To the Editor:

In 1609, as Henry Hudson’s ship the Half Moon sailed north along the coast and entered the Raritan Bay, the crew marveled at the natural beauty of landscape and rivers inspiring crewmember Robert Juet to write in the ship’s journal “This is a very good Land to fall with, and a pleasant Land to see”.

That first bucolic vision of Monmouth County has been a constant reminder to our Monmouth County Freeholders who have created, supported and implemented a strategic plan that calls for the preservation and protection of our open space and waterfront access while establishing and maintaining one of the finest County parks in the nation.  

Since her election to the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders in 2005, Freeholder Director Lillian Burry has been the front-line leader of Monmouth County’s open space mission.  Freeholder Burry’s passion and commitment to open space and our parks has inspired us and the entire Freeholder Board.   It is about the quality of life in Monmouth County where we live.   It is about vision.  Monmouth County Parks has just passed the 17,000 acre milestone with thousands of other acres in farmland preservation where Freeholder Burry has provided decades of leadership.

Freeholder Burry is determined to get the Monmouth County quality of life message out to the public and called for better websites, improved communication with the public and advertising. 

https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?Id=2483

A relatively new and fabulous project that Freeholder Burry, Freeholder Arnone and Freeholder Curley spearheaded, the Swimming and Navesink River Greenway, encompasses Tinton Falls, Colts Neck, Middletown, Shrewsbury, Red Bank, Fair Haven and Rumson.   A combination of municipal cooperation, grant projects and outright riverfront land purchases have addressed our many neighbors who have embraced kayaking, crew boats, canoeing, paddle boarding and access to the rivers.  Swimming River Park is a new park at the former Chris’s Landing on West Front Street in Middletown that will have kayak and small boat launch and areas for programs.  Great crabbing too!

Other greenways experiencing expansion under the direction of Freeholders Burry, Rich, Arnone, Curley and DeMisa include:   Shark River Park, Manasquan River Greenway, Metedeconk Greenway, the Crosswicks Creek Greenway and Bear Swamp in Howell.  Hiking and biking trails now run from Highlands to Keyport to Freehold. Freeholder Arnone has been working for many years to save our rivers and keep them environmentally healthy and navigable.  Freeholder Burry welcomed and embraced this “save the rivers” idea.

In the northwest corner of Monmouth, Monmouth County is in the process of piecing together parcels of property that will become a premier regional park embraced by residents of Keyport, Matawan-Aberdeen and Marlboro.   The residents of this densely-populated area have embraced the plan.  Freneau Woods is now open and growing.

In Long Branch, Asbury Park and along our coast, the Freeholders have opened new doors and dialogue in renewed efforts to provide parks, open space and recreation programs in our densely-populated urban areas.  Freeholder Burry was actively involved in the construction of Sunset Park in Asbury which was built by Asbury with help from municipal grants administered by the Parks and Freeholders.

There are challenges in some coastal areas including limited public beach access, perceived needs for both preservation and ratables and mixed messages from local officials with different but legitimate differences of opinions about priorities.   Yet the Monmouth County Freeholders have still provided municipal grants, new urban recreation programs and have kept the dialogue going forward for potential parks, additional beach access and level of County participation.

Can’t forget the affordable and pristine Seven President’s Park.  Veterans and children now (thanks to all the Freeholders) go free all season.  The season passes are very affordable and the incredibly busy skate park has been renovated and is free for our youth.  Tired of laying on the beach, how about trying a bit of golf at one of the eight courses or foot golf or the spray park in Dorbrook in Colts Neck.  Maybe just walk the trails or bike and hike Huber, Hartshorne, Turkey Swamp, Crosswicks Creek or make some clay pots or learn yoga at Thompson Park.

Finally, Freeholder Burry and her fellow freeholders are committed to salvage some good from the crushing economic blow of the federal closing of Fort Monmouth including the retention of the golf course, the construction of Commvault Corporate Headquarters which has retained jobs and the repurposing of the fabulous Fort Monmouth Recreation Center from military to civilian use.  Freeholder has led the charge on this repurposing and Monmouth County Parks were able to obtain a top-of-the-line first class recreational facility for free.  This year the pool has been improved and there is a gym, commercial kitchen, art and activity rooms and outside facilities.

As a lifelong proponent of open space, beach and waterfront access, I have had the privilege of serving as a Monmouth County Park Commissioner for twenty five years.   Over that time I have met many thousands of people who take pride in our park system.  Sure many have suggestions and requests for new programs, but almost unanimously people are patting us on the back and saying “good job and keep it up”.   

While the staff of the MCPS, our many wonderful volunteers, the Recreation Commissioners and the Monmouth County Freeholders graciously accept the compliments, fundamental lessons to remember include high expectations, perpetual commitment to improvements and efficiency and above all serving Monmouth County citizens and our five million yearly visitors, 365 days a year.  Our Monmouth County parks are open every day of the year and our Freeholders never seem to stop working on our behalf. 

While Monmouth County residents are proud of our parks, there is always more work to do.   Remaining large and strategic river and waterfront parcels need to be considered for open space – preferable to more condo projects, parking lots and strip malls, at least in my opinion.

Monmouth County is a work in process. To continue that progress, I urge the readers to support and vote for Freeholder Lillian Burry.  Then take some time to smell the flowers at Deep Cut Park.

Mike Harmon
Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Mike Harmon is a Monmouth County Park Commissioner for the last twenty seven years, a former Mayor and Councilman in Atlantic Highlands, a CPA and a forensic accountant.