William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (March 12, 2021)--We received a letter from a Gloucester City resident complaining about the condition of the jogging track at Johnson Blvd. and Klemm Avenue. Included with the letter were a number of photos that show the deteriorated walkway along with vandalized monuments.
It was built in the 1960s on a landfill that was once all swampland. It encompasses approximately 20 acres.
When it opened the track, which was constructed in a wide circle, had benches erected along the pathway and there were evergreen trees and shrubs planted at different locations. One section of the track runs parallel to nearby Newton Creek. But, because the embankment was taken over by vegetation the creek is not visible.
Over the last two decades, the City has tried off and on to maintain it but from all appearances, it seems they have given up. And, as a result Mother Nature has slowly taken it back one piece at a time.
The resident, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote the following:
Bill, If you have not taken a walk around the path in a while I encourage you to come on down. I warn you, it is horrendous. The condition of the path, and monument areas are deplorable. Can you please tell me who is responsible for this area of our city. I know we are just coming out of winter, but the path has been in this condition for some time now. I understand that the city is looking to make some progress at Freedom Pier and the river front area. Is it too much to ask for the city to maintain to some degree this area.
Here are a few photos of the area. Included is a photo of the plaque from a gazebo donated by the Highland Park Volunteer Fire Association which is not there. Also, the water fountain which was placed at the Lions Club memorial has been destroyed. It may be hard to see but parts of the track itself are breaking up because of erosion, and other parts of the pathway were broken up purposely for some kind of drainage work. However, after the drainage work was completed the asphalt that was removed was never repaired.
When we were doing research for an article about the Fort Nassau playground, which was built in the 1990s on the same ground as the jogging track, we spoke with Bill Yeager. Known as Wibby, he lived in the nearby neighborhood from the time he was a youngster up until he was an adult. After he retired he moved to Delaware. As a teenager, he trapped muskrats and snapper turtles in the same swamp that the track was built on.
"Before that area could be used for anything the swamp had to be filled in," said Yeager, who died in 2017 at the age of 80.
"Dump truck after dump truck loaded with every kind of trash you could imagine was used to cover over the swampy ground. I am talking about broken concrete, glass, old pieces of metal and iron, old rubber tires, asbestos shingles, and insulation from the old GAF factory on Water Street. Plus garbage, lumber, and truckloads of sheetrock from a factory in nearby Camden City. "
"When I first saw the construction crew laying down the asphalt track, I thought to myself good luck with that project. I knew what was underneath the dirt that they were building it on and thought eventually the swamp would claim the ground sometime in the future. Which it did."
Yeager said the swamp was also on the other side of Klemm Avenue adjacent to Johnson Blvd. "Klemm Avenue was a dirt road when I was a kid. "Stu and Jean Weisgerber built a home on that swampland, which was also filled in with the same time of trash. When I heard that the EPA had condemned that plot of the ground because radon was discovered on it I wasn't surprised. As you know Stu died from cancer; they tore down his beautiful home in the 90s so they could excavate the radon."
Whenever there is heavy rain or snow the area fills up with water. The city has spent thousands of dollars trying to fix the flooding but they are fighting a losing battle. (CNBNew photo)
On February 6, 2007, newly elected Mayor William James, was asked if he had time to decide what to do with the Fort Nassau playground that was built by volunteers a few yards from the jogging track. Over $100,000 was donated for the construction of it and any money left over was to be used for maintenance.
Stagnant water near the entrance of the jogging track (CNBNews photo)
James said, “The original idea to construct it was good but another site should have been chosen. It was built on a landfill. In recent years the pilings have started to sink. To make upgrades would cost between $7,000 and $11,000."
"In the not too distant future, there will be some Brown Fields environmental work in that area. Then there is the problem with vandals. We had a guard patrol the playground between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. and the juvenile delinquents were still finding ways to destroy it," James said.
“The problems to keep it are just too many. We are discussing a plan to fix up Martins Lake park at Baynes, Sparks, and Brown Streets. We have new equipment to put there already, it would be easier to maintain, and easier to protect from vandals. We are still talking about it, but a decision will be made soon,” he said.
Several years later it was demolished.
Brian Morrell, Acting Gloucester City Administrator, and Gloucester City Police Chief was asked if Mayor and Council were aware of the condition of the jogging track? And, if so what were they going to do with it?
Morrell said, "To repair the jogging track is going to be very costly. Plus there is an ongoing problem of erosion at that site. A few weeks ago, Mayor and Council authorized the City Engineer, Pennoni, to review the condition of the tracks and make a recommendation for upgrades and repair. Simultaneously, the City is aggressively pursuing potential grants/funding opportunities to make the necessary repairs to the jogging track. This has been identified as a priority project and is in the beginning design and funding phase. We are very optimistic there will be an opportunity to repair/replace the existing track in the near future."
BILLS OPINION On Ft. Nassau Playground