Earlier this year, the town of Princeton set up an ‘Open Space Advisory Committee’, to look at how best to maintain our protected woodlands and green areas. On Monday night, committee chair Wendy Mager presented a new report from the 12-member task force to Council. The report contains recommendations for the town about how to improve trails and manage invasive species, but Council members seemed skeptical about implementing all the proposals.
Princeton’s passive open space areas total over 1,100 acres. These are parks in a mostly-natural state, as opposed to recreation areas with playing fields. Some of the open space areas listed in the report are well-known, such as Marquand Park in the former Borough. But many residents would probably struggle to locate the 35-acre ‘Fieldwood’ park, in part because there are no trails running through it. Trails in other Princeton parks are often in very poor condition. Several trails in the Woodfield Reservation (pictured above) are more suited to hoofed animals than people on foot, and residents of reduced mobility find it even harder to explore open space areas. Elected officials acknowledged that the town had acquired open space without thinking about how to maintain it. As Mayor Lempert said “there’s a recognition that we do need to be spending on stewardship”.
The Passive Open Space Committee’s report made a number of recommendations, inducing the proposal that a new ‘Director of Open Space’ should be hired. This new staff member would prioritize the town’s efforts in looking after parks, and coordinate the efforts of volunteer groups (such as ‘Friends of Herrentown Woods‘) who work to preserve access and manage problems that arise after storms or because of pest species. Another recommendation was that revenue from the town’s Open Space Tax should be dedicated to maintaining open space, as opposed to current practice, which is to use some of the funds to pay crews involved in street tree maintenance.
In response, town administrator Mark Dashield suggested that the town might be able to improve parks using existing departmental staff, and advised that the town should hire a consultant to detail how this might be achieved. This proposal seemed to find favor among the Council members. Council member Patrick Simon also pushed Mager for more details about the costs of the proposals in the report. He argued that maintenance of street trees was an appropriate use of the Open Space money, because the condition of street trees had more direct bearing on public safety. According to Council Member Simon, dedicating Open Space funds strictly for Open Space should only happen as a result of a referendum of residents in the town.
A resident asked why the existing Board of Parks and Recreation focuses mainly on ‘Recreation’, to the extent that parks are often neglected. Sadly, it seems that although many local residents like the idea of having more parks and open space, money is tight when it comes to providing for professional stewardship.
To watch the discussion about Open Space, see the video of the Council meeting, below. (1:00’45” – 1:36’00”).