Bride-to-be Suzanne Brown got an early wedding gift when the county refunded the deposit she’d put on the picnic grove she reserved for her summer reception.
In a note with the $35 returned check, the Pennsauken native learned she is among the first to reap the benefits of a new no-fee policy for county residents renting Camden’s parks, ball fields and picnic groves.
Designed to promote use of the county’s 340-acres of open space and recreational facilities, the free access was a pleasant surprise for Brown, who is planning a reception for 100 guests.
“Nobody gives you anything for free anymore,” she said. “It’s definitely a nice thing, especially when you’re putting out a lot of money for a wedding. It’s nice to be able to save where you can.”
The decision to drop fees for local residents was made by the Camden County freeholder board last month.
“The Freeholder Board encourages everyone to take advantage of the facilities in Camden County’s Parks,” said Freeholder Jeffrey L. Nash, the seven-member board’s liaison to the Parks Department. “By allowing individuals to reserve a picnic pavilion or ball field at no charge, we hope that more families will enjoy all that Camden County’s parks have to offer.”
The 20 parks in the Camden County parks system offer facilities for all types of family enjoyment, including picnics, playgrounds, athletic fields, hiking paths and biking trails.
From the dramatic views in Wiggins Waterfront Park in Camden to the natural setting of Timber Creek Park in Gloucester Township, Camden County’s Parks offer something for everyone, county officials boast in their literature.
Permit fees range from $35 to $120 for single events, depending on the number of guests. Last year the county collected about $14,000 in permit fees but the loss of such revenues this year will be offset by people’s enjoyment of the park, Nash said.
“We’re doing this because we want people to take advantage of the beautiful parks,” he said. “We don’t want the fee to be a detriment to people enjoying what we have to offer.”
One of the big users of the parks is Glory Days Sports, an adult recreational program that runs sports leagues for 500 teams in South Jersey.
Mike Del Duke Jr., director of operation for the company, said he was surprised to learn that the county was waiving the $1,700 permit fee this year. He said the company, which regularly donates services and goods to the parks, will make a donation of the permit fee.
“We use quite a few fields and we like to help the parks in whatever way we can,” said Del Duke. “It makes the parks nicer.”
He said the fee waiver is a great idea.
“I think it will give the general public a better chance to use the fields,” he said. “It encourages the public to enjoy the parks for family reunions or a game of softball.”
County officials say they’ve gotten numerous calls and letters thanking them for the refunds.
Among them was Ora Byers, who is hosting a family reunion in Cooper River Park.
“It was a wonderful surprise to learn the permit fee had been waived,” Byers wrote. “The heartfelt gratitude for this goes beyond words. Thank you!”
Cooper River Park, one of the signature parks in the county park system, spans more than 340 acres across four municipalities, and features the largest children’s playground of any county park, an 18-hole miniature golf course, the Camden County Golf Academy, the Camden County Boathouse and a 3.7 mile loop utilized by walkers, runners and bikers every day.
Although permit fees have been waived, residents will still be asked to apply for park-use permits to ensure the facilities they are requesting are available.