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A cheerful energy was evident at the ceremony commemorating yet another collaborative triumph in Camden County at the Cramer Hill Nature Preserve. The preserve is located on the border of Camden City and Pennsauken Township. The combined efforts of Camden County, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), the NJ Infrastructure Bank (NJ I-Bank), the NJ Department of Protection (DEP), the NJ Conservation Foundation (NJCF), and the South Jersey Land & Water Trust (SJLWT), have resulted in an urban oasis with access to the Camden City waterfront, the third in a string of green spaces for the residents of the community to enjoy. A team of Camden's underprivileged youth joined in the efforts as well. They are members of PowerCorps, a subsidiary of AmeriCorps, that puts 30 at risk youth to work maintaining the city's green space. To date, members of this collaboration take credit for Phoenix Park, Gateway Park and now the Cramer Hill Nature Preserve, all riverfront parks. Several of the speakers at the ceremony referenced Monsignor Doyle from the Sacred Heart Parish, who was not present at the commemoration, but has been committed to creating open space, and often observed the importance of connecting a community to its waterfront.
The 35-acre site across from Petty Island took years to clean up. The work, supervised by Michael Hogan, Habitat Assessment and Volunteer Coordinator of the SJLWT, included the removal of over 600 tires, eight to nine dumpsters filled with garbage, ten burnt out cars and the evacuation of a homeless encampment. The Preserve now includes a tidal pond which is home to a beaver lodge and attracts other fauna including Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Red Tailed Hawks, Black & White Warblers, Egrets, Yellow Warblers, turkey and deer. "Decades of research has shown that the more open space that is available to a community, the better that place is to live and work," said Freeholder Jeff Nash, liaison to the Camden County Parks Department. "There is a lush green space in the middle of this urban neighborhood, that the community hasn't been able to access for nearly 30 years. This park restores the public's right to enjoy their land and protect it from illegal activity."
David Zimmer, Executive Director of the NJ I-Bank, a partner in the low-rate Water Bank Program with the DEP, and which provided financing for the project, noted that, "This project represents the third and final leg of a $2.6 million project. Of the $500,000 spent on this specific component, the CCMUA saved over $230,000 or 46% by borrowing through the Water Bank as opposed to private financing. Putting it another way, the community gets to enjoy this beautiful park at 54 cents on the dollar."
The site was formerly home to a sewage treatment plant operated by the CCMUA for more than 40 years. The site has been off-limits since the plant closed in the 1990's and was targeted by illegal dumping and littering for more than 15 years when the CCMUA began clean-up efforts. "We have turned this space from a nuisance into an asset," said Andy Kricun, Executive Director of the CCMUA, reflecting on the tidal fish pond in place of the shuttered waste water treatment plant. "This park is also part of our greening initiative throughout the city, which not only provides open space, but also represents a critical anti-flooding program boasting 60 rain gardens and 125 greened acres diverting over 100 million gallons of water from the City's combined sewer system." The Park has dawn to dusk hours equipped with cameras to deter continued littering, which has been an ongoing concern. Petty Island, directly across from the site is also being preserved to expand outdoor educational opportunities involving the preserve's diverse plant and wildlife. Once completed, the two sites will provide unprecedented access to natural resources in one of the state's most densely populated urban zones.
The combination of green space within Camden's urban environment created a unique opportunity for its underprivileged youth through the PowerCorps program. PowerCorps provides health care, and child care when needed, for youth between 18 and 25 years of age. After six months on the rotation maintaining Camden's green space, the participants are rewarded with scholarship to college.
The Cramer Hill Nature Preserve will continue to be owned and operated by the CCMUA. The Camden County Board of Freeholders and the CCMUA are committed to expanding the County and the City's open space and, with members of the collaborative, will continue to work to enhance the community's quality of life through this public/private partnership. By providing parks like Cramer Hill, the collaborative is reducing flooding, protecting the environment and providing learning opportunities in a natural setting for local residents at the lowest financing costs.
Picture From left to right: David Zimmer (NJ I-Bank), Stephanie Monahan (NJCF), Carmen Rodriguez and Jeffrey Nash (Camden County Freeholders), Olivia Glenn (DEP), Andy Kricun (CCMUA), Michael Hogan ( SJLWT), and Frank McLaughlin (DEP)