The Union County Board of Freeholders and the City of Rahway, N.J. are planning to spend five million dollars to build a major sports complex in Rahway. The problem is, they want to construct it in the middle of the historic Rahway River Park, a park designed in the 1920’s by the renowned landscape architects, the Olmsted Brothers. This design firm was originally established by Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the father of landscape architecture, and was responsible for the design of many influential projects around the country including New York City’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and Newark’s Branchburg Park.
I decided to drive out and take a look at the park the day after Thanksgiving – in retrospect, maybe not the best time to travel. I drove north on Route 1 past miles of box stores and fast food restaurants, maneuvering in and out of cars on their way to holiday shopping. By the time I finally got to the park my nerves were buzzing and my head spinning. I parked under the shade of a tree and sat behind the wheel for a minute to catch my breath. When I finally stepped out of the car, I was awed by a stunning view of the Rahway River which bends at this location and cradles the park along two sides. I stepped onto a walkway and took a 30-minute leisurely stroll around the park. I was surprised at the number of people that were out on this autumn day; children playing on swings and slides, two old men conversing on a park bench, a couple pushing a stroller, and more than a few joggers. I could only imagine the crowds in summer. I passed the public pool – which I later discovered was the first public pool built in the country. The path led me under mature oak trees where tables and barbecue grills were set up for summertime picnics. I passed through the bare-branched canopy of a row of cherry trees – what a magical experience it must be when they are in blossom. I arrive at a point midway on my walk and my attention was suddenly engaged by this panoramic view of the park; across an expansive lawn framed by trees with the river off in the distance. I stand there silently for a moment while taking in the beauty of the view, the sounds, and the smells of nature. I soon realize that I am breathing easier, my nerves have calmed, and my mind has cleared.
Frederick Law Olmsted believed in this “unconscious influence” of landscapes. He did not want individu
al elements to distract from the overall design. His removed these demands on the conscious mind of the user so that his landscapes would appear organic and natural. These design concepts were passed on to his son Frederick Law Jr. and stepson John Charles – the Olmsted Brothers. Rahway River Park may seem like it is just a preserved ‘Natural Landscape’, but is important to note that the park experience is not just ‘natural’ but ‘intentionally’ designed. It is a rare privilege for a community to have an ‘Olmsted Park’ and it should be a priority to preserve it.
A sports complex would destroy the park. The proposed stadium would include; an artificial turf football field with an 8-lane running track, 1200 bleachers seats, an aluminum fence, stadium lights, a loud-speaker system, two team pavilions, and a concession stand. And although it hasn’t been mentioned yet, additional parking will be required to accommodate the number of people needed to fill those bleacher seats. This facility would go unused for most of the year and
it would destroy the park-like atmosphere for the many who enjoy it now. It would no longer be a park, it will be a football stadium with parking. Maybe the artificial field will not cause pollutants to wash into the river. Maybe there will be a way to mitigate the noise from the surrounding community. Maybe the lights won’t drive away the existing wildlife. And maybe they won’t have to cut down too many trees to provide parking. But these are concerns that need to be addressed. The city and county officials, however, seem determined to start this project without input from the community who have already obtained 5000 plus signatures on an online petition to save the park – www.saverahwaypark.org.