Students aid in shining light on Camden park

Originally from the Courier Post

CAMDEN – In a January 2012 Courier-Post article, Father Jud Weiksnar told a reporter he considered making a documentary about Von Nieda Park in Camden. Its name? “The Nation’s Most Depressing Park.”

A year and a half later, however, student leaders from the Von Nieda Park Task Force at St. Anthony of Padua Parish are working with Weiksnar on slowly transforming the Cramer Hill park into a safer and more enjoyable place for all.

The student task force, consisting of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Anthony of Padua School, meet monthly with city and county officials, as well as Camden residents, to improve the park and the city. The students also meet regularly to clean and maintain the park, long plagued with litter, vandalism and flooding.

According to Weiksnar, the pastor at St. Anthony, the students are acting as community volunteerswho organize the monthly meetings by themselves. Friday’s meeting focused on lights for the park, as well as various other topics concerning the park.

“We had a whole agenda regarding policing, lighting, flooding and recycling,” Weiksnar said. “A lot of neighbors are upset about the problems in and around the park.”

The most pressing concerns include flooding and the lack of policing in the park, according to Weiksnar.

One of the Student Task Force leaders, Nel Maris, a ninth-grader at Camden Catholic, said “the meeting went great” and that the city and county officials are going to install lights at the park.

“They are still trying to approve the lights because they need bids,” Maris said. “They want to award the contract next month.”

Camden County spokesman Dan Keashen confirmed that.

“The lighting project is moving forward and should be awarded in this upcoming July freeholders’ meeting,” he said. “We’re in good shape to have the lights in by the end of the summer.”

Once the award is made, he added, the county will be able to install lighting fixtures on the basketball and tennis courts.

PSE&G also will be installing lighting fixtures around the perimeter of the park.

Meanwhile, the City of Camden is also making progress on the flooding problem. According to spokesman Robert Corrales, after a heavy rain, it takes anywhere from a few hours to a few days for the park to completely drain.

“The city is working on the flooding infrastructure to prevent flooding in the area,” Corrales said. “We’re in the middle of finalizing the design and the environmental approval.”

Camden is working with the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership to complete the Von Nieda Park Stormwater Management and Park Improvement Project. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are funding the $1.3 million project.

According to the Cooper’s Ferry website, “the project will mitigate flooding by constructing improvements to the underground drainage infrastructure, as well as developing a surface stormwater management strategy. Additionally, the project will improve the quality and safety of the park by adding additional recreational amenities.”

Even though the project is going to take a few months, Corrales said the park will remain open during the process.

“We’re addressing this issue and making sure the park is enjoyable all year long,” he said.

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