While NJ Spotlight is on summer hiatus, we’ve made sure you won’t lack for intriguing reading. We’ve put together a series of Snapshots of New Jersey, a close look at some of the varied and vibrant places that make up the Garden State — from Wildwood to Montague and Barnegat Bay to Teaneck. Enjoy. We’ll be back August 28.
I grew up in New York City and was always impressed by the number of parks and playgrounds in my neighborhood — that is, until I moved to Teaneck. Located in Bergen County just six minutes from the George Washington Bridge, this sprawling township has been my home for more than 25 years. Some 40,000 people share the town with me, along with 25 town parks and a county park. And this does not include the high school, two middle schools, and four elementary schools — each with its own play area. A total of 634 acres of parkland in a town of 3,986 acres, that’s almost 16 percent of the total land. That puts a park within a few blocks of just about every part of town.
I am not just talking about a play area here and a ball field there. The parks are exceptionally diverse. There are passive natural recreation areas, like the Senator Matthew Feldman Nature Preserve. Nearly 15 acres of forest, which acts as a home to various animals, it is, by design, largely inaccessible. It is a protected natural habitat in the most densely populated county in the state.
There also is a fairly new park called the Teaneck Creek Conservancy (TCC). Established less than 10 years ago, this once neglected wetland was literally reclaimed from a trash heap. A brownfield-to-greenfield conversion, the TCC is a subsidiary of the Puffin Foundation (a philanthropic family foundation in Teaneck).
Forty-six acres of what was once largely a dump have been transformed into an eco-art park. Now, the TCC is home to over a mile of trails through the northernmost edge of the New Jersey Meadowlands. This hypercritical ecosystem defines where the wetlands end and the upland forest begins. These inter-zones attract migratory birds and butterflies and assorted mammals. A great place to just relax, the conservancy has a butterfly garden, a contemplative labyrinth, and an artistic surprise around every turn.
The township also lies along the eastern shores of the rejuvenated Hackensack River. To celebrate the river, a 3.5-mile patchwork greenway has been cobbled together from three large parks and the main campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. You can walk most of the way along the banks of the river. A canoe launch is being explored by the township, though many simply drop their boats in at Andreas Park. At the north end of the greenway, in Brett Park, the trail ends at the historic New Bridge Landing. A national treasure, this is the spot where George Washington’s troops crossed the Hackensack River in their escape from the British, at the start of the American Revolution. Some claim that if his troops had not successfully made the crossing, we would be serving tea instead of coffee.
If active recreation is your thing, Teaneck’s got two public and one private swimming pool, 19 public tennis courts, and a county golf course — for starters. For kids, there are two Little League divisions, junior soccer, club baseball, soccer, junior basketball, football, and flag football. The Richard Rodda Center, headquarters for the Recreation Department, offers two full gymnasiums for basketball and indoor soccer. It houses adult and senior programs, such as swimming, golf lessons, and Tai Chi.
Across the way from the Rodda Center is Teaneck’s 40-acre central park, Milton Votee. It has a roller skating area, bandshell, picnic area, two full basketball courts, a fully accessible playground, and a walking trail. A state-of-the art turf soccer complex is under construction (expected to open by summer 2013). The park also boasts a junior football field, three baseball fields, and yet another soccer field. Just thinking about the myriad of activities can be exhausting.
Let’s not forget the vegetables. The town’s Community Garden and greenhouse lets residents grow their own. Teaneck is committed to being green. It is a designated tree city and has miles of bicycle trails. If you love trees, you will want to visit the Arboretum Area in Phelps Park. Named after a former congressman who owned most of Teaneck in the late 1800s, William Walter Phelps was an active arborist who planted over 500,000 trees on his property many of which survive today.
The community is very involved in the township. The council meetings are always well attended, and residents regularly offer new ideas for recreation. For example, an old public pool is being converted to a dog park, an idea initiated by a pet-loving citizen. All of the sports organizations are run by volunteers, and there is a tradition of environmental that which helps guide development.
Ultimately, Teaneck isn’t just about parks and preserves. It’s about people who love to get out and play.