Dam Site 21
The Mercer County Park Commission is planning and researching potential park improvements to Dam Site 21, a 370-acre location in Robbinsville, West Windsor, and Hamilton townships, and adjacent to Mercer County Park. As part of this planning process, the Park Commission seeks to gain input from County residents to “design a unique passive recreation park with a focus on the lake” to provide residents with the “opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of this special property,” according to a Park Commission release. The funds for this restoration process are derived from the Open Space Preservation Trust Fund.
Dam Site 21 was planned as part of the Assunpink Creek Watershed Water Works Plan in the early 1960s, the County’s approach to reduce flood damage and develop water resources in the Assunpink Watershed. The land of Dam Site 21 was bought in the 1970s, and the dam was built in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service (SCS). Since then, the land has been held and used for permanent recreation and conservation of water resources.
Within Dam Site 21, the lake is around 55 acres, and the nearby area is comprised of undeveloped uplands, wetlands, woodlands, and open fields. A portion of the Capital to Coast Trail runs along the northern side of the lake from Line Road in Robbinsville to Old Trenton Road in West Windsor.While the area is used by public for fishing and hiking activities, there is currently limited access and amenities.
Around a year ago, the Park Commission began considering revisions to the site to incorporate new ideas. As a first step, the County released a request for qualifications from landscape architects and engineering firms. After reviewing applications and interviews from 13 submissions, the County chose Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, a “somewhat local firm that has deep experience in park planning projects like this one,” said Park Commissioner Anthony Cucchi.
The County also chose to partner with Princeton Hydro, an environmental solutions firm that will be studying the park by analyzing storm weather readiness, water quality, and factors related to the lake, in order to identify opportunities for restoration. The firm will also be delineating wetlands to determine where trails can be feasible, and conducting a topographical survey to understand where specific amenities should be placed. “The Park Commission and County are excited to partake in a planning process to revision the site and consider other ways that it can be utilized beyond flood control,” Cucchi said.
One concern in building this park has been the property of residents living adjacent to Dam Site 21. Since this land has been informally used by nearby residents for decades, the formalization and renovation process may cause changes for those that live closeby. Specifically, the County and contracted firms will be conducting a boundary survey to determine where Dam Site 21 ends and private property begins.
While Cucchi highlighted the benefits of having a park being built nearby, he acknowledged this concern and that “the neighbourhood should have a voice in the process. We see this as a wonderful opportunity, not only for the Mercer County greater area, but the particular residents nearby.”
Towards this goal, the Park Commission will be facilitating four different tiers of input. The first tier is advisory committees, which will consist of representatives from municipalities and institutional landowners like the Mercer County Community College, in order to obtain feedback about how park renovations will relate to nearby communities. The second tier is focus group interviews, one of which was held on February 19th at the Boathouse at Mercer Lake, where stakeholders such as nearby residents and nonprofits are invited to provide their input on the renovations. The third tier includes one-on-one interviews with experts and professionals on matters relating to the site. Lastly, the fourth tier will be general public meetings, with the first one on March 7th at MCCC.
These varying levels of input will be collected and compared with the studies done by the contracted firms to decide what measures are feasible, and how the park can provide different amenities than the nearby Mercer County Park. This input process is part of the larger master plan phase, which will be presented to the Park Commissioners in October for feedback and approval. While actual construction is not likely until after 2019, Cucchi emphasized the importance of having a longer but more transparent process.
“Everyone from the County Executives to the Park Commissioners are committed to a transparent process that gets the best and brightest to the table to feed their ideas to us. Technically, we can move forward without that input, and design, but in the long-run, we’ll come up with a much better product if we seek that civic engagement and public input. As far as excitement, we’re really excited to hear the ideas and thoughts that people have.”
For more information about the park renovation process, as well as other facilities and amenities in Mercer County, please visit mercercountyparks.org.
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