetic colors and maybe a little bit of aluminum versus real wood at a cost of maybe, I believe, 60 percent higher,” said Menna.

“That’s a lot of money for taxpayers to pay for something that is 300 feet, or less, large. That’s just something to consider because we have to be very cautious.”

During the public comment section of the meeting, Kate Triggiano, an alternate on the Red Bank Environmental Commission, addressed the mayor’s comments.

“Just to clarify, there is more of a difference between natural playground equipment than one being made out of colorful metal and being made out of more natural ecofriendly material. The difference being how children play on them,” said Triggiano referencing studies that natural playground equipment helps children’s motor skills and allows children to get more involved in the play equipment.

Triggiano also contested Menna’s claim that the new equipment would cost the taxpayers more money.

“Isn’t it being paid for through a grant? So it would be unfair to tell the taxpayers to be warned that it would cost more for natural play equipment,” said Triggiano.

Menna responded, “As [former] councilman John Curley would always say from this bench, ‘It doesn’t make any difference who pays the bill, ultimately, if it’s the state, the county or the local taxpayers, it’s still coming out of your pocket.’

“We realized that although everyone had agreed that we needed a playground on the west side we actually had an opportunity here to do something really great,” said Schwabenbauer.

“We have an amazing natural habitat there which, without an access point, is completely impenetrable to children, to adults, to anybody.”

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