Growth in South Jersey community Woolwich Township, N.J. has been unprecedented over the past ten years. Statistics from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission regarding projected population growth of Gloucester County communities shows that the population of Woolwich is forecast to grow by 12,898 from 2010 to 2040.
In other words, an increase of 127 percent. Woolwich had 10,200 people in 2010, and is anticipated to hold 23,098 by 2040. These figures have not gone unnoticed by community officials.
But research determined that Woolwich and the borough of Swedesboro both lack trails and sidewalks. “We’re very deficient in terms of creating bicycle lanes and trails for the township,” said Woolwich Director of Community Development Matt Blake.
So Woolwich Township asked Simone-Collins Landscape Architecture to develop a plan to improve connections between parks and recreational facilities between the two communities.
After eight months of meetings on the project, planning consultants Peter Simone and Jared Lowman presented their final plan to both communities on December 10. It calls for new walking and biking trails and even new park facilities. For example, Swedesboro Auction Park could get a performance stage and community garden.
Complete development proposed under this plan could take 20 to 25 years. Development would be based on available funding, willing partnerships, community interest, municipal priorities, actual community growth, recreation trends, and property acquisitions.
“None of this is set in stone,” said Blake with Woolrich Township. “We went out of our way to engage the public. We’ve had an online survey and volunteer groups, and we’ve really been working the media to try to get the word out.”
“Telephone surveys were designed to find some statistically accurate information in both communities.” he added. “Public feedback is so important, because the last thing you want to do is to be proposing and then developing and expending taxpayer dollars on uses that aren’t really a fit, and don’t meet the community’s needs.”
Phone interviews found that the highest number of survey respondents have used Locke Avenue/High Hill Park in the past 12 months. Highly rated activities in the community included youth sports leagues at 81 percent, walking and jogging at 78 percent, festivals and special events at 73 percent, and tot lots/ playgrounds at 71 percent.
As far as funding, last fall Woolwich’s residents approved a public question that allowed the community to use part of its five-cent open space preservation tax on park development ideas.
“When you do a local purpose tax, it’s smart to be a little more inclusive,” Blake observed. “Including acquisition and maintenance allows you to get matching funds from the state. If you have an open space plan and you have a dedicated tax, you can get a 50 percent cost share from the state. That is huge.”
Simone pointed out that Woolwich Township had been very successful in obtaining grants from the state, and mentioned that the Green Acres program was coming back. But he said the municipality would not force any unwilling private property owners to sell.
“If we have none of these privately owned areas included, it’s still an ambitious plan,” Simone noted. “If a community’s will doesn’t move it forward, it won’t happen.”
Some of the 30 people attending the December meeting questioned the maintenance of the proposed new trails. Woolwich Township Mayor Sam Maccarone responded to those concerns saying “Our parks are well maintained….If we are addressed with a situation, we correct it.”